Maintain – Don’t Gain – This Holiday Season

Thanksgiving’s a week away, which marks the start of what I like to call “holiday eating season.”  If you’re like me, your days, nights, and weekends during the next six weeks will be filled with festivities that center around food.  While there are plenty of ways to take the focus off of food this holiday season, we all know that sometimes food-centric events are inevitable.  However, these events don’t have to mean the end of your healthy eating habits – nor should they be the beginning of a self-imposed regimen of deprivation.

A healthy way to look at all of the parties at work, home, or friends’ houses is as an opportunity to enjoy the season while challenging yourself to maintain your current weight.  This means you have room for regular indulgences, as long as you also incorporate time for regular exercise and balance out those indulgences with healthier options.  When you embrace the holiday season for all that it is – a time for socialization, good will, happiness, and all sorts of other positive emotions – you’re less likely to get hung up on the occasional “cheat day” and more likely to stick with healthy eating and activity patterns the rest of the time.

So how can you apply the concept of “maintain – don’t gain” during the next six weeks?  Here are some easy ways to enjoy the season without doing too much damage to all the healthy habits you follow the rest of the year:

  • Play favorites. When you first enter a party, scope out all of the food options available before filling your plate.  Once you have an idea of which foods you’d most like to eat, put them on your plate first, making sure to take large helpings of healthy options and smaller servings of less-healthy items.  Filling your plate with foods you know you’re going to enjoy helps prevent you from consuming excess calories from foods you threw on your plate “just because” that you feel you have to eat.
  • Health-ify it. Not-so-nutritious meals can be made healthier by adding healthy options alongside them.  Aim to include at least one (non-deep-fried) vegetable or fruit to every meal and snack.  Is pizza on the menu at your office party?  Make sure to accessorize your slices with a heaping helping of salad.  Tempted by your Grandmother’s famous pecan pie?  Have a small slice alongside a bowl of fresh fruit.  Not only will you get the beneficial vitamins and minerals your produce contains, you’ll also be adding a low-calorie, filling option to your plate, which will help prevent overindulging in higher-calorie foods.
  • Work it out. Use gatherings as an excuse to recruit other health-minded individuals to burn off those extra calories with you.  Go for a family walk before or after your meal or organize a friendly game of touch football.  If you’re having fun being active as part of a group, your calorie-burning activities won’t feel like a chore.  If group activity isn’t always an option, strike out on your own and incorporate brief walks whenever you can.  Take a lap around the office every few hours, get up and talk to your coworkers instead of calling or emailing them, or walk to errands close by instead of driving.  Little bouts of activity add up to increase calorie burn throughout the day.
  • Try the pie.  Let’s face it – most of us look forward to indulging in dessert at the end of a holiday meal.  If you want a slice of pie, or a cookie, or whatever else on the dessert table tickles your fancy, go for it.  Depriving yourself of a sought-after treat will only make you lose the willpower to make other healthy choices the rest of the day.  Remember, however, that you don’t need to eat the whole pie or plate of cookies:  It only takes three bites of any particular to feel satisfied, so stick to small portions of your favorite treats.
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