How to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

Let’s face it, the holidays can be tough for those of us trying (hoping?) not to let the celebrations create a situation we’ll regret later when it comes to food and eating.  It can feel like it requires superhuman willpower to get through parties and cookie swaps without overindulging. And how many of us just decide it’s just easier to put off the inevitable until after New Years. Unfortunately, as we all know, excess pounds don't disappear along with the decorations. And who wants to start off the new year already behind the eight ball with regard to weight and health? 

Well, the reality is that although most of us gain weight over the holidays, it really doesn’t need to be that way.  It is possible to get through -- and even enjoy -- the festivities without falling into the endless temptation and weight gain craziness.  Check out these 10 strategies so you wake up on January 2nd with integrity, feeling your best.

Stick With 3 Square Meals

Cutting back all day so you can indulge at an event that night is a set-up for going overboard, especially when there are unhealthy choices everywhere.  When you arrive to an event starving, it’s easy to let food get out of control.  Do your best to keep to 3 regular meals, spread evenly throughout the day.

Avoid Endless Leftovers

Having a fantastic meal filled with indulgences is one thing, but having those leftovers for days and days afterward is where the real trouble starts.  If the party’s at your house, send guests home with food-filled Tupperware. And if it’s at someone else’s house, politely decline the Tupperware filled with sugary treats.

Try The “Maybe Later” Trick

Under the spell of the fudge your co-worker brought to the office? Before you succumb, try this simple trick: Tell yourself, "Hold on, if you really want it you can have some later." Wait an hour --return phone calls, check email--and chances are your craving will be gone and you’ll have moved on.

Brew Up A Cup Of Tea

Having something warm and comforting to drink can hit the spot for making you feel good and eliminate the need for other mindless indulgences.

Put Some Distance Between You And The Munchies

Did you know that just having unhealthy foods be further away will have you eating less of them than if you stood closer? This is totally crazy but true.  The more inconvenient the path between you and them, the better. If you have any in the house, put them where you won’t see them.

Weigh Yourself Regularly

You may hate me for saying this.  I know the scale is not everyone’s best friend, but getting real about where you’re at and tracking your fluctuations is one of the best ways to stay honest with yourself and not just throw in the towel because it happens to be December.  Whether it’s every day or once a week, step on the scale on a regular basis throughout the holidays (and beyond). Tracking your weight will make it much more likely that you'll make healthy food choices.  However often you do it, do it first thing in the morning before eating.  

Start Your Day On The Right Foot

Rather than starting your day running around stressed, schedule in a little time to get your day started right.  Exercising in the morning can help ensure healthier behaviors all day long, according to a study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.  This is not just about burning calories.  Using brain scans, researchers found that when women exercised in the morning, they moved more the rest of the day and also responded less to pictures of tempting food.

A few minutes of mediation or just focused sitting time can do wonders for strengthening willpower the rest of the day.  And taking a moment to visualize and/or plan how you want your day to go can make a huge difference.

Find Little Windows Of Time To Move

Sure it would be great to get to the gym every day, but research shows there’s an even more efficient way to stay healthy and burn calories.  One of those is NEAT, or non-exercise activity thermogenesis.  This is just a long name for the movement you do that’s not considered “exercise,” like standing, walking, fidgeting, doing house chores, etc. and it burns off way more than you would think.  It’s easy to fit this type of movement in by making small changes like standing while you work instead of sitting, scheduling in times every half hour to get up and walk to the rest room or get water, or throw in some stretches or squats when you’re waiting around. 

Eat The Healthy Offerings First 

This will get ensure you get in your nutritious food and leave less room for less healthy options.  For example, hot soup as a first course―especially when it's broth-based―can help you avoid over eating. And eat your vegetables!

Be Picky

If you are going to indulge, choose your indulgences wisely. Check out all the items before deciding what you want to eat.  And then just pick foods you really want and have those in moderation. If you’re not really going to enjoy it, why bother?  Pick items that are truly special and savor every bite.

How To Deal With That Stash Of Halloween Candy

So Halloween has come and gone.  If you’re like most people you might have grabbed a treat here and there in between handing out candy to the witches, super heroes and Harry Potters that came to the door.  One night, perhaps a little too much sugar, no harm done, right?

