There’s no debate, the holidays are a time of year full of festivities — from treats in the office, to holiday get-togethers, your will power is bound to be tested.
Seasonal favorites like eggnog and Christmas cookies can make healthy eating a challenge. But you don’t have to let holiday food derail your diet or weight loss goals.
#1 Watch Your Portion Sizes
It’s all too easy to go overboard during the holidays. If you find yourself grazing over an appetizer table or loading up your plate at a buffet — take a breath.
Often in party settings or social gatherings, we put aside our thoughtful eating practices and decide it’s a special occasion, and therefore a time to indulge.
“Oh, it’s just one night,” “it’s the holidays,” “I never eat like this.”
While these sentiments are all well and good, during the holiday months, there are typically far too many occasions to get away with it. So instead of going in the opposite direction and depriving yourself, try watching your portion sizes.
You can still have a few bites of this and that, no need to feel left out. However, if you find yourself really drawn to a dessert, dish, or appetizer, make sure you’re not giving yourself license to go overboard.
#2 Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting (IF) is a great way to shed some extra weight, holidays or not. It not only reduces the number of meals you eat in a day, but it upregulates hormones for fat burning.
For instance, research shows that in a fasted state, your level of human growth hormone (HGH) increases. High levels of HGH is associated with lean muscle mass preservation, while low levels of this hormone are associated with weight gain[*][*].
At the same time, norepinephrine (a neurotransmitter and stress hormone) becomes active in your body. During a fast norepinephrine helps shuttle fat out of your cells to provide energy to your body, and also increases your metabolism[*][*].
You have some options with how you use IF during the holiday season. For example, you could do:
If you choose this fasting protocol, you’re going to eat within an 8-hour window every day and fast for 16 hours. For example, you could eat your first meal around 10 am and finish eating for the day at 6 pm.
This is a popular choice for people who like routine in their days. During the holidays, you could switch up your eating window to align with the events of the day. For instance, if you have a party at 7 pm and plan to be there until 11 pm you could shift your eating window to start at 3 pm and end at 11 pm.
24 Hour Fast
A 24-hour fast is pretty straight forward — you don’t eat for 24 hours. You can choose to do one, two, or even three 24-hour fasts per week. The trick is to choose your fasting window during a time when you’ll be busy or sleeping, so you aren’t thinking about food too much.
One option is to finish eating at 5 pm at night, and then fast until 5 pm the next day. This way you won’t go an entire day without food, but still get a solid 24-hours of fasting.
It’s not recommended to do a 24-hour fast right before a holiday party or event because the likelihood of you going overboard at the party is too high. However, Implementing 24-hour fast throughout the holiday months can keep your metabolism kicking and also might help to keep your caloric intake in balance.
This protocol for fasting is an excellent one for the holiday season. Five days a week, you keep your calories pretty low, around 500-600 per day, and two days a week, you increase your calories. If you know you have an event Monday night and Friday night, make those your high-calorie days and keep calories in the lower range the rest of the week.
A word of caution — IF is not an excuse to starve yourself so you can overindulge at holiday gatherings. In fact, if you take this approach you’ll be setting yourself up for disaster. Use IF mindfully to optimize your eating windows while gaining the physiological benefits of a fasted state.
#3 Increase Physical Activity
During the holiday season, things can get pretty hectic. This is a time when it’s more important than ever to schedule in some physical activity. Even an extra 30 minutes of walking in the morning can give you a leg up on your daily calorie burn and weight loss goals[*].
If you really want to kick your metabolism into high gear, however, go for high-intensity interval training. This quick and effective workout torches calories and boosts your metabolism, helping you burn fat for hours after you’ve completed your workout[*].
In fact, research shows that HIIT workouts can provide 28% greater reductions in fat mass than moderate-intensity workouts. And the best part is that many of these workouts only take 15-20 minutes[*].
#4 Plan Healthy Snacks
The holidays are a time for treats. There’s just no way around it. And if you work in an office, it can become especially challenging to avoid the cookies, brownies, candies, and whatever other festive sugar bombs people want to throw at you.
To avoid getting sucked into a holiday treat spiral, try planning out your meals, and especially your snacks, ahead of time.
It’s a lot easier to get through the morning after you’ve had a satiating low-carb breakfast. However, come 3 pm when that snack cravings hit, those Christmas candies are going to start looking pretty good.
To keep your blood sugar on your side, plan your snacks ahead of time and make sure they’re protein-rich. Protein is incredibly satiating, and it also assists in the maintenance of your lean muscle mass, and increases thermogenesis — aka calorie burning[*].
To avoid moments of weakness, have protein snacks on hand at all times. You never know when someone is going to show up with your favorite sweet treat. Easy snacks to keep around are nuts, jerky, and keto bars.
#5 Control Your Stress Levels
For some, the holidays are the most wonderful time of the year. For others, however, it’s the most stressful time of the year. Holiday shopping, social events, managing work, visitors, family, it can all feel like too much.
Stress can do a number on your body, and often leads to a lack of willpower or “giving in” to bad habits.
It’s hypothesized that your brain’s reward center becomes more active under stress, and one of the most accessible “rewards” you can give your body is food. Therefore, as your stress goes up, so does emotional eating.
In fact, correlations have been found between the current obesity epidemic and the amount of stress that people report in their lives[*].
If you’re prone to stress eating or using food as a vice, this time of year can be especially triggering. Whatever you need to do to lower your stress levels, permit yourself to do it.
#6 Use Mindfulness
It can be hard to drop into a mindful place when you’re at a holiday party or out with friends. However, using mindfulness as a tool could be the difference between coming home feeling stuffed and bloated, and enjoying just the right amount of food.
