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12 Holiday Feast Mistakes That Make You Gain Weight

author image August McLaughlin
August McLaughlin is a health and sexuality writer, podcast host and author of “Girl Boner: The Good Girl’s Guide to Sexual Empowerment” (Amberjack Publishing, 2018). Her articles appear in DAME Magazine, Cosmopolitan.com, the Huffington Post and more, and she loves connecting with readers through her blog and social media. augustmclaughlin.com

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12 Holiday Feast Mistakes That Make You Gain Weight
Here's how to be merry during the holidays without losing sight of your health goals. Photo Credit: Cameron Whitman/Stocksy

Love this time of year but dreading the holiday weight gain? You're not alone. Fear of residual weight gain dampens the mood for many health-conscious individuals throughout the season. And it’s with good reason! On average, we consume 4,500 calories at a holiday gathering, according to the Calorie Control Council. But there's ways to be merry during the holidays without losing sight of your health goals. Read on to learn how to avoid 12 common holiday feast mistakes.

1. Abuse the Party Attitude
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1 Abuse the Party Attitude

Holiday cheer is wonderful, but it can disrupt portion control. "Many people rationalize splurging on treats during the holiday season by convincing themselves that it's OK because it's a special occasion," says Jenny Giblin, a psychotherapist and nutrition coach in Hawaii and New York. That free-for-all attitude makes it easy to add thousands of calories to your plate. While occasional splurging isn't typically harmful, Giblin suggests avoiding the tendency to turn one feast into a month-long party. For example, a slice of pecan pie can add 500 calories. And enjoying simple holiday splurges like this daily could lead to one pound of weight gain in just one week.

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2. Use Big Plates
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2 Use Big Plates

Standard dinner plate sizes have gradually increased over the past one thousand years, according to a 2010 International Journal of Obesity report. If you use jumbo dinner plates, you're likely to eat jumbo portions of rich food. Today’s plentiful food options also make it difficult to eat healthy amounts. Instead swap in smaller plates that are typically reserved for appetizers and salads. "If you're worried about gaining weight, it's important to remember you don't have to be perfect all the time," says therapist and nutritionist Jenny Giblin. "Try only taking three items at a time and make sure that you can still see your plate under the food." You should have a layer of food, not a mountain.

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3. Sit (or Stand) Too Close To Food
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3 Sit (or Stand) Too Close To Food

If you've ever experienced hunger pangs at the smell of fresh-baked cookies, you know just how powerful sensory temptation can be. "It can be hard to resist temptation when you're surrounded by an abundance of food," says therapist and nutrition coach Jenny Giblin. And a 2011 study of 464 college students, published in the International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, showed that sitting near desserts increases the size and quantity of diners' sweets choices. In other words, a bit of distance goes a long way. And if your feast is loaded with vegetables and other healthy fare, you might be able to get away with moderate calorie intake.

Read more: 13 Ways to Trick Yourself Full

4. Fail to Fill Up With Fiber
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4 Fail to Fill Up With Fiber

In addition to promoting digestion function, fiber boosts appetite control by increasing satiation and promoting blood sugar control. Many traditional holiday dishes, such as dinner rolls, cookies, candy and pies, contain little to no fiber, making them particularly easy to overeat. To shift the fiber equation in your favor, aim for the recommended 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day. For more fiber at your holiday meal, serve baked sweet potatoes instead of conventional mashed potatoes, and swap out white rolls for 100 percent whole-grain bread. Cooked greens, whole-grain stuffing, beans and lentils are also fiber-rich.

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5. Turn a Blind Eye on Butter
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5 Turn a Blind Eye on Butter

The average person could consume the fat equivalent of three sticks of butter at a holiday feast, says the Calorie Control Council. Adding a tablespoon of butter to your mashed potatoes and another to your dinner roll -- both of which likely already contain butter -- adds more than 200 calories and nearly 100 percent of your daily saturated fat limit to your plate. Butter also contributes a significant amount of fat and calories to gravy, pie crusts, cookies, roasts, cooked vegetables and creamy sauces. But you can still have buttery treats you love without going overboard, according to Minh-Hai Alex, a registered dietitian in Seattle. "Prioritize what you truly love to eat and skip what you don’t love," she says.

