There are a lot of ways to gain weight over the holiday break: gravy, pumpkin pie, your grandma’s cranberry sauce—not to mention lazy days spent inside next to fireplaces and family (and leftovers). Some of our favorite holiday foods pack a ton of calories and fat, but it can be hard to abstain, especially at a holiday party where grazing is encouraged and there are so many delicious options. The holidays are also filled with other weight gain triggers: stress and too many parties. But don’t worry! Turns out you don’t have to deprive yourself of your favorite foods and activities to maintain your weight this time of year. Her Campus talked to Barbara Schubert, associate director of the Center for Health Education and Wellness at Johns Hopkins University about how to stay healthy throughout the holidays. So, whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas or the Winter Solstice or you just celebrate pumpkin pie, here is how to make smart decisions that will keep your health and weight in check.
1. Enjoy your favorites in moderation
Completely forgoing your favorite holiday treats sets you up for failure. “Food in and of itself should not make you feel guilty, and indulging is part of the holiday experience after all,” Schubert says. “However if you ate more than you intended and feel guilt-ridden about it, try your best to accept that you allowed yourself to enjoy something you wanted. Consider it a holiday gift to yourself.” What’s the lesson here? Indulge in moderation. “The first few bites are usually the most satisfying, so go ahead and take a few nibbles and move on,” Schubert says. Johns Hopkins University collegiette Vanessa stays conscious of what she’s eating by setting up limits before the meal. “It’s important to know your boundaries. My weakness is carbs. I loved mashed potatoes and bread and gravy. All the bad things I shouldn't like! Know your boundaries ahead of time,” she says. And beware of the hors-d’oeuvres. Those appetizers may look tiny and guilt-free, but they’ll add up quickly. Schubert recommends keeping track of your snacking by sticking the little appetizer toothpicks in your pocket, so you can keep count of how many you’re eating before the main course. Stop at two or three—appetizers can pack major calories in small bites. Basically, enjoy yourself, but watch what you’re eating. “I let myself have some of everything, but I eat small amounts and eat slowly,” says Emily of University of Virginia.
2. Maintain a routine eating schedule
It’s tempting to skip breakfast and lunch to “save up” for that awesome Christmas party your friend always throws. But, chances are, you’ll overcompensate later and take in more calories than you may intend. “Eating regular meals and snacks every day makes it easier to resist overdoing it at festive holiday events,” Schubert says. So, eat the same breakfast you always do at a consistent time.
3. Skip the high-cal cocktails
A spoonful of gravy here and there, a bit of dark chocolate—these indulgences won’t hurt you. But if you’re looking for something easy to skip to cut back on calories, put down your glass. While alcoholic drinks are fine in moderation, your favorite party drinks can pack a ton of calories and sugar in one small martini glass. “Most of us don’t think about the calories in drinks,” Schubert says. “Mixed drinks can be surprisingly high in calories. Instead of going for the White Russian, which can contain as much as 715 calories, opt for lower-calorie choices such as light beer, wine spritzers, wine, champagne, or hard liquor mixed with water or diet mixes.” Check out this HC article on the highest and lowest calorie drinks for even more options. Further, Schubert recommends alternating alcoholic beverages with water. “This is especially important when at parties or family gatherings where it’s easier to lose track of the number of drinks you’ve consumed. It’s not just about the calories but also the control. If you drink a lot you have less control of what you eat or how much,” she says. Concerned about drunk eating? Read this HC article for advice on how to keep control over food when you’re drinking.
4. Fill up your plate with lower-fat favorites
It’s easier to resist the urge to eat unhealthy foods when your plate is already full. Luckily, there are many delicious, guilt-free options that are often present on holiday party tables. Derail a splurge by filling up on healthier foods first before you gravitate to the dessert table. Schubert recommends the following foods that have fewer calories, less sodium, less fat and more fiber: whole grains (rolls, wild rice, quinoa), steamed seafood, plain or lightly dressed veggies, meat and poultry without the gravy, lightly dressed salad greens and fresh fruit. Want more alternatives and recipes for healthy holiday foods? Check out this HC article!
Food isn’t the only thing that will make the number on the scale go up. Bad sleeping habits, lack of exercise, and stress can all wreak havoc on your weight—especially during the holidays, when your routine isn’t consistent. Alayna, a collegiette at Stetson University, tries to stay as active as possible to offset holiday eating and partying. “Stay active. I know it's easy to slip into holiday mode of relaxing and eating, but remember that your body still needs to work a little! Take a nice jog in the brisk winter air, or hit the gym while listening to your favorite Christmas songs to keep you in the spirit!” she says. Schubert recommends keeping a consistent sleep and eating schedule even amidst a weekend full of parties. Your body will thank you! It’s OK to leave the party a little early if it means getting a full night of sleep. And don’t forget to treat yourself—it is the holiday season, after all. The holidays can be stressful, from boys to family and friends. With so much downtime, there is bound to be some drama. “The holidays can be a stressful time so it’s also important to take care of your mental health by doing something nice for yourself like getting a massage, going to a yoga class or trying meditation,” Schubert says. For more tips on de-stressing during the break, check out Her Campus’s guide to managing stress during the holidays.
Remember: indulging in moderation is key. Keep your routine consistent, get enough sleep and don’t beat yourself up for a couple of candy canes!