Holiday weight gain is a common concern for many adults.
Various seasonal holidays may encourage overeating, sedentary behavior, and consumption of calorie-rich foods. In fact, between mid-November and mid-January, adults in Western societies gain an average of 1 pound (0.5 kg) (1).
This may not seem like a lot, but most people don’t lose this extra baggage. Therefore, holidays — no matter the time of year — may be one of the biggest contributors to your total annual weight gain.
That said, holiday weight gain is not inevitable.
Here are 20 tips to help you avoid weight gain during the holiday season.
1. Be active with family and friends
Sedentary activities, such as sitting on the couch watching TV, are common holiday traditions for many families.
Doing some type of physical activity with your family may prove beneficial for weight control. Even something as simple as a family walk can get your mind off food and allow you to bond with your loved ones.
You can also stay active during the holidays by signing up for a workplace or community fitness event. Races are popular options.
2. Snack wisely
During the holiday season, unhealthy snacks like cookies and other goodies tend to be available for you to take as you please.
When treats are easy to access, you’re more likely to snack unnecessarily.
At home, this problem can be solved by keeping treats out of sight. However, that strategy is more difficult to avoid in situations that you cannot control, such as at your workplace or a family party.
Try to be mindful of your snacking habits. If you find yourself munching just because there’s food around — and not because you’re hungry — it’s best to avoid snacking altogether.
However, if you are hungry and need a snack, opt for real foods. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds are filling snacks that don’t contain added sugars or unhealthy fats — both of which can lead to weight gain.
3. Watch your portion sizes
When the holidays arrive, it can be easy to overload your plate.
Those who eat larger portions tend to gain weight more easily than those who don’t (4).
The best way to overcome this is to control portion sizes or use smaller plates.
To determine an appropriate portion size, read food labels and the recommended serving sizes listed on recipes. If you can’t do either, use your best judgment to fill your plate with a reasonable amount of food.
4. Practice mindful eating
People are often in a rush during the holiday season, which frequently leads to multitasking during meals.
To prevent this, eat mindfully and minimize distractions — including work and electronics.
Try to chew slowly and thoroughly, which will allow you to better recognize your body’s fullness signals and consume fewer calories (7).
It can also be helpful to take a few deep breaths before you start eating. This can induce relaxation and help you keep your full attention on your plate, rather than your to-do list.
5. Get plenty of sleep
Sleep deprivation, which is quite common during the holidays, may cause weight gain.
Sleep restriction may increase your hunger hormone levels, ultimately leading to higher calorie intake.
Additionally, inadequate sleep has been linked to lower metabolism. This may be caused by alterations in your circadian rhythm — a biological clock that regulates many of your bodily functions (10, 14).
6. Control your stress levels
Keeping up with the demands of the holidays can be stressful.
Stressed individuals commonly have high levels of cortisol, a hormone that’s released in response to stress. Chronically high cortisol levels may cause weight gain, as they have been linked to greater food intake (15, 16).
Additionally, a stressful lifestyle may cause more cravings for junk food (16).
For these reasons, it’s important to keep stress levels under control in general — but especially during the holidays, when you might be busy and surrounded by unhealthy foods.
Plenty of techniques can help you reduce stress. Some options include exercise, meditation, yoga, and deep breathing.
7. Keep meals balanced with protein
Holiday meals are typically rich in carbs but low in protein.
In fact, eating protein with meals may automatically reduce calorie intake by reducing hunger and appetite (20).
Protein is also beneficial for weight control because it increases your metabolism and levels of appetite-reducing hormones (17).
For these weight-management benefits, you should include at least 1 ounce (25–30 grams) of protein in each meal (17).
Good sources of protein include meat, poultry, fish, and some plant foods like beans and quinoa.
8. Focus on fiber
Fiber is another important nutrient that induces fullness.
Unfortunately, many common holiday foods lack adequate amounts of fiber. Do your best to eat fiber-rich foods, such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
9. Cut back on taste-testing
Many people spend a lot of time cooking and baking during the holiday season.
Unsurprisingly, this can lead to weight gain because it’s easy to taste-test your dishes. Even small bites of holiday dishes can add up in calories.
Tasting your dishes can be important, especially if you’re cooking for others — but a tiny bite is probably more than enough.
You should also make sure that you aren’t hungry while cooking, as it’s much easier to go overboard on taste-testing when your stomach is growling.
10. Bring a healthy dish to share
It can be easy to overeat — or focus on fattening, high-calorie foods — at holiday parties.
