If you tend to fall off the healthy-eating wagon during the holidays, you’re not alone. Many Americans gain one or two pounds during the holidays simply from having extra opportunities to indulge. Although a pound or two may not sound like much, researchers at the National Institutes of Health report that most people never lose this weight, and it contributes to obesity as the years pass.
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We asked the nation’s best nutritionists to share their words of wisdom — what to do and what not to do when you’re trying to get back on a healthy track — and strategies to immediately put their pointers into action.
Give it up!
—Mitzi Dulan, RD, team nutritionist for the Championship Kansas City Royals and author of The Pinterest Diet: How to Pin Your Way Thin
Typically, I’m not a “give it up”-type person, but I change my tune for a January restart in the alcohol department. After your New Year’s celebration, give up alcohol for the rest of the month of January (along with making sure to avoid eating anything after 7:30 p.m.).
Add pulses to your daily eating routine.
—Cynthia Sass, M.P.H., RD, author of Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches With Real Food, Real Fast
Pulses, which include beans, peas and lentils, have been shown to promote weight loss without the need to cut or count calories. Simply adding a serving of pulses to your daily routine can boost satiety, delay the return of hunger and curb the desire to eat processed snacks. Pulses, which are packed with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber and protein, have also been shown to help regulate blood sugar and insulin levels, reduce belly fat and rev up metabolism so you burn more calories. They’re also affordable, plant-based, environmentally friendly, naturally free of gluten, readily available and incredibly versatile.
Eat them either as the protein in a plant-based meal (like kale and white bean soup) or as the starch in a meal with animal protein (like a veggie-and-avocado omelet with chickpeas or baked fish over spinach and lentils).
Don’t get fooled by tricky food labels.
—Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, owner of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It
Just because you’re looking to ditch those extra holiday pounds, don’t be taken by words like “natural” and “organic” on the packaging. Sugar, salt and unhealthy fats can be natural and organic, yet these words are often magnetic and misleading to shoppers. Flip your package over and look for the ingredient list. Some labels (and even some food packages) are more transparent than others. Go for ingredients you can recognize. As an example, you can look at a KIND bar and identify the nuts and dried fruit within. Cleaner food labels help you understand what you’re considering putting in your body to help you make balanced, energizing choices throughout the day.
Get back into a regular dinnertime routine.
During the hectic holiday season, families often find themselves eating larger-than-usual portions of rich meals and desserts at places other than the family dinner table: parties, restaurants and by the pool while on vacation. To get back on track, Weiss recommends families slim down their portions and return to their usual mealtime routines.
Planning meals ahead of time and going heavy on fruits and vegetables for snacks and at meals are the key ingredients in getting back into a regular mealtime routine and keeping hunger pangs in check. You can download the free 7-Day Meal Planner on Meal Makeover Moms or look online for additional resources to start a weekly meal-planning routine.
Don’t skip meals in the hope of saving calories.
—Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CFT, co-owner of NutritionTwins.com and author of The Nutrition Twins Veggie Cure
This only sets you up to overeat when you finally sit down to a meal because you’ll be ravenous and have a harder time making a rational decision about what you’ll eat. It’s also too easy to justify eating a little extra because you’ll feel as if you saved calories by skipping meals. Plus, avoid a meal and you’ll likely find yourself hungry between meals, making it easier to succumb to high-calorie snack foods.
Instead, avoid waiting more than five hours between eating, and include protein, fiber and nutrients when you do eat. It will keep you satiated, on track and energized. Start off strong with fiber and nutrient-packed oatmeal and fruit with a hard-boiled egg at breakfast. Choose steel-cut or whole oats and colorful berries to really pack in antioxidants and fiber, and try Eggland’s Best eggs to get double the omegas and four times the vitamin D.
For a snack try protein and calcium-rich Greek yogurt and a piece of brightly colored fruit. At lunch and dinner try seafood or grilled poultry breast (for protein) with a small serving of brown rice or quinoa and green, red and/or orange vegetables (for fiber and extra vitamins and minerals).
Practice saying “no, thank you.”
