How to Avoid the So-Called “Festive 15”

The holidays are upon us…again. Another chance to eat, drink and be merry. But don’t use this opportunity to overeat. Amanda Erickson, chief clinical dietician at TriStar Southern Hills Medical Center, offers a few reasons people gain weight this time of year and tips on how to stay on course during this holiday season finale.

  1. RELAX

The myth that the average American gains 7 to 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day has been debunked by several researchers. On average, the holiday weight gain is closer to one pound, as opposed to 7 to 10 pounds this time of year. However, for many people, it may take five months or more to lose the weight, if at all. And therein lies the problem.

  1. SKIPPING MEALS

Oftentimes, people gain weight during the holidays because they skip meals to make room for holiday treats. But, when you deny yourself frequent meals, your metabolism slows down to ensure you have enough energy for your body’s basic systems (i.e. heart beat). As your metabolism slows, your food consumption is stored in the body, as though you are in starvation mode. That’s when every calorie, especially high-fat desserts, will be stored and weight gain will happen more than if you were eating at normal intervals.

Another issue with skipping meals is people often become too hungry to make rational decisions about food choices and portion sizes and end up eating more calories than they would have if they ate light meals and snacks throughout the day.

Eating regular meals – ideally, every three to four hours throughout the day – your body would learn to expect an energy source during those intervals and food would burn off faster during the course of your daily activities.

  1. PEER PRESSURE

During the holidays, you may have unplanned opportunities to sway away from your normal eating habits. A co-worker shows up with holiday treats after lunch or friends and family arrive from out of town, leading you to go out for coffee with one and drinks with another, thereby adding calories that aren’t accounted for during a typical day. One medium latte and one alcoholic beverage equals an extra 500 calories per day and can add up to one pound per week. You’re probably skipping out on your daily exercise, too, which means you are losing that calorie deficit. There’s no easy way to say this, so, just say no or suggest a healthy alternative.

  1. HAPPY HOUR

Try a Happy Hour workout instead of the traditional discounted cocktails and appetizers.  If you are able to convince family, friends or co-workers to an afternoon sweat-fest, you could save yourself some added calories – potentially 300-450 for beer, 150-375 for red wine, or 200-300 for liquor (not counting your mixers!) – and even burn some, all while spending quality time together.

  1. STAY ON COURSE

Sticking to a routine will be important in order to stay on course during the holidays. If you normally exercise five days a week before work, be sure to wake up before your family (or invite them along!) and stick to that schedule. If you don’t have a gym, improvise with a walk outside or an exercise video. A day or two shouldn’t derail you too much, but changing your daily habits can make it more difficult to get back on track once you return.

Also, continue to eat your regular meals throughout the day and monitor your indulgences. Mobile phone apps have made this concept almost fool-proof. If you input your food intake and portion sizes at each meal, you will know your calorie intake throughout the day. This also helps to notice areas where you may have faltered one day, and identify ways to avoid this in the future.

  1. DON’T EAT, COPE

The holidays can be an emotional or stressful time for some people. Here are a few ways to help you get through the festive season and start the New Year off right:

  • Exercise, alone or with others;
  • Volunteer at a local food bank or shelter;
  • Participate in activities like a community sing-along or a holiday decoration or project with kids; or
  • Talk to a professional.

Enjoy the last few weeks of this holiday season; just eat, drink and be merry responsibly and in moderation.

Amanda Erickson is the chief clinical dietician at HCA’s TriStar Southern Hills Medical Center. She is a registered and licensed dietitian and nutritionist.