‘Tis the season to be merry—and to gain weight. Even for the most committed healthy eater, self-discipline can easily falter during the extended binge-fest otherwise known as the holiday season. After all, it takes some serious willpower when delicious, fattening foods are beckoning at every turn. (Damn you and your apple pie, Aunt Jane!). Furthermore, between the hustle and bustle of holiday travel, gift shopping, and cocktail parties, fitness regimens readily fall to the wayside. The end result? By the time New Year’s rolls around, you’re sporting a massive beer belly to rival Santa Clause.
This holiday season, stay on track with your health and fitness goals without depriving yourself. Because let’s face it—who wants to nibble on salad while everyone around you is digging into the mashed potatoes? (Not me!). Here are 12 tips to eat, drink and be merry without gaining an inch.
Eat a small snack before parties. You’re setting yourself up for diet disaster if you come hungry to a party. Before heading out, consume a small, healthy snack, such as an apple or a low-fat yogurt. That way, when you arrive, you won’t be as ravenous and tempted to gorge on fattening appetizers.
Eat something green. On Thanksgiving, it’s okay to have a helping of your favorite cheesy potatoes—but stick to a small serving. And try to balance out your plate with plenty of veggies or fruit, too. A good rule of thumb: half of your plate should be greens, a quarter should be protein, and a quarter can be carbs. The fiber in the veggies will fill you up quicker, so you’ll be less apt to go back for seconds.
Think turkey. Surprisingly, turkey is one of the healthiest Thanksgiving dishes out there. White, skinless turkey meat is a lean, low-fat source of protein and vitamin B6, which are both essential for the body’s energy production. Just don’t drown your turkey in globs of gravy!
Make exercise a family affair. Post-feast, encourage your family to do something active—whether it’s a stroll around the neighborhood or a game of tag football. Getting some movement will help ease digestion, warding off that bloated and “blah” feeling after the big meal. Plus, you might burn off some calories while you’re at it!
Be efficient. During the holidays, when schedules are jam-packed with social obligations, work, and long to-do lists, you probably don’t have hours to devote to working out. For efficiency’s sake, focus on quick but intense total-body workouts that blast hundreds of calories in a short amount of time. HIIT is a great tool for cramming in a great workout when you’re pressed for time.
Eat slowly. Settle down, Speedy Gonzales. This isn’t an eating contest. If you’re the kind of person who wolfs down food in record-breaking time, make a concerted effort to slow down. Study after study has found that fast eaters, on average, consume more calories than their less-hurried counterparts. This is because it takes the body about 20 minutes to register signals of fullness, so the quicker you eat, the more likely you are to overdo it.
Alternate cocktails with water. It’s okay to imbibe in a cocktail (or two!) on occasion, but be sure to sip on H20 between beverages. Staying hydrated minimizes alcohol’s effects, saving you from the ravages of a nasty hangover and also preventing you from becoming a little, well, over-served. After all, nobody wants to be that girl dancing on the table at the office party, right?
Take advantage of nutritionally dense holiday foods. Certain holiday staples—such as cranberries, sweet potatoes, and Brussels sprouts—are incredibly nutritious. Focus on consuming these healthy foods and limiting the amount of “white” foods on your plate (bread, mashed potatoes, mac ‘n cheese). A good rule of thumb? The more colorful the food, the more nutritious.
BYOF (Bring Your Own Food). If your grandma’s idea of a vegetable is green beans simmering in gravy, then do some damage control and offer to bring your own healthy dish to Thanksgiving dinner. You can assemble a nice fall-inspired salad or a lighter version of your favorite casserole.
Don’t let family pressure kill your resolve. Does it seem like your loved ones are always trying to sabotage your diet? “Oh, come on—have a piece of pie! It won’t kill you!” Sigh. If fussy relatives are determined to fatten you up, politely explain to them that you are on a diet for “XYZ reason” and that you’d prefer if they respected your decision. This will hopefully shut them up. If they keep insisting on force-feeding you some pie, just shrug them off and walk away.
No gym? No problem! When busy routines interfere with your gym time, the key is to get creative with your workouts. Squeeze in a calorie-blasting workout in the confines of your hotel room using dynamic bodyweight exercises like push-ups, planks, lunges, jump squats and mountain climbers. Or, pack resistance bands in your suitcase—they’re compact and don’t take up a lot of space—so you can create a mini gym in your hotel room.
Holiday season comes but once a year, so you shouldn’t have to miss out on the fun festivities for the sake of saving your diet. Luckily, with these tips in your arsenal, you can fend off holiday weight gain and still enjoy the season’s indulgences.