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6. Believe Any Dish With Fruits or Vegetables = Healthy
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6 Believe Any Dish With Fruits or Vegetables = Healthy

Many seemingly nutritious foods can increase your calorie intake significantly. One prime example? Cranberry sides, says Carina Sohaili, a certified nutrition counselor and founder of Vibrant Healthy Life in Los Angeles. "Most cranberry sides are packed with excessive sugars and fake ingredients." The same holds true for canned yams and fruits packed with sugar or corn syrup. In addition to adding calories, the added sweeteners can spike your blood sugar, Sohaili says, leading to appetite increases. When possible, choose fresh or frozen (no sugar added) fruits and veggies over canned varieties. One cup of fresh cranberries contains only 46 calories. In comparison, a half-cup serving of jellied cranberry sauce contains 220 calories.

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7. Cover Your Food in Sauces and Gravy
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7 Cover Your Food in Sauces and Gravy

Depending on the ingredients, turkey gravy provides 30 to 100 calories per serving. This may not seem high, but it can nearly double the calorie content of a single serving of white-meat turkey. Cheese sauces can contain up to 100 calories per quarter-cup, taking the calorie content of healthy fare, such as fresh veggie sticks and apple slices, from light to lofty. It's better to dip foods into sauces than to pour the sauces over the top. Think of sauces as you would salad dressing and choose to have them “on the side” and portion them lightly. And to reduce the richness of gravy, refrigerate it and then skim the solidified fat off the top.

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8. Always Add Toppings
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8 Always Add Toppings

Sweet toppings can add ample calories and virtually no nutrients to holiday dishes. "The marshmallows on top of those yams or the whipped cream on top of the pumpkin pie are killer," says nutrition counselor Carina Sohaili. Two tablespoons of marshmallow cream adds another 40 calories to yams. Sohaili recommends skipping the marshmallow and whipped creams. Real, whole foods taste just as good without all of the excessive toppings. If you must have your sweet, creamy topping, use modest amounts.

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9. Eat Light and Feast on Dessert
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9 Eat Light and Feast on Dessert

Holiday desserts can easily match or surpass the calorie content of an entire meal. One slice of pecan pie, for example, supplies more than 500 calories. A scoop of ice cream and a dollop of whipped topping can bring that pie slice up to about 700 calories. Apple pie contains more than 250 calories per slice, and pumpkin pie has around 325 calories. Trimming your dessert sizes to half-slices or taking bite-sized nibbles of a few options can help keep your caloric intake more reasonable.

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10. All-or-Nothing Thinking
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10 All-or-Nothing Thinking

If you think dessert is your holiday health's worst enemy, think again. The all-or-nothing mindset of dieting itself may pose greater risks, says Minh-Hai Alex, RD. "Ironically, dieters are at higher risk for getting painfully stuffed during holiday celebrations because the diet mentality increases the risk of all-or-nothing thinking." A few decadent bites of food you normally avoid might seem like a failure, leading you to think, "What the heck? I've already blown it," explains Alex. In some cases, overeating becomes a form of self-punishment for poor eating and prompts desires to starve afterward, triggering a cycle of overeating, under-eating and eventual weight gain.

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11. Overdo the Drinking
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11 Overdo the Drinking

Holiday drinks can be deceptively rich. In addition to providing less satiation and similar amounts of calories as food, sugary drinks, including eggnog, cocktails and juices, can offset your blood sugar and appetite control. According to nutrition coach and therapist Jenny Giblin, alcohol can make overeating a near given, because it inhibits your ability to remain conscientious about your food intake. A White Russian drink can add 500 calories and eggnog, 300 calories.

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12. Stressing Too Much
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12 Stressing Too Much

Stress is one of the biggest contributors to overeating and weight gain during the holidays and throughout the season. Stress causes your body to produce the hormone cortisol, which leads to appetite increases and weight gain. You may also crave calorie-rich foods because they bring emotional comfort and trigger the release of feel-good chemicals, such as serotonin, in your brain. According to Minh-Hai Tran, RD, instead of stressing over calories, you should amp up self-care. "Relaxation and decreasing stress can help support digestion and make it easier to connect with your body’s internal cues to support more attuned eating," she says.

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What Do YOU Think?
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What Do YOU Think?

How do you avoid holiday weight gain? Any healthy strategies or questions to share? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

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