Well, if you’re like most people, you very well may have a stash of Halloween candy left over just sitting there in the pantry.  Did you buy your favorite just in case there might be leftovers? Or did you buy your least favorite, knowing you might be too tempted otherwise? Or maybe your kids have a nice hefty stash to the point that they wouldn’t notice a piece missing here and there (and there, and there...).

This might seem innocent enough. Isn’t the candy just part of the fun? So, if you’re like many people, this innocent seeming fun can go on and on quite indefinitely, eating a piece here and there -- rolling right into Thanksgiving, whose treats can easily roll right into Christmas, Channukah, New Years...you get the picture.  It’s that time of year when  healthy eating takes a backseat, diets become fuzzy, and living in the moment goes along with “Oh, I’ll start my diet after this bag of candy is gone,” or “...after Thanksgiving,” or “...after Christmas.”

An interesting (but not so happy) fact is that the weight gain that many people experience over time occurs gradually, without them even noticing at first. And that much of this weight gain occurs during the holiday season.  Add up enough holiday seasons and you can see where this is going.  You may not think of Halloween as part of the official “holiday season” but if you’ve got a stash of candy sitting in your house that you’re picking away at, your weight gain season has officially started.  

You may be thinking, yeah, but I’m just eating one tiny, little piece a day.  How much harm is there in that? Maybe from a calorie perspective not much.  But here’s something to consider:

There’s so much more to consider than just how many calories you’re putting in your mouth.  

The brain is the center of hunger, satiety and eating behavior.  When you eat something like a piece of candy, what you’re doing is giving your brain an experience of extremely condensed sweetness.  It’s at an intensity not found in nature, so it gives your brain a “hit” not unlike what heroin addicts experience.  The reward center of the brain is activated in a major way.  Translation: you go, “Yes! That was awesome! Of course, I’d love some more!”  

But you’ve already promised yourself you would only eat one.  So you muster up your willpower and just -- say -- no.  You tell yourself you can have another later or tomorrow.  But what does your brain do with this?  It knows that stash is still sitting there--and that another piece is coming at some point.  But rather than forgetting all about it until the next time, it is primed and ready, high with expectation for when that next time will be.  It starts its countdown, waiting and anticipating, until the next time is now. 

And before you know it your brain is a prisoner of your Halloween stash.

You may think you are above all this.  You may say, I’m good with eating just one piece a day.  And maybe you are -- in your conscious brain.  But the majority of our eating decisions go on beneath the level of consciousness -- in our subconscious mind where the logic of “reasonable” eating takes a backseat to emotion, impulses, and expectation.    So even though your conscious brain is disciplined and successfully resisting the urge, your subconscious is doing the count down.

So what does all this mean for you and your stash of candy? Don’t let me tell you what to do.  Keep it if you want.  But at your own risk.  My suggestion would be to quickly, without thinking about it, grab it, take it to your nearest donation center or if that seems too cumbersome, your nearest trash can.  

But what about my kids’ candy?! That will still be around.  And they won’t take too kindly to it being gone when they get home.  True, but let’s face it, the candy isn’t any better for them than it is for you.  Depending on your children’s ages you may not want to secretly remove most of it (although that actually worked for us for a number of years--when they’re young enough, they may not notice).  

Ideas for getting rid of excess Halloween candy...

There are lots of cool things parents can do to prevent sugar overdosing after Halloween.  There’s donating candy to the troops with Halloween Candy Give-Back (https://opgrat.wordpress.com/2013/07/18/halloween-candy-for-the-troops/).  You can also visit http://www.halloweencandybuyback.com/to search for a participating dentist near you who will accept candy in exchange for toothbrushes, coupons, and sometimes cash.  Or if all else fails, you can offer to have your kids exchange their excess candy with you for some agreed upon thing.  In the unfortunate event that any candy does wind up remaining in the house, the best thing is to put in a highly inconvenient, or better yet, secret location with a tally of how much is there, to create some sort of accountability for those intending to stay away.

So there you have it. Sorry to be the bearer of not so fun news. But trust me, when you get through the season without having eaten more of the sweet stuff than you really intended, you will feel great! Successful! Even triumphant!  And your body (and your brain) will thank you.