I'm a Dietitian, and Here's How I Avoid Gaining Weight at the Holidays
The holidays may be the most wonderful time of the year, but with your calendar double- and triple-booked with parties, booze flowing freely, and tempting treats at every turn, it's also the most challenging time to stay on track with your fitness goals. That's why most people gain one to two pounds over the last several weeks of the year. While that's not excessive, it's not a gift you can easily return with a sales receipt. Here's the good news: you don't have to forgo the festivities in order to avoid that holiday weight gain — instead, try these strategies that have always worked for me.
Still Make Time For Your Workout
As a CrossFit coach and all-around fitness fanatic, I use the holidays to squeeze in more exercise, not less. Having time off from my day job gives me more hours to focus on my fitness. Try using your days off from work to spend more time doing what you love, whether that's hiking, skiing, or running. Even if my time is tight, I'll up the intensity and do a seven-minute AMRAP (as many rounds as possible), switching between a 100-meter run or row sprint and 10 burpees. Burpees are hands-down one of the most efficient total-body exercises that will get you fitter, faster.
Step on the Scale
After exercise, the other way I keep my weight stable during this time of year is to weigh myself every few days. I do this first thing in the morning, which is considered the best time to step on the scale. Several studies have concluded that frequent weigh-ins help dieters stay on track and can keep you motivated. One from Duke University reported that overweight subjects who weighed themselves daily lost, on average, 20 pounds, compared to about 7 pounds lost among those who weighed themselves several times a week.
Revamp Your Favorite Recipes
As a seasoned home cook, I futz with almost every recipe to make it healthier. Over the years, I've come up with some of the best modifications that improve the recipe's nutritional value without compromising taste. Here are some of my favorite healthy modifications: use whole wheat or almond flour for up to half of the all-purpose flour in baked goods; cut sugar by one-third; reduce oils or butter by half and replace the other half with prune puree, chickpea puree, or unsweetened applesauce.
Make Festive Mocktails
Eggnog, Moscow mules, spiked mulled cider, Christmas sangria — it's no surprise that this time of year is also the booziest. I consider alcohol a triple-threat for weight gain because it is high in calories, stimulates your appetite, and lights up areas of your brain that make you crave the most caloric foods.
Instead of drinking alcohol, I get in the spirit with mocktails made with calorie- and sugar-free sparkling water infused with fruit and herbs. I dress up fun stemware like Champagne flutes or brandy snifters with holiday garnishes.
Eat a Balanced Breakfast
I make sure that I never skip breakfast, but this is especially important when I have an office party or evening event where I could easily overindulge. Breakfasts with an optimal amount of protein and fiber can help stave off hunger and cravings all day long. To do this, I strive to get 20 to 30 grams of high-quality protein and at least six grams of fiber in my first meal.
Some of my best-bet breakfasts include soft-boiled eggs on whole-wheat avocado toast; Greek yogurt with fresh or frozen berries; or protein pancakes topped with plain Greek yogurt and a light drizzle of honey.
Get More Shuteye
This is easy for me as I would qualify for the sleeping world championships, if they existed. Rest is something I never skimp on, and I make sure I clock a solid eight hours every night. Juggling family and work commitments can make that tough, I know — but studies show that insufficient sleep triggers hunger hormones and cravings for comfort foods (read: high-calorie, high-sugar). In fact, one study reported that women who lacked sleep ate 329 more calories, compared to when they slept normally. While optimal sleep is individual, most sleep experts recommend at least seven hours a night for adults. In order to stay on track, make sleep a priority during the hectic holiday season.