How to prevent holiday weight gain


Step away from the cookie tin and watch this Howdini! Today Show contributor and registered dietitian Elizabeth Somer will help you get through the holidays without packing on the pounds.

How to prevent holiday weight gain The good news? The average American 'only' gains one to two pounds from Thanksgiving to New Years, not the seven that we've heard about for years. The bad news? Many of us don't lose those extra pounds in the new year. Over a decade, that adds 10 to 20 extra pounds!

Preventing weight gain over the holidays is particularly difficult because food is virtually everywhere we turn. And the temptations are frequently high-calorie goodies that provide little, if any, real nutrition.

There's also more stress over the holidays — parties, shopping, families, travel — and many of us deal with stress by (over) eating.

In addition, alcohol is ubiquitous, and alcohol can 'dissolve our resolve' making it easier to eat high calorie goodies and providing extra, sometimes many extra, calories in our drinks. (Some Eggnog or Hot Buttered Rum servings contain 300 to 400 calories. Each! Not exactly at the top of the list for healthy holiday eating. Have three or four over the course of an evening party, and that's a substantial portion of your total daily calorie allowance...)

The best way to prevent weight gain over the holidays? Have a game plan to avoid unconscious, unplanned, mindless eating:

  • Make a vow to keep a log of everything you put into your mouth. Sure, it's a bit of a pain, but it will make you conscious of what you eat and help you avoid the mindless consumption of treats that you don't really savor, and don't register on the body's appetite regulating system. Having a plan and keeping a log will also help you really enjoy the Christmas fudge that you only eat once a year because it is part of your plan!
  • Keeping a log will also help you establish healthy holiday eating habits and control the mindless noshing and grazing that you do during the holidays. (Figure that each mouthful of food is about 25 calories. Make even 4 stops at work, at a party or at the mall for 'just a taste' of candy/cookie/ popcorn/ nuts/brownie and you've got the makings of a one pound weight gain in a month.)
  • Your healthy holiday eating plan can still consist of your favorite foods. Consider modifying your holiday recipes to make them better choices. For example, sweet potatoes are a great food. Unless you load them up with butter and marshmallows...
  • Try making food only the accent to other richer, more satisfying activities over the holidays. Activities that enable you to spend time with the people that you love and not gain weight! For example, have a party that focuses on getting together and writing cards and making ornaments — or wrapping gifts — rather than eating.

LISA:  Hi I'm Lisa Birnbach for howdini. It's holiday time which means extra pounds and you know it. You know it! It's going to happen. Elizabeth Somer is with us. She's a dietician and author. Elizabeth, how do you avoid the weight gain? It seems like you're just punishing yourself.

ELIZABETH: Oh, I know. Well the good news is that we used to think that people gained about seven pounds over the holidays and it's not that bad. We're averaging about one to two pound weight gain over the holidays, so that's a little bit better.

LISA:   Are we talking about Thanksgiving through New Year's Eve?

ELIZABETH: Yeah. And that's not that big of a deal except that people tend not to lose the weight after New Year's Eve. So it becomes a gradual accumulation and over the course of a decade is ten to twenty pounds. So the weight gain isn't as bad as we thought, but it is still something to keep an eye on.

LISA:  Now, during the holidays there's food everywhere. In the office somehow people show up with tins of candy and cookies and popcorn and stuff that know you think oh popcorn, it's more fiber than food, but somehow you're eating without even being aware of it.

ELIZABETH: And you really need to watch out for that. You really need to go into the holidays with a game plan cause it's so easy to eat unconciously. And that mindless eating will catch up with you. Every mouthful averages about twenty-five calories. So if you walk by an employee's desk and grab a Hershey's kiss and later on in the day you're in the employee's lounge and have that popcorn and pop some into your mouth. Even four mindless bites in a day and you've gained a pound in a month. So you really have to start paying attention. Now one thing you can do is keep a pencil and a piece of paper with you and just vow to write down everything that you're eating during the holidays. It sounds like kind of a pain, but it will make you conscious of every time you are putting something in your mouth. And you don't even enjoy those mindless bites. You know at the end of the day--

LISA:  Well you're not savoring them, right?

ELIZABETH:  You're not savoring them, you don't register them in any way, so they're really totally useless calories. You want to save those calories for the Christmas fudge rather than, you know, some mindless bite.

LISA:  Do you think that we do more mindless eating during the holidays than the rest of the year?

ELIZABETH:  Well, if we do it's because there's so much food around. And you know there's more nervousness, there's more anxiety. You've already got a full life and now you're cramming Christmas shopping and wrapping presents and everything else into it. So you know I think there's a little bit more stress eating as well. So carrying a pencil and piece of paper around with you and vowing to write down things may be enough to nip that mindless eating in the bud.

LISA:  Aside from the normal, the normal foods that we know we should avoid because they're empty calories, what are some of the holiday culprits so you can just avoid it if you can?

ELIZABETH: Well just about everything out there. Okay we've settled that one. Haha. There's a lot of really good holiday foods, it's just what we do to them. For instance, the sweet potatoes at the Thanksgiving meal or Christmas meal are wonderful, but if you're loading them up with butter and marshmellows, then you can triple the calories in a serving.

LISA:   Traditional holidays foods or drinks, like egg nog. I think egg nog looks fattening.

ELIZABETH: Yeah. Watch out, it's way more fattening than you realize. Some of the recipes if you check them out can have 300, 400 calories in a serving of egg nog or hot buttered rum. That's the calories in a cheeseburger. And then if you've had two or three of them, you've had your entire day's allotment for calories. And the thing too about liquid calories is that they don't fill us up. They don't register on our appetite clocks. So we eat just as much food, maybe more, because alcohol tends to "dissolve our resolve." You know, we go to a party all set to be good and you have one glass of wine and then say what the heck I might as well go ahead and eat whatever I want. So not only do they "dissolve our resolve," but then you have extra calories packed on to the food you're going to eat anyway. So, you can walk away from a holiday party having consumed 2000 calories and not even feel that full.

LISA:  And you've already had lunch and breakfast.


LISA:   And how many calories, how do we know how many calories we should be taking in?

ELIZABETH:  Put the food thing in perspective. It should be an accent to an otherwise rich experience of spending time with the people you love. It shouldn't be the main focus. So, you can have parties, but maybe have them around something that is not so food related. Maybe have friends over to do things you have to do anyway. Sign Christmas cards or make ornaments or wrap presents with your friends and have a few little treats to eat. But, the real focus is on the activity rather than the food.

LISA:  Good. Thank you.

ELIZABETH: Your welcome.

LISA:   For howdini, I'm Lisa Birnbach.

meet theexpert
  • Elizabeth Somer

    Elizabeth Somer Registered Dietician and Author Elizabeth Somer is a Registered Dietician and author of several books, including Age-Proof Your Body and Food & Mood. She is Editor-in-Chief of Nutrition Alert, a newsletter summarizing the current research from more than 6,000 journals. more about this expert »

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