However, you have control over what you consume. One simple trick is to bring your own healthy dish to share. This way, you can guarantee you’ll have something to eat that aligns with your weight goals.
11. Limit your dessert intake
Dessert is everywhere during the holiday season. This often leads to excessive sugarconsumption, a common cause of weight gain (23).
Instead of eating every treat in sight, just focus on your favorites and ditch the rest.
Another trick is to savor the desserts you do indulge in, simply taking the time to eat them slowly — which may leave you feeling more satisfied and less likely to overdo it.
12. Limit liquid calories
During the holidays, alcohol, soda, and other calorie-rich beverages are prevalent.
These drinks can contribute a significant amount of sugar and empty calories to your diet, which can cause weight gain (24).
Additionally, alcohol consumption is often linked to increased appetite and is a risk factor for weight gain (25).
If you’re trying to control your weight, it’s best to limit your intake of high-calorie beverages.
13. Use a smaller plate
Dinner parties and potlucks are common during the holiday season.
But these celebrations don’t have to wreck your diet if you eat from a smaller plate.
Thus, a smaller plate is an easy way to control portions.
14. Modify your recipes
High-calorie homemade goods are a primary cause of weight gain during the holidays.
However, you can lower the calorie content of recipes in many ways. Here are a few ideas:
- Replace butter with applesauce, mashed banana, or pumpkin puree.
- Instead of sugar, use a lower-calorie substitute such as stevia, erythritol, or xylitol.
- Add dried fruit instead of chocolate chips or candies.
- Flavor dishes with herbs and spices instead of butter.
- Use cooking methods like baking, steaming, or grilling instead of frying.
- Substitute low-fat or skim milk for heavy cream.
- Replace cream cheese, sour cream, and mayo with Greek yogurt.
- Flavor your treats with extracts like vanilla, almond, and peppermint instead of butter and sugar.
- Use club soda or sparkling water in place of sweetened beverages.
- Flavor drinks with freshly squeezed lemon or lime rather than sugar.
- Cinnamon can also add flavor to holiday-themed beverages.
- In dairy-based drinks, use low-fat or skim milk in place of heavy cream.
15. Weigh yourself regularly
Stepping on the scale regularly during the holidays can remind you of your weight goals, allowing you to take action before significant weight gain sets in.
Studies suggest that people who weigh themselves regularly maintain or lose weight better than those who don’t weigh themselves.
Find a routine that works best for you. Some find it beneficial to check their weight daily, while others prefer once or twice a week.
16. Use the buddy system
Many people report success with their weight goals when they have a partner to pursue them with.
Try to find a health buddy who has similar weight goals, as this person can keep you motivated and accountable over the holidays.
Reach out to friends, family, and colleagues to connect with someone who would make a good fit.
17. Avoid processed foods
Processed holiday foods — such as boxed mashed potatoes and stuffing — are more available than ever.
While quick and easy, these foods often contain excess sugar and unhealthy fats that take a toll on your weight.
To prevent weight gain, opt for whole foods and cook your meals from scratch.
18. Plan ahead
Planning ahead can go a long way towards preventing holiday weight gain.
If you have parties on the calendar, ask what foods will be served or bring your own dish. Decide what and how much you’ll eat ahead of time.
It can also be helpful to gather a list of healthy holiday recipes so that you don’t run out of ideas when you need to bring a dish to a party.
19. Skip seconds
Holiday meals are sometimes served buffet-style, with several options to choose from in unlimited amounts.
This leads people to serve themselves seconds — and maybe even thirds.
As the calories from multiple helpings can quickly contribute to weight gain, limit yourself to just one plate.
20. Draw the line
During the holiday season, many people have an “I’ll start tomorrow” mentality, which can end up prolonging unhealthy habits.
If you’re serious about controlling your weight, it may be helpful to draw the line, set limits for yourself, and stick to your goals regarding food intake. It’s okay to say no to certain foods and habits that don’t align with your goals.
It’s also important to be aware that you might have a slip-up or two.
People often abandon their goals after this happens. However, it’s best to simply move on and make a healthier choice the next time you eat.
The bottom line
While staying on top of your weight goals can feel daunting during the holiday season, multiple tips and tricks can help keep you healthy, happy, and weight-conscious during this time of year.
Beyond general diet tips, it’s best to make sure you’re getting plenty of exercise and limiting your intake of holiday treats.
If you’re diligent, you may find that you’ve not only prevented weight gain but even lost weight during this celebratory season.