With the holiday season comes parties and lots of fun and family gatherings… But also all sorts of caloric nightmares and holiday weight gain. Tempting platters piled with treats like cheese and crackers, bowls brimming with candies, chocolates, and chips, warm and creamy holiday cocktails… and let’s not forget an entire buffet table lying in wait!
But if you’re watching your weight, hosting a holiday party can be just as difficult, if not more so! It’s the holiday season, so of course you want to provide your guests with rich, festive holiday foods, but in doing so, it’s all too easy for you to completely derail your own diet.
The good news is that over time, nutritionists, doctors, food lovers, and weight watchers have learned how to adapt typical holiday foods to healthier, more nutritious versions that you don’t need to feel guilty about eating on the big day, and you won’t have to deal with the aftermath of holiday weight gain.
Here are a few easy tips and tricks to avoid holiday weight gain and help you stay on track during the holiday season, whether you’re a host or a guest.
The best part: No one will even realize that you’re doing them!
If you’re a host or hostess…
1. Offer more low-fat foods and fewer high-fat foods
Studies show that when people are offered a greater variety of foods, they eat significantly more.1 Is anyone surprised? I highly doubt it. With tons of food in front of you, that are only available this time of year, how could you not indulge?
This can be looked at as both good and bad. Consuming a wider variety of high-fat foods leads to overeating and weight gain. But on the other hand, eating wider variety of low-fat foods, especially vegetables, is associated with staying slim.
Rather than serving three different high-fat appetizers, desserts, or side dishes this holiday season, why not get creative? Offer three different types of salads, vegetable side dishes, or fruit based desserts, instead.
Another way to avoid holiday weight gain is to find healthy, low-fat alternatives to traditional holiday foods and treats. Who hasn’t heard of mashed cauliflower filling in for mashed potatoes? This way, you can trick your mind into thinking you’ve indulged without affecting your body weight.
2. Organize your table
Keeping food organized by category in a buffet setting can decrease consumption considerably. This is most likely due to a perceived decrease in variety.2 So keep appetizers, side dishes, main courses, desserts, and other food choices grouped neatly together in organized patterns, and your guests won’t even notice that they are eating less.
If you are even more motivated, keep the very fattening, easily over-consumed filler foods (cheese plates, bread baskets, nuts, and cookies) in harder to reach locations, to decrease their consumption even further.
Further, only keep particular foods out for a set amount of time. For example: appetizers probably shouldn’t still be available once the main course is served. They’ve already served their purpose, after all, and only offer temptation for mindless munching.
3. Downsize plates and utensils
Since we tend to eat with our eyes, not our stomachs, we tend to serve ourselves more than we’re able to eat, but instead of stopping when we’re full, we don’t stop eating or drinking until our plates or glasses are empty. This plays a big part in holiday weight gain and is also where dishes and utensils can make a big difference.
Eating from smaller plates can help control portions, by making servings appear larger, or readjusting the perception of what constitutes a normal serving size. Similarly, drinking out of tall, thin glasses instead of shorter, wider glasses can decrease the amount of liquid calories ingested.
The human brain takes about 20 minutes to register that the stomach is full…and since we tend to eat faster than that, especially around the holiday time of year. Using smaller utensils (ie. salad forks instead of regular forks) can help slow your eating down.3 By taking smaller sized bites, it’s more likely that guests will stop eating after consuming a satisfying amount of food.
Another tip: keep up a conversation while you eat. Since you can’t talk and eat at the same time (or shouldn’t!), this slows down your eating a considerable amount.
If you’re a guest…
1. Scan the buffet before filling your plate
Take your time to look over all of the food choices available to you before filling your plate. Then you can take the time to decide what you’re going to indulge in, instead of just loading up your plate without thinking it through. This can help you avoid loading up on foods you’re indifferent about eating…and save room on your plate for the foods you want to indulge in.
I often suggest this method to patients over the holiday season. Rather than indulging in all of the “not so good for your diet” foods at every event, choose one or two indulgences at each occasion to avoid holiday weight gain. Then, load up the remainder of your plate with lots of veggies and lean protein options that your host/hostess has (hopefully) served. Also limit sauces, dressings, and high-fat toppings.
Surveying the food selection at the buffet before serving yourself can help you decide in advance what indulgences may be worth the splurge that evening.
And when it comes to dessert, find out what will be served ahead of time. All too often, every dessert that’s available is delicious and it feels impossible to choose just one…or to skip them completely! Dessert is a big factor of holiday weight gain. While it’s best not to indulge in that sugar rush (and crash), you shouldn’t feel deprived, either. Try to choose only one, and take an extra small serving. Chances are high that you’ll already feel full from the meal and that single piece will be more than enough to satisfy your sweet tooth.
2. Sit where you can’t see the buffet
Just seeing food can be a powerful motivator to eat. In one study, people who ate facing a Chinese buffet tended to weigh significantly more.4 In another study, desk workers exposed to candy in clear jars at their desks consumed more than double the amount of candy than when the candy was placed in an opaque jar in the same place on their desk.
This “visual exposure to food” becomes even more pronounced when there is more variety at a buffet, since the stimulus to eat is compounded. In other words, the more you look at food that’s openly available to you, the more likely you are to end up eating beyond your limits.
3. Don’t wear loose fitting clothes
This may seem a bit silly but I’ve recommended this tip to patients for years. In the past, how many times have your opted out of a more snug fitting pair of pants or dress when heading to a holiday party, so that you could indulge your appetite on holiday foods that cause you to bloat, or overindulge in every tasty food available?
The truth is, that snug feeling that develops at your pant waist over the course of an evening can be a powerful cue to stop eating. It can also make you much more aware of mindless overeating, which is easily one cause of holiday weight gain and easy to do during holiday parties.
So, in order to avoid that dreaded holiday weight gain, skip the loose fitting pants or skirt and wear something that shows the figure that you’ve worked so hard to maintain all year (and hope to maintain over the holidays!).
Embrace the Holidays (not the holiday weight gain!)
The holiday season doesn’t need to be a blow-out of all your hard work. Try to choose the healthiest options available to you, and don’t forget to keep up your regular exercise, even the day of a big holiday. Something as simple as taking a walk the day of, before you come face to face with the big holiday meal, or between the main course and dessert, is a great example of exercise.
Try out a few (or all) of these holiday party survival guide tips during the next few months to avoid dreadful holiday weight gain, and you may be pleasantly surprised when you step back on those scales come January.
Enjoy being surrounded by family and friends on that day, and trust that you know how to handle yourself. Just remember: Power is in the Planning. If you have a concrete plan on how you’re going to approach Aunt Harriet’s Christmas buffet this year, then you’re going to be just fine.
For more health tips, keep reading the Spicefit blog:
2. Textbook of Obesity: Biological, Psychological and Cultural Influences, Sharon R. Akabas, Sally Ann Lederman, Barbara J. Moore