Halloween has passed and that means that we’re once again in the Holiday season. Whether you love the holidays or love when the festivities are over, this time of year and the accompanying potential for burnout and weight gain are unavoidable. While not everyone will gain weight between November 1 and January 1 it IS something to keep in mind, particularly if you are already (or ever have been) overweight. If you have a history of being overweight you may find it more challenging to keep the weight off during the holidays and to lose that weight after January 2.

It could just sit there – on top of the five or ten pounds that you gained the year before (and the year before that). This is not a happy prospect.

It’s important to remember that the next two months represent almost 17% of the year. If you can honestly say that you have perfectly healthy habits during the rest of the year then you can ignore this message (and the few that will follow), but for the rest of us I have compiled a list of ways to keep that weight gain in check.

Trick Yourself

There are so many ways that we can trick ourselves into making good choices and this is a good time to practice all of them. For example:
You know that you will be eating at Great Aunt Jenny’s house tonight and that she is, by far the best cook in the entire world. There is no doubt that you will eat too much. So do you avoid eating all day in order to ‘save up’ the calories that you’re sure to pack in that night? No, please don’t!
Cutting back all day so you can indulge later will only backfire. By the time you get to dear Aunt Jenny’s house you will be STARVING and all self control will go out the window.
A better choice would be to make extra healthy choices all day (and maybe the next day too) and have a nutritious snack BEFORE heading out. That will ensure that you will at least be able to make intentional choices when faced with the lovely spread of your holiday favorites. As much as possible, make sure that your snack is full of healthy fats, vegetables, and protein, all of which will help you feel full. Once you approach the buffet, try to use a small plate, studies have shown that it tricks our brains into thinking that we are eating more.
Now if YOU happen to be the fabulous host, do your best to limit ‘tastes’ while cooking – those calories add up and you already know that recipe is fabulous. When dinner is ready leave the food in the kitchen and out of reach. With just the (small) plates on the table you will have to really want seconds – enough to go into the kitchen for them – which can help reduce food intake substantially. When dinner is finished do your best to pass those leftovers to someone else! You can invest in disposable ‘tupperware’ or ask your guests to bring their own but packing up leftovers does the double duty of making you look super generous and getting all of that high calorie food out of your house, you can freeze whatever is left.

But, how can you make sure that you’re making good choices when you’re so busy?

Track Yourself

With everything keeping you busy during the next couple of months it’s very easy to live on autopilot, forgetting all of the plans and goals that you have for yourself. That’s why today’s focus is keeping track of yourself. Think ahead to the new year, what will your goals be for 2016? Wouldn’t it be great if you were already on the right track when New Year’s Eve rolls around? While this thought could apply to any goal that you have, let’s keep the focus on health today.

Don’t get so busy that you stop paying attention. Keep weighing yourself, once a week is just fine, and I’ve read that you’ll get the most accurate weight on Wednesday mornings. If you keep a food journal already, keep it up throughout November and December (you can skip the big days if you’re so inclined, one meal isn’t what wrecks a diet, it’s weeks and months of bad choices). A food journal will help you avoid mindless (or stress) eating too. Whenever possible sit at the table and focus on the food in front of you. Chewing slowly and putting your fork down between bites can help calm you and lower your stress. Avoid eating in front of the TV, pocket the toothpicks that come with the canapes at the party so you know how many you’ve had (this works with drinks too) and WAIT before you take seconds, do a quick scan to make sure that you really need another helping of mashed potatoes.

Another thing to track is your water intake – Drink at least 8 cups of water each day, even though you’re less likely to feel thirsty in the colder months. Water is beneficial for so many reasons, not the least being that it has zero calories. One 8 to 16 oz drink of water before meals will help you feel full faster and eat less. If you plan on having (high calorie) alcoholic drinks or sodas, try to drink stagger drinks with water to help pace yourself and stay hydrated.

And I can never stress enough (to you or my teenagers) be sure to get enough sleep. Sleep loss is associated with appetite changes, accidents, and impaired judgement. The average adult needs between seven and nine hours of sleep every night and it wouldn’t hurt to check in to see how you stack up. There are several apps and bands that track sleep or you can just look at the clock before you turn out the light. Either way you can’t really make up for lack of sleep on the weekends, you have to make the time each night. So make your bed extra cozy and tuck yourself in (bedtime story optional).

And always remember to …

Take Care of Yourself

Now, back to those parties that will keep you busy throughout the next couple of months.

Even if you have eaten a healthy snack and are drinking water, social events have a way of destroying our resolve. Fortunately, I’ve found that my willpower is so much stronger when I am taking care of myself. The holidays mean packed schedules just as much as packed tables so it’s important to be intentional when it comes to self-care.

Since eating right can have a big impact on how you feel that’s always an important first step but as we discussed yesterday, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the feast. Being the great guest that you are, I’m sure that you’re planning on bringing a contribution so help everyone out by bringing a tasty low cal alternative, this can be especially helpful for those of us with restricted diets who want to make sure there’s something to eat at the party. This isn’t the best time to try to stick to a strict diet – you just might lose your mind and eat an entire cake! So go ahead and enjoy your favorites, especially if they only make their appearance during the holidays but limit your indulgences to small portions and make sure that it’s something worth the calories. So if your granny makes baklava for Christmas (like the lady I worked for in my early twenties) enjoy your decadent treat free of guilt, chew slowly, and savor every bite (oh, and eat one for me, I sure miss Vasilka). While we’re talking about food please understand that it’s time to let go of the ‘clean your plate’ mentality. Give yourself permission to be choosy about what you put on your plate (again – healthy fats, vegetables, and protein) and don’t let anyone push you to take seconds unless you really want them! Now, not to be a downer but it’s always best to limit your alcohol intake. In all of it’s forms, alcohol is high in calories and you take the risk of losing control over what you eat when you’re drinking. If you don’t want to be empty-handed at the office party, sip on club soda or water instead. And really? While food is fun, the focal point of holiday gatherings and parties should be people – not food. So mingle, laugh and dance, you won’t regret it in the morning!

Even when you aren’t in full social butterfly mode it can be so easy to run yourself ragged this time of year. Be sure to take a little time each day for yourself – a bubble bath, chat with a friend, or curling up with a good book in front of the fire can be incredibly restorative and can help you avoid stress eating too (a sure way to blow your healthy eating plan).
Last (but clearly not least), you must move your body! With cooler temperatures and a longer list of ‘To Dos’ it is so easy to skip exercise this time of year, but movement is important to every single system in your body. Exercise helps you sleep better, aids digestion, improves cognitive function, and reduces stress. So go for a walk (it’s great to get outside) or dance in the kitchen with your kids or significant other (a favorite in our house) for heart strengthening cardio and do Minute Movement throughout the day to keep your body limber and toned so you look your best in all of those family photos! If you haven’t already, now is the perfect time to commit to becoming a Minute Mover, you’ll be glad you did!