It's the season for revelry and cheer! But with beckoning desserts and snacks around every corner, it's easy for healthy eating habits to get lost in the shuffle. Pair that with cooling temps and hectic holiday schedules, and exercise plans often take a hit, too.
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But it's possible to survive the holidays with your wellness intact. If you're looking to avoid any extra weight gain, try these seven strategies this season.
1. Don't Skip Meals
Especially when you have a holiday dinner planned, you may feel inclined to skip breakfast or lunch to "save your calories" for the evening. And while this may seem logical theoretically, it's usually counterproductive, says dietitian Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD. Often, you'll end up overeating less-healthy options later on.
Opt instead for a balanced morning meal of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fat, recommends Taub-Dix. Even a bowl of cereal will give you some satiety. This can also help you avoid overindulging on appetizers as soon as you get to your holiday party.
2. Watch Portions and Prioritize Veggies
When you sit down to a holiday dinner, keep portion size in mind as you fill your plate, recommends SJ McShane, nutritionist and certified personal trainer. With appetizing holiday foods, it can be easy to overestimate portions and overindulge.
Filling your plate with plenty of vegetables can be a good method to prevent overindulging in some of the less-healthy options, McShane says. Vegetables are high in fiber, a nutrient that helps keep your heart and digestion healthy. Fiber also slows the rate at which food is digested in the body, which will help keep you feeling satiated, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
3. Make Time to Move
The holidays can be busy, and after a night of seasonal drinks and treats, getting motivated for a workout can be tough. But making even a little time to move — whether it's a walk, bike ride or gym session — can help you burn some extra calories and keep your digestion regular.
If you're short on time, McShane recommends HIIT or tabata training. This interval style of exercise is quick and doesn't require a gym or extensive equipment. Not to mention, HIIT can keep your metabolism firing and calories burning several hours after your workout.
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4. When in Doubt, Bring Your Own Dish
Some holiday get-togethers severely lack in healthy food options, but you shouldn't let that concern you. Volunteer to bring a favorite healthy side dish or dessert to the party, Taub-Dix says. This will not only help you stay on track but may even encourage family members to add a healthy side to their plate.
"Maybe bring a beautiful medley of fruit, maybe bring a salad, maybe bring a vegetable dish," Taub-Dix says. "Just so you know there's something there that you could make the star of your show, and then have other 'supporting cast members' of foods that may be richer and higher in calories that you also enjoy."
5. Find an Accountability Buddy
Although everyone is different, having a buddy to keep you accountable could help you stay motivated, McShane says. Whether you're struggling to stay on track with your nutrition or exercise (or both), talk to a spouse or friend who may have similar goals.
"I believe the more motivation and accountability you have, the better," she says.
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6. Pretend You're in a Restaurant
You've probably heard of mindful eating — bringing awareness to what and how much you're eating — but we'd probably all agree it's no easy feat, especially with all the enticing treats available during the holiday season. Taub-Dix recommends pretending you're in a restaurant at your next holiday dinner party in order to encourage more mindful eating practices.
When people eat in restaurants, they tend to eat a little more slowly and don't often order a second entree, Taub-Dix says. Even just pretending you're in a restaurant can call attention to the portions you're eating, the foods you're choosing and how quickly you're clearing your plate.
7. Drink Responsibly and Strategically
Seasonal beverages like eggnog or mulled wine can be high in sugar and calories, both of which aren't ideal for those looking to avoid holiday weight gain. Instead, opt for a standard glass of wine or seasonal beer to stay on track, recommends Taub-Dix.
Or, if you're really looking to cut back on alcohol, volunteer to be the designated driver. This will not only help keep you alcohol-free but will automatically transform your car-mates into accountability-enforcers.
Also, consider skipping pre-dinner drinks. Alcohol on an empty stomach can decrease your defenses more quickly, Taub-Dix says, which can make it more difficult to resist some of the more calorie-laden dishes on the table.