Fall has arrived—hello pumpkin spice everything!—and the holidays are just around the corner. We all love this time of year and the chance to celebrate with family and friends.  Unfortunately, holiday fetes are often laden with treats full of sugar, excess calories, and can lead to holiday weight gain.  Add in the social pressure from friends and loved ones and each soiree can feel like an event specifically designed to derail you from your healthy eating plan.

According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, the average American gains over two pounds during the holidays, and many never lose this weight.   This weight gain is cumulative- even if you only gain 1 pound per year, that is an excess of 10 lbs over a decade. The good news is: now that you know about this trend, and by using the tips below you can avoid holiday weight gain.

  1. Eat before you go.  When you are hungry, it’s easy to binge on the calorie packed hors d’oeuvres, sweets and junk foods.  Having a healthy meal before you arrive at a party helps decrease the urge to snack and allows you to politely decline unhealthy foods. “No thank you, I already ate”.
  2. Be picky.  If you choose to splurge on the occasional delicacy over the holidays, be picky and intentional about your choices.   If you’ve been dreaming about Grandma’s pecan pie all month, then by all means, have a piece—but skip that stuffing you don’t love.  Enjoy and savor your treat and choose healthier options for the rest of the meal.
  3. Listen to your body and remember portion size.   Hunger cues and signs of fullness don’t take the holidays off, but a lot of us choose to eat more than we need, or even more than is comfortable, during holiday meals.  Remember, you don’t have to eat everything on your plate.   Eat slowly and check in with your body: if you’re still hungry, have another bite.  Stop if you feel full and leave the stretchy pants home this Thanksgiving.
  4. Keep moving over the holidays.  Exercise is a great stress reliever and a way to combat some of the extra calories you are consuming.   And when holiday activities fill our calendars, workouts are often the first thing bumped.  Resist the urge to cancel your normal athletic activities- as this important self-care activity helps to improve mental clarity and sleep quality as well as your waistline.  If your regular spin class is at the same time as your work holiday party, get in a quick workout in that morning.   Even if it’s just an abbreviated workout on your living room floor, it’s something.
  5. Don’t drink your calories.   Did you know a glass of nonalcoholic eggnog contains around 350 calories?  Make it spiked and add another 100 calories!!  And after a couple drinks, most of us still eat our full dinner and then some…   And it’s not just eggnog.  White Russians also pack over 400 calories per 6 oz serving, as do peppermint white chocolate mochas.  Pumpkin spiced lattes add an extra 380 calories, and even the classic hot chocolate with whipped cream serves up 240 calories. If you choose to indulge, do so mindfully and try to cap the sugary or alcoholic drinks to a single serving.   Added bonus: as both high sugar and alcohol can affect sleep, limiting these beverages may lead to a more rested and hangover free season.
  6. Worry less, stress can lead to holiday weight gain.  The holidays can be stressful, and even the most anticipated event can be overwhelming.  Studies show stress and anxiety can trigger unhealthy choices, and the stress hormone, cortisol, causes an increase in belly fat.  In order to combat seasonal stressors, keep up with your daily exercise or yoga practice, try meditation, and make a conscious effort to not worry about pleasing everyone.  So, the next time Aunt Mildred comes at you with a slice of her homemade pie, know that you don’t have to try every baked good pedaled on you by well-meaning family members. And it’s perfectly alright to skip the holiday party you’ve been dreading to stay home and watch Netflix.  Take time for yourself and thrive all year long.