Studies show that between Thanksgiving and Christmas the average weight gain is one pound. While one pound might not seem like a lot, studies also show that adults never lose that one pound. That means, if each year during the holidays people generally gain one pound, — a pound they never lose — 20 years from now that person will likely be 20 pounds heavier; the majority of that weight having been gained over the holidays. So let’s talk about how to avoid that trap.
There are ways to enjoy the holidays and all the delicious food they bring, without sacrificing your health or weight and without skipping out on your dad’s famous mashed potatoes. So here are a few tips for eating healthy this holiday season, even when you’re surrounded by gingerbread cookies and pumpkin pie.
Traditional holiday food is actually pretty healthy
While the spotlight tends to be cast on the showstoppers — like marshmallow sweet potatoes — traditional American holiday food is actually pretty healthy, particularly if turkey is on the table. “Unless your turkey is deep fried, the star of [many holiday meals] is a lean protein,” says Miranda Hammer RD, MS, who runs the health and food site the Crunchy Radish. “Depending on how your family celebrates, there are usually sides of vegetables like roasted brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes or squash, and steamed greens beans that also encourage balanced eating.” Dr. Charles Passler, founder of the Pure Change Program and nutritionist to models like Adriana Lima and Bella Hadid, agrees: “At mealtime pile on the non-starchy vegetables and have a moderate amount of protein and healthy fats, minimize the starch, have it last and only if you are still hungry,” he advises.
It can be easy to turbo your way into a holiday party and eat everything in sight, but there is something to be said for having a plan, picking the foods you want, and then absolutely delighting in them. Dr. Passler also advises that if the meal is a buffet, “Choose to use a smaller plate, such as a salad or dessert plate. This will not allow you to take as much food.” Also, pace yourself. As the CDC points out, “It takes at least 20 minutes for your brain to realize you’re full.” So eat slowly, savor those bites. You’ll likely enjoy them more and overeat less.
Don’t turn the whole season into a food free for all
With holiday parties, and actual holidays, it can seem like every single day between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve is all about eating. While you might have a stacked social calendar, don’t make every meal a splurge. Have treats during the big events, but when you’re having breakfast alone on a random December Tuesday, make sure it’s a healthy breakfast, not a cinnamon roll just because it’s the holiday season. Save your splurges for big gatherings, and eat extra healthfully at all other times to balance out the holiday menus. As Hammer put it, “Be careful to not let the Thanksgiving meal roll over into a whole day or entire weekend of indulgences.”
Never arrive famished
We have all made the mistake of arriving at Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner without having eaten anything yet that day. Not a good idea, says Hammer. “You do not want starve yourself and then go wild and have zero control,” Hammer says. Keep your routine, be mindful, and enjoy the holiday meal.
Yes be healthy, yes eat well, but also enjoy yourself. If there’s something you love, make sure to eat it. No food is banned, nor should it be. “Save room for dessert,” Dr. Passler advises. “If there is something decadent that you look forward to all year such as pecan pie or mac and cheese enjoy your holiday treat,” Hammer says. “Keep the portion to two tablespoons and make sure you balance out your indulgence with plenty of vegetables, turkey, and lots of water.”