The holiday season brings many gifts including visits with families and friends and special foods. No matter how we celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanza, there are favorite foods that appear during this time of the year. These foods may include eggnog or sweet potato pie. For some, weight gain is also a "gift" given by the holiday season. While the amount of weight gained by most adults is small, this is one gift that is not easily returned. In fact, research now suggests that the weight gained during the holiday season may be a factor contributing to the increase in body weight seen in adults.
While people commonly believe that the average weight gain during the holiday season is about 5 pounds, recent research suggests that actual weight gain is really closer to one pound. Unfortunately, we tend to hang on to that one pound and pick up another one the next holiday season. This has some experts thinking that in the long term, this could be one of the factors contributing to the increase in obesity among American adults
So what are we to do?
Surviving the holiday season - Party Time!
We know that parties add to the festive nature of the holiday season and provide us with opportunities to socialize with family, friends, and co-workers. However, these parties can also be a source of significant calories if we are not careful. I would like to share some tips that can be used to help control calorie intake for just about any holiday buffet, office party, or cocktail party:
1. Balance party foods and meals with other meals. Eat smaller meals with fewer calories during the day so you can enjoy the party - without exceeding one's energy intake for the whole day. For those smaller meals, include low-fat protein as well as fruit, vegetables, and whole grains for fiber (which helps keep the stomach feeling full).
2. Don't go to a party hungry. Think about the types of foods present at holiday parties - they may not always be the most healthful. If you go to a party hungry you are more likely to overeat.
3. Consume alcohol in moderation, if at all. This tip has as much to do with common sense and safety as it does nutrition. For example, an 8-ounce glass of nonalcoholic eggnog contains more than 340 calories. Add alcohol to the eggnog and the calories increase to nearly 450. Plus, those calories from alcohol tend to be stored as fat.
4. Control calorie intake by ordering drinks with diet soda or club soda instead of juice and regular sodas. A 12-ounce can of soda is about 150 calories; diet versions have around 2-4 calories and club soda is calorie-free.
5. Socialize away from the food table. This will reduce the temptation to overeat and allow you to focus on the great conversations you are having with your friends, family, and co-workers.
6. If the party is an after-work cocktail party, curb your appetite by snacking on fruit, pretzels, crackers or low-fat yogurt before you go. Again, this helps reduce the temptation to overeat.
7. For office parties, try to get involved in the planning process to help ensure that some healthy foods will be available. Offer to bring a fresh fruit or vegetable tray, baked tortilla chips and salsa, or pretzels. If you are offering to bring a dish that has been modified to lower the fat and calorie content, be sure to try out the dish at home in advance to make sure the taste is still acceptable.
8. For dinner parties, skip dessert or choose fresh fruit if it is available. If you are served a desert, eat half.
9. Remember, smaller is better. When the food at a party is being served buffet-style, make one trip through the buffet line and take only small amounts of the foods that you really like. If possible, use a salad plate so that your plate looks full (and thus your eyes won't feel cheated).
10. Listen to your stomach and stop eating when you are no longer hungry. Eating until one is full (i.e. stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey) usually results in consuming more calories than we need.
Surviving the Holiday Season - Shopping
Shopping is a big part of the holiday season for many people. This often means spending more time at the mall or department store (and any food court that may be close by). Below are three tips to help control your calorie intake when shopping:
1. Eat before going to the mall. Shopping on an empty stomach may cause a person to overeat at lunch or even before.
2. The holiday season is for sharing - this includes food. Split meals and treats from the mall with a friend.
3. Take a snack with you to the mall. Fresh fruit like apples, bananas, small boxes or raisins or small bags of pretzels are handy snacks that transport well in a handbag or backpack. These snacks are healthier (and much cheaper) than the buttery pretzels and cookies often found throughout the malls.
Surviving the Holiday Season - Exercise!
No matter how festive, the holiday season can be a stressful time for people. Gifts to wrap, parties to attend and host, family and friends to visit can cause stress. It is not uncommon for individuals to use food as a means of coping with stress. Furthermore, if we eat more calories than we use, we will gain weight. This means that regular physical activity is a must during the holiday season, not just for weight management but also for stress release.
Taking a brisk walk after a meal and walking the aisles of the mall are just two ways to include physical activity into the daily routine. Have a pet? Remember he/she needs regular physical exercise as well so if you don't do it for yourself, do it for Fido or Fluffy.
A final note: Trying to lose weight during the holiday season is unrealistic. Instead of weight loss, everyone should focus on maintaining their weight. Depriving oneself of favorite or special foods during the holiday season is almost certain to result in overindulgence and unnecessary guilt. So, enjoy the season and all the wonderful foods that come with this special time. Again, the key is moderation and portion control.
Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.
The Texas A&M University System, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the County Commissioners Courts of Texas Cooperating