25 Healthy Holiday Choices

Make it to the new year without gaining a pound

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Are you tired, cranky, and feeling stressed over everything you need to do this holiday season? Don't let the holidays undermine your weight loss success. After all, it's only a few weeks until New Year's Day is upon us.

So get on that scale each week, and make sure you don't follow the tradition of gaining a few pounds during each holiday season. Many folks gain a few pounds in December and keep them all year long. Our mantra at WebMD Weight Loss Clinic is "maintain, don't gain" during this festive time of year.

Get Your Z's

Of course, when you're faced with the inevitable array of holiday treats, maintaining is not as easy as it sounds. You need to make good decisions at parties and buffets, fit in physical activity, and get plenty of rest. Recent research has made us more aware than ever before of how important it is to get seven to eight hours of sleep each night. According to two studies published in Annals of Internal Medicine, people who don't get enough sleep have increased levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin and decreased levels of the hormone leptin, which signals fullness.

Sleep-deprived new parents, shift workers, college students, and others may gain weight as altered hormone levels influence them to overeat. So do your best to get to bed on time. Not only will it give you the extra energy you need this time of year, it will help keep those hunger hormones working properly.

10 Energizing Tips

Too much to do and too little time to get it done -- that's how many of us feel this time of year. To stay on track without reaching for fudge, eggnog, or cookies, you need a plan to keep your energy level high.

Try these 10 energizing tips to keep going strong:

  • Don't leave home without it (breakfast, that is). Start your day with a nutritious meal that will satisfy your hunger until lunchtime.
  • Schedule meals every few hours, never more than five hours apart. Skipping meals leads to overeating. It's better to plan a light, nutritious snack than to overdose on high-calorie treats.
  • Pack snacks and mini-meals when you know you'll be running low on time. Take a sandwich and piece of fruit instead of going for less nutritious alternatives at the mall food court or the office.
  • Be sure to include protein foods in your snacks and mini-meals, to boost the feeling of fullness.
  • Schedule time for a regular workout, or strap on a pedometer and get your activity while you shop or work. Nothing picks up your energy level like exercise.
  • Quiet time or a catnap can be restorative. Give yourself 20 minutes to refresh with quiet meditation or a little shuteye.
  • Seven to eight hours of sleep each night works like a charm.
  • Take a sunshine break. A quick walk outside can be invigorating.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially water. It's easy to overlook when you're busy, but this vital nutrient keeps muscles performing well and is essential to feeling good.
  • Get lively with some tunes. Research shows that music can increase energy, so put on some music while you work.

15 Smarter Splurges

The WebMD Weight Loss Clinic is all about including your favorite foods, and holiday time is no different. We want you to enjoy and indulge, but we also want you to do it wisely so it does not result in weight gain.

The secret is to think sample and remember that the first bite is really the best bite. Enjoy every moment of that bite, and then move on to healthier alternatives. See the chart below for "better bites" that will fill you up without packing on the pounds:

Instead of: Choose:
Chicken wings Shrimp cocktail or plain seafood
Fried chicken strips Sliced lean meat
Creamy dips Salsa
Eggnog Wine spritzer or glass of wine
Piece of cake Fruit salad
Turkey leg Breast of chicken, skinless
Hot buttered rum Sangria
Potato chips with dip Small handful of nuts or plain popcorn
Potato casserole Baked sweet or regular potato
Pecan pie Apple or pumpkin pie
Specialty coffee Artificially sweetened hot cocoa
Appetizer finger foods Smoked salmon on a whole-grain cracker
Candy Chocolate covered strawberry
Stuffing Wild or brown rice
After-dinner drink or coffee Herbal tea

You'll feel so much better the next day if you load your plate with healthy fruits, veggies, and simply prepared lean meats and seafood instead of calorie-laden mystery foods.

Watch your alcohol consumption too. Alcohol adds lots of extra calories, and it has a way of dissolving your resolve.

Don't let the saying "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail" describe your holiday season. Get your Z's, put a priority on physical activity, and choose splurges wisely, and you'll maintain your weight until the new year.

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