Don't Gain Weight During the Holidays

Moving to maintenance makes it easier to join the fun -- and stick to your plan for the long run

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

Getting through the holidays can be daunting, but it doesn't have to be that way. You really can have your cake and eat it, too, if you embrace the goal of maintaining your weight -- instead of struggling to lose more weight -- until the New Year.

The holiday season really is not about deprivation or dieting. It's a time to celebrate with family and friends, and to enjoy the festivities. The challenge is to do it without gaining back any of the weight you've worked to lose.

Let's face it; dieting is hard enough most days of the year. But coping with holiday stress, along with all the high-calorie celebrating, makes it especially difficult to avoid unwanted pounds during the winter holiday season.

Diets tend to fail more often this time of year than any other time. In fact, most adults gain about one pound during the holidays.

As the holidays approach, you have two healthy choices: to stick with your program and continue to lose weight (more power to you!), or to temporarily shift into maintenance mode until the celebrating is done.

The 200-Calorie Strategy

Maintenance is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. The only real way to determine how many calories you need to maintain your current weight is to loosen up your eating plan a little, and weigh in regularly, to see how many extra calories you can enjoy without gaining. For most members, this will be around 200 calories.

Adding 200 calories is the Weight Loss Clinic's maintenance strategy for members who have reached their goal weights. It represents a cautious increase in calories, and has been shown to be a good starting point to maintain weight.

Try it on for size, and consider the next few weeks a practice round for when you reach your goal weight. Keep in mind that your fitness routine should stay the same, and regular weigh-ins are essential to ensure that 200 calories is the right number for you.

Here are 10 tips to help you navigate the holiday season with your weight intact:

1. Control portions. Studies have shown that the more food we're served, the more we will eat -- even if we don't particularly like what we're eating! Take a cue from this research and keep your portions small, especially with calorie-heavy foods like gravy, eggnog, and desserts.

2. Keep moving. Exercise is even more important for maintaining weight loss than for taking off the pounds in the first place, according to the successful losers on the National Weight Control Registry. And experts agree that exercise is essential in helping you cope with stress. Further, getting regular activity can actually give you more energy to tackle that long holiday "to-do" list. If you just can't get to the gym, keep in mind that something is better than nothing. Do whatever you can to squeeze in 10-minute intervals of activity throughout the day.

3. Weigh in regularly. Checking in with the scale at least once a week is the true test for maintenance. Remember to do it first thing in the morning, in your nightclothes, and after emptying your bladder. When the scale notches upward, that's your signal to cut back on portions or rev up physical activity.

4. Eat plenty of lean protein. Boosting your protein intake with lean meats, skinless poultry, low-fat dairy, seafood, and beans will keep you feeling satisfied longer. When you visit the buffet table, opt for these lean protein choices and complement them with high-fiber grains, fruits, and vegetables, which also help fill you up for relatively few calories.

5. Have a healthy breakfast. Study after study confirms that people who eat breakfast end up eating fewer calories throughout the day. Successful losers never skip breakfast because it powers up the brain, gets the metabolism perking, and helps you perform any task better.

6. Put it on a plate. It's hard to keep track of how much food you're eating when you nibble without using a plate. Serving meals and snacks on a plate will help you avoid the mindless hand-to-mouth munching that can add lots of extra calories.

7. If you don't love it, don't eat it. This is my golden rule. Why waste calories on foods that don't knock your socks off? One bite is usually enough to tell whether you love it. If not, don't worry about waste -- just leave it on your plate. Use those extra calories for something you love.

8. Enjoy soup or a salad before going to a party. Studies have shown that a first course consisting of a large green salad with a light dressing, or a bowl of broth-based vegetable soup, can reduce the total calories you eat during a meal. These super-nutritious foods take the edge off your appetite so you don't arrive starving and dive into the nuts.

9. Satisfy a craving with a few bites. A piece of pecan pie or glass of eggnog can set you back by more than 400 calories. To stay in maintenance mode, enjoy just a few bites of such rich foods. Or choose lower-calorie alternatives (like pumpkin pie or low-fat eggnog) so your 200 extra calories will give you more to enjoy.

10. Savor every bite. Sit down, relax, and enjoy every bite of your meal. Take your time and savor the flavors, textures, and aroma of each food. Eating slowly will help you enjoy the meal and will give your brain time to receive the signal that your stomach is happily full.

This season, make "social weight maintenance" your strategy, and give yourself the gift of guilt-free enjoyment of the holiday bounty. Happy holidays!

Originally published Dec. 5, 2005.
Medically updated December 2006.


©2006 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.



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