—Maggie Moon, M.S., RDN, author of Elimination Diet Workbook
It’s an important life skill to be able to say “no” graciously. Ditch the guilt about refusing what’s offered to you, and stand up for your health. Give them a big smile and pleasantly but firmly say, “Oh, no thanks, I’ve had my fill.” Then change the topic. You could ask about their holiday plans or inquire about their family. Of course, choose your battles. By all means, enjoy reasonable portions of your favorites, but everything else should be optional.
Don’t do a cleanse, fast or anything drastic to jump-start weight loss.
—Marie Spano, M.S., RD, CSCS, CSSD, sports nutritionist, Atlanta Hawks and co-editor of NSCA’s Guide to Sport and Exercise Nutrition
You’ll lose water, muscle and some fat and end up hungry for food. Focus on eating nutritious meals (with real, wholesome foods, not snack foods), getting more physical activity daily (like raking leaves, mopping the floor, walking to the bus stop) and exercising regularly. It’s a sustainable approach that works. When you eat solid meals you’ll also be less likely to snack on junk.
Focus on what you can eat, not what you shouldn’t eat.
—Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE author of Belly Fat Diet for Dummies
Don’t set yourself up for failure after the holidays by focusing on all the foods you should avoid. Deprivation leads to a feeling of scarcity, which drives cravings for a certain food. For instance, if you tell yourself you can never have ice cream, then all you’ll want is ice cream. Instead, focus on the foods you should be eating. This takes away the feeling of deprivation and guilt and steers you in the direction of success.
Focus on eating more vegetables at every meal. Make your goal to simply cover half your plate with vegetables. By doing this, you fill yourself with fiber and have less room on your plate (and in your stomach) for higher-calorie foods. This simple change will help to promote healthy post-holiday weight loss without leaving you feeling hungry or deprived.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
—Elisa Zied, M.S., RDN, CDN, author of Younger Next Week
With the cooler weather, many people forget to hydrate and may mistake thirst for hunger and eat more than their bodies need. Drink water and eat fresh fruits and veggies and oatmeal. All rich in water content, they can keep you hydrated (especially helpful to protect your skin from getting dry in winter), and the fiber in the produce and cooked grains can also fill you up. Plus, there’s evidence that drinking water before meals may even help you curb calorie intake. Drink water throughout the day (especially a cup or two before each meal or during your workout), have oatmeal topped with your favorite berries (fresh or frozen without added sugars or fat) and add a little colorful produce at each meal.
Find the right balance.
—Keri Gans, RDN, NYC-based nutritionist and author of The Small Change Diet
When you splurge, also balance that by pulling tight on the reins. For example, if I went out for a decadent dinner, the next day I really try and make sure my meals are healthier and my portions are controlled. Have a festive lunch planned? Yoga is a must in the morning. I really try and avoid the all-or-nothing attitude.
Get healthy with a squirt of lemon juice or peel.
—Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CFT, co-owner of NutritionTwins.com and author of The Nutrition Twins Veggie Cure
Incorporating lemon juice and even the peel into drinks and dishes provides a delicious flavor and a vitamin-packed, calorie-free alternative to salty and fatty condiments and sauces. You’ll get vitamin C and even some calcium and an immune-boosting punch.
Simply spritz steamed veggies, salads, fish (fresh or canned) and poultry with lemon juice, or add lemon zest with some cracked pepper and a spritz of olive oil rather than adding higher-calorie dressing and sauces. You’ll get a light, refreshing, citrusy flavor without bloat-causing sodium. You’ll also get potassium to help balance any sodium that may be causing bloat. Add lemon peel or its juice to water and you’ll get a delicious flavor that encourages you to drink more and stay hydrated without calories — and don’t forget the nutrient boost!
Map out your daily meal plan.
—Molly Morgan, RD, CDN, CSSD and author of Drink Your Way to Gut Health
A plan will set the framework to get you back to your nutrition goals. Review your week ahead and determine what you will have for meals and snacks each day. Then make a grocery list and shop for all of the supplies to make your plan happen.