Avoiding holiday weight gain may sound like a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be.
Your friends and family will thank you when your holiday recipes taste just as delicious as more traditional dishes, but are actually better for them (and their waistlines). Here are seven tips to help you and your workforce avoid those dreaded extra holiday pounds:
1. Pass on the Alcohol
Drinking alcohol can make calories add up quickly, but alcoholic drinks provide few—if any—beneficial nutrients. A standard cup of eggnog, a popular holiday beverage, contains about 225 calories, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
If you can’t make it through the season without enjoying a few spirits, choose light beer instead of regular beer, limit drinks to just one per day, and mix hard liquor with calorie-free club soda, diet cola or ice. Skipping high-calorie mixers can help you avoid packing on holiday pounds.
Of course, water is the best beverage choice for healthy weight management. Add ice and flavor it with lemon, lime, cucumber or chunks of other fruit.
2. Fill Up on Veggies and Protein
Vegetables and protein are your friends if you want to maintain your weight or shed pounds this holiday season. Choose turkey breast (without the skin and pass on the gravy), grilled chicken, pork or salmon. Soy protein, egg whites, low-fat cottage cheese and plain Greek yogurt are good choices, as well.
Choose non-starchy veggies when you’re trying to watch your weight—examples include broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, celery, leafy greens, mushrooms and asparagus. However, it’s important to steer clear of eating too many starchy vegetables (like peas, corn and potatoes), as these veggies can lead to weight gain, according to a study published in PLOS Medicine.
3. Avoid White Foods
Another simple trick to avoid packing on the pounds is limiting your intake of white foods, unless they’re rich in lean protein like turkey. This means limiting (or skipping) mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, white rice, white bread (in stuffing), rolls, biscuits, ice cream, cream, butter, whole milk and white sauces—such as gravy, white salad dressing, mayonnaise and cream-based soups. Choose brown rice or quinoa instead of white rice, pass on the potatoes and rolls, skip the gravy and choose broth-based soups instead of creamy soups.
4. Drink Water Before Meals
A good way to fill up without consuming extra calories is by drinking water before meals. This way, you won’t be tempted to fill up on high-calorie foods and drinks. It’s a way to trick your stomach into thinking you’re fuller than you are.
One study published in Obesity found that drinking two cups of water before meals is an effective weight loss strategy. To make it easier to get in a full two cups of water before meals, drink it chilled with ice or flavor it with fruit chunks.
5. Do Cardiovascular Exercises
Doing cardiovascular exercises regularly helps you burn the excess calories you need to compensate for during holiday time. According to Harvard Health Publishing, a 155-pound person burns almost 400 calories running at a pace of six miles per hour (a 10-minute mile) for 30 minutes.
Completing regular cardiovascular workouts can even lead to weight loss. Another study published in Obesity found that subjects who burned 400-600 extra calories per day doing cardiovascular exercise lost weight, even though they didn’t change their diets. Concerned that you don’t have a way to work out during the cold winter months? Consider purchasing a treadmill or elliptical machine for at-home use, or try free online workout videos.
6. Get Sleep
Sleep deprivation takes a toll on your body—and your weight. That’s because poor sleep patterns alter your body’s hormone levels, causing increases in appetite. A study published in the Journal of Thoracic Disease found that poor sleep may lower your metabolism by up to 30 percent, and the fatigue it causes makes it less likely you’ll exercise regularly.
Researchers who conducted the study note that weight gain often leads to daytime sleepiness and reduced sleep quality, which boosts your odds for additional weight gain. If you’re an adult, aim to get seven to nine hours of sleep nightly, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests.
7. Swap Out Some Ingredients
When preparing holiday feasts, try a few of the healthy recipe ingredient substitutions provided by the American Heart Association to cut calories, saturated fat, sodium, added sugar or all of these.
Instead of full-fat dairy foods (like whole milk, cream or sour cream), use lower-fat alternatives, such as 1 percent milk, fat-free half-and-half, evaporated skim milk or low-fat sour cream. Try egg substitutes instead of whole eggs. Replace half of the sugar in your recipe with nutmeg, cinnamon or vanilla. Replace table salt with spices, rice vinegar, salt-free seasonings, citrus juices or herb blends. Substitute regular bacon with Canadian bacon, turkey bacon or prosciutto. Use crushed bran cereal or rolled oats instead of white breadcrumbs, and try whole-wheat flour in place of white flour.
Avoiding holiday weight gain can be as simple as knowing which foods to choose and what to pass on, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, drinking lots of water and making a few simple healthy recipe ingredient swaps.