When eating mindfully, you’re asked to pay attention in the present moment to your food. Taste each bite, notice how full you feel, stay aware of how much you’re consuming.
In one study, a group of women were instructed to eat out at restaurants three times a week using mindfulness tools. After the six week trial, the participants lost significantly more weight than the controls, they also had a lower average daily caloric intake, and reported fewer barriers to weight management when eating out[*].
Mindful eating can help you slow down and enjoy your food fully. Bringing awareness to your meal helps you enjoy the food with all of your senses — smell, touch, sight, and taste.
#7 Get Enough Sleep
When you’ve got a lot on your plate, it’s easy to let sleep become your last priority. Who has the time for eight hours of sleep when you have shopping, cooking, and entertaining to do?
The problem is, lack of sleep is tightly correlated with weight gain. When you don’t get enough shut-eye, your hormones become imbalanced, leaving you primed for overeating and fat storage.
In fact, research shows that the signals in your body that tell you you’re satisfied go down, while hunger signals become elevated in a sleep-deprived state.
The results? Increased hunger and appetite.
In addition, stress hormones like cortisol become elevated when you don’t get enough rest, further pushing your metabolism towards fat storage[*].
During the holidays, make sure that you’re not over-extending yourself both at work and socially. You’ll have a much easier time turning down that second dessert if you’ve slept well the night before.
#8 Make A Dish To Share
If you’re following a keto diet, you may run into a few scenarios during the holidays where your options are limited.
The best way around this is to make a low-carb dish that you can bring with you. There are plenty of delicious keto-friendly recipes that non-keto dieters will enjoy.
If you’re going to a dinner or potluck, there will most likely be a protein option already planned. In this case, bring along a keto-friendly side or two for everyone to enjoy. If you happen to know that the main dish is not keto-friendly (like a lasagna), bring along a protein-rich side.
Similarly, if you have a sweet tooth and know the dessert table is going to cause you trouble, make a batch of your favorite keto cookies, brownies, or fat bombs.
#9 Give Yourself a Drink Limit
There’s no better way to throw yourself off track then to lower your inhibitions with alcohol. No matter how strong your resolve is when you show up to a party, three drinks later, that dessert table may be looking like your new best friend.
Research shows that alcohol consumption triggers your desire to eat[*]. This can become a double whammy in a social situation where there are appetizers, snacks, and delicious dishes around every corner.
If you have a social event coming up, give yourself a drink limit beforehand. Maybe you can have two glasses of wine and stay in control of your cravings. Or perhaps just one pushes you over. Know your limits and stick with your intentions.
This also goes for that evening glass of wine that helps you wind down at night. If you like to sip your way to serenity after a long day, perhaps you could switch out the alcohol for a soothing cup of tea. It may not sound as enticing, but those calories add up.
#10 Sit Down To Eat
If you’re someone who tends to eat on the go — this tip is for you.
While sitting down to eat undoubtedly makes mealtime more relaxing, research shows that you actually taste more when you’re sitting vs. standing. When you stand, your body’s under more stress than when you sit. This stress takes energy away from your taste but, effectively making your food less satisfying[*].
When you’re at a party or holiday gathering, it’s likely that you’ll be walking, talking, and munching down your food all at the same time. Make an effort to take a seat, enjoy your food, and actually taste what you’re putting in your mouth.
#11 Focus on Socializing
Instead of making a mainline for the appetizer table, use a holiday gathering as a way to catch up with friends or family. Ask your fellow party-goers what’s new, learn about what they’ve been up to. Creating genuine connection will feel a lot more satisfying then idly standing by looking for your next snack.
If you tend to be an introvert, then parties can be especially challenging. Instead of trying to find interesting topics of conversation, just ask your fellow party-goers questions about them. Most people love talking about themselves, and it takes the pressure off of you.
#12 Up Your Vegetable Intake
To combat some of the overindulgences of the holidays, you can challenge yourself to increase your vegetable intake.
Vegetables are low-calorie, nutrient-dense, and rich in fiber. Increase your vegetable serving goals by one or two servings a day. If you have a competitive spirit, you can even get friends and family on board and make it a competition.
Some ideas for increasing your veggies are to switch out your sandwich with a salad, make dinner with two sides of veggies instead of one, or throw some spinach and tomatoes in with your morning omelet.
#13 Just Say “No”
With the demands of the world today, having boundaries is crucial for overall health and well-being, All too often you may find yourself saying “yes, yes, yes,” when you’re heart is crying “no, no, no.”
Learn to say no, and stick with it.
This could be in response to someone offering you food, a drink, or even a social event. There’s no one else who can say no for you, so be your best advocate and know where your boundaries are.
#14 Remember Your Goals
At the end of the day, if you want to avoid holiday weight gain you have to remember your “why.”
Maybe you worked really hard all year to get to a weight that you feel comfortable in, and you don’t want to go backward. Or perhaps you have a health condition that requires you to watch your weight.
Either way, keeping your goals top of mind is a great way to enhance your resolve. Remember, no one is making you skip dessert, or pass on your favorite meal. These aren’t acts of punishment. It’s your choice.
Keep your goals top of mind during the holiday season. This will come in handy, especially when you’re feeling weak or overwhelmed. You can even write sticky notes to remind yourself of why you don’t want to overindulge and place them where you’ll see them regularly as little shots in the arm.
The Takeaway: You Don’t Have To Gain Weight Around the Holidays
The holiday season shouldn’t be a source of stress when it comes to weight control. And you don’t have to put your healthy habits on hold in order to enjoy the festivities of the season.
With some mindful practices and pre-planning, you can let loose and enjoy the holidays while staying in control of your diet.