Today’s post comes from Laura Vergeer. Laura is a PhD candidate in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto. She is also the current Special Events Coordinator for the OC-SNP National Executive.
With the holiday season upon us once again, it’s easy to get caught up in all the festivities and lose sight of our intentions to eat healthy. Holiday weight gain isn’t just a myth. Research suggests that “holiday weight” (i.e., weight gained during the mid-November to mid-January period) is a significant contributor to annual weight gain among adults living in Western countries (1,2). Studies have also shown that people who already have overweight or obesity are likely to gain more weight over the holidays, compared to those with a BMI of <25 kg/m2 (1).
Nonetheless, with a little careful planning and mindful eating, you can make healthier food choices this holiday season and avoid the holiday weight, even without missing out on your favourite festive foods. Check out these 5 tips for healthy eating during the holidays:
- Offer to bring a healthy dish
If a potluck event is on your social calendar this holiday season, offer to bring a healthy appetizer, side-dish or dessert that you’ll enjoy and feel good about eating. It’s an easy way to ensure that you’ll have at least one healthier alternative to choose from at the buffet table. The holiday season is the perfect time to try out a new recipe, whether it be for the perfectly seasoned and roasted veggies, a festive salad or black-bean brownies. Do a little searching online to find recipes that sound delicious and nutritious. If you’re not sure what qualifies as “healthy”, consider checking out the Dietitians of Canada website (or their Cookspiration app) for dietician-approved recipes (3).
- Do not skip meals
Skipping breakfast and lunch in the lead-up to a big holiday dinner to “save” your calories for later may sound like a logical way to prevent weight gain, but research suggests that it may be associated with overeating later in the day (4). Instead of fasting, be sure to eat a healthy breakfast and lunch with a balance of fruits and veggies, whole grains and protein to keep your hunger levels in check, making you less likely to overdo it at the main event.
- Focus on your favourite foods
With so many tasty-looking dishes before you, it can be easy to feel like you need to sample everything at a holiday event. But making an effort to focus on your favourite foods – while skipping the ones you’re not as excited about – can be an easy way to save some calories and avoid overeating.
- Eat slowly and mindfully
Savouring each bite and taking a pause between courses can help prevent you from overeating. That second helping of turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes might seem like a great idea at first, but allowing some time for your body to digest the food you’ve already eaten allows time for your brain to get the signal that you’re actually full. Plus, it’ll help save room for that dessert you’ve been eyeing (pumpkin pie, anyone?).
- Mix in some water
While it’s perfectly fine to celebrate the festive season with a glass of mulled wine or eggnog, alternating between alcohol and water can help keep your calorie intake in check and prevent dehydration. Add some fresh lemon, lime, cucumber or berries to your water if you crave a little more flavour. You can also limit your calories from alcohol by mixing hard liquor with carbonated water instead of sugar-sweetened juices or pop.
A few final words
Don’t forget to squeeze in some physical activity over the holidays to help maintain a healthy daily energy balance. Not a fan of the gym? No problem – the holidays are a great time to take advantage of the fun outdoor activities that Canadian winters have to offer. Gather up your family and friends for an afternoon of skating, sledding or skiing, or go for an evening walk around your neighbourhood to take in the festive lights and decorations.
And lastly, while it is important to eat healthy and stay active, try not to get too worked up about it. The holidays are a special time for catching up with your loved ones, and savouring some well-deserved relaxation. Don’t beat yourself up over skipping your workout for a social gathering or going for that homemade shortbread cookie (or two). Instead, just try to get back on track with healthy eating and enjoy your favourite holiday treats in moderation.
- Schoeller, DA. The effect of holiday weight gain on body weight. Physiol Behav 2014;134: 66-69.
- Helander, EE. Wansink B. Chieh A. Weight gain over the holidays in three countries. N Engl J Med 2016;375 (12):1200-1202.
- Dietitians of Canada. Feature Recipes. 2018 [cited November 5, 2018]. Available from: https://www.dietitians.ca/Media/Nutrition-Month/Recipe-Ideas.aspx
- McCrory, MA. Meal skipping and variables related to energy balance in adults: A brief review, with emphasis on the breakfast meal. Physiol Behav 2014;134:51-54.