December 22, 2011

By Julie Upton, RD

There's no doubt about it: We're in the middle of the eating season. As a dietitian, you probably think I never have to worry about my weight, or that I have iron-clad willpower, or that I know the calorie counts for all 30,000 foods on supermarket shelves.

Think again.

Even though I may fit into skinny jeans without constant attention to my diet and fitness, I feel like just smelling calorie-rich foods leads me to pile on pounds. Without my food rules, I could easily gain 5 to 10 pounds during the holiday season.

I have several holiday parties to attend, and I'm hosting friends and family for some special dinners. As a result, I'm not able to exercise as much as I typically do. The time crunch of the season, coupled with all I have to do, leads to a lot of extra stress—and we all know stress is one of the worst things for making our bodies crave sweets and store body fat.

Although most of us will gain about a pound from Thanksgiving to New Year's, some people gain as much as 10 pounds during this time. The bigger problem is that few of us shed that holiday weight gain.

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Here's what I’m doing this year—and have done successfully in the past—to keep the scale steady during this challenging time of year.

  • Keep water pouring in. When I drink more water, I eat less. There's no two ways about it.

  • Eat a protein-packed breakfast. I try to eat a filling, protein-rich breakfast of one scrambled egg and two scrambled egg whites.  I'll eat this with fruit, and I find it keeps my cravings at bay for most of the day.

  • Limit alcohol. I will drink no more than three times during the holidays, so I map out those occasions when I'm going to let loose. Research has shown Americans drink 27% more during the holiday season. Alcohol is calorie-rich, and stimulates your appetite and reduces your resolve to stick with a healthy eating plan.

  • Exercise every day. I am very active, but I easily could skip my workouts when the weather stinks, when I'm traveling, or when I'm overcommitted. But I don't. Instead, I find a CrossFit travel WOD (workout of the day). One of my favorite workouts is 10 rounds of 10 push-ups, 10 sit-ups, and 10 air squats. These workouts are quick but work all your major muscle groups.

  • Eat at a table with a plate and utensils. I know that distracted dining can lead to eating twice as many calories to feel full, so I just don't do it. I use a plate or bowl, and I sit down and don't do anything else while I eat. This way I can be "present" to eating and taste and enjoy the food, so I'll stop when I'm satisfied.

  • Indulge socially. We all will have access to cakes, cookies, fudge, eggnog, and all kinds of other merry treats during the season, so there’s no need to have them at your house where the temptation is constant. Keep your house stocked with fruits, vegetables, and other wholesome foods rather than holiday treats and drinks.

  • Prepare extra-healthy meals. Each weekend, I make a few dinners that I put in the refrigerator or freezer to have in a pinch when I'm pressed for time during the week. This helps prevent me from stopping for takeout.