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How to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain without Restrictions or Food Guilt!

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Tis the Season for fun, food and merriment…..and weight gain! The average Canadian will gain between 0.2 to 1.3 kg in the next 3 months due to more food, less movement and less mindfulness! But it can mostly be avoided by following a few tricks. These aren’t your normal holiday eating rules- we know you’ve already read about portion sizes, avoiding holiday sweets, and more. We get it, it’s the holidays, and all of us will be indulging in our favourite foods with the people we love. No one should stress themselves out over a little weight gain at the expense of your enjoyment of the season. These tips are interesting and NOT what you think (no portions mentioned here!), but they can help prevent excess gain, help you lose it faster if you DO gain weight- WITHOUT sacrificing your holiday spirit.

The more you eat the better! Very high fibre foods will make you full faster and keep your more satisfied before and at holiday parties, buffets, and family dinners. When you are physiologically “full”, it’s much harder to over-eat for other reasons. You also get the benefit of keeping your bowels moving and happy throughout the season, which means more holiday cheer for you.

Some examples of very high-fibre foods:

  • ½ cup of All Bran Cereal, All Bran Buds or another fibre-rich whole grain cereal that has > 45% daily value fibre. Enjoy with some kind of fluid (water, milk, plant beverage) and ½ cup of fruit for a whopping 55% of your DV for fibre!
  • If you are gluten-free, GF steel-cut oatmeal, 2/3 cup cooked, with ¼ cup of frozen fruit will do the trick (~10 grams of fibre).
  • Beans and lentils; Have ¾ cup of a bean salad mix (you can use canned and drain and rinse) like Chickpea Greek Salad or 2-bean medley before a dinner party, will stop excessive hunger it its tracks.
  • Even a large handful of (½ cup) of raw nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts and pumpkin seeds) + an apple can be eaten on the go and set the tone for not overeating.

Being mindful about food is about being aware of the what you are eating, why you are eating, and how the eating is making you feel. It’s also about having a plan, not just for weight gain, but to keep you feeling happy and nourished during a very busy and stressful time of year. Here are a few mindset thoughts and intentions to keep in mind:

  • Always eat a high-fibre meal before a party (if it’s a dinner party, have a high-fibre snack), even if you don’t think you need it.
  • Remind yourself food is not LOVE or comfort! It can be very stressful to have to interact with people that are emotionally draining or tough relationships at this time of year. Find comfort in talking, walking, sharing but not eating.
  • Ask yourself “Is this worth it?”…sometimes grandma’s apple pie is an annual treat you have been waiting for, whereas Costco sheet-cake? Meh, probably not worth it!
  • Do NOT stand anywhere near the food or buffet tables at parties. Take a plate or portion and then move to the farthest place in the room, preferably where the food is out-of-sight, while you enjoy.
  • Get engaged in conversations; that’s why you are there right?! Celebrate by talking and laughing which will distract from food and excess drink.
  • Keep a food diary in the evening, write it with pen and paper, as a way to download and reflect on the choices you made that day. You can even do this for only 3 days per week, and it has been shown to help with weight management through this season.

This may sound counter-intuitive; how can you be going to bed if it’s party time?! Well what we mean is most nights, when there is no party or event, aim to hit the sack an hour earlier. People who stayed up late, especially those watching T.V. in the evening, ate and average of ~250 more calories daily. This can add up to 1500 calories weekly! That’s the average number of calories of a holiday party meal. Make room in your diet for the high-calorie meals by watching more closely habits during off-nights. Consistent shut-eye is also a great way to boost immunity and lower stress hormones in the blood (which contribute to fat around your belly). Being well-rested can also help with those pesky difficult relative conversations you are bound to have!

We tend to crank the heat in homes and buildings this time of year which leads to all kinds of problems, not the least of which is a DECREASE in the total amount of calories you burn!! If you want to keep your basal rate of metabolism working a touch harder to burn those extra holiday calories, try keeping your thermostat lower, and wearing more sweaters, socks and blankets if you really need to.  A lower home temperature in your house may improve sleep and forces the brown fat in our bodies (the active fat) to be more stimulated, which helps with using more calories. Just don’t dip too low or your brain will tell you to eat more! Wherever you are starting from, drop them temperature by 0.5 degrees and see how low you can comfortably go.

Drinking sugar-free and diet drinks can actually increase weight gain worse over time. There is a 47% larger increase in BMI among those diet pop drinkers compared to those who drank none, according to one study published in the journal Obesity. Do not over-rely on diet drinks to curb appetite or fill you up so you don’t overeat, because in fact they will do the opposite. You may eat MORE at your next meal after consuming diet pop. This could be because your brain is trying to tell you to compensate for the calories it didn’t receive with that sweetly deceptive drink. Stick to sparkling water for fizz and bubbles, tea or coffee for a caffeine kick and a hot chocolate for a sweet fix. A latte with chocolate sprinkles could be the perfect pre-party drink! Sweet, a bit of energy and appetite-suppressing.

Stay focused on one task at a time. Multi-tasking is a myth, our brains can only optimally focus and perform one thing at a time, even if in quick succession. If you are running around trying to do 1 million things at once, fatigue sets in faster and your resolve lowers for making healthy food choices. Your brain goes in to survival mode, and may be programmed to eat a cheeseburger and fries + pop to survive the stress! Different tasks during the holidays can require very different mindsets, and one study at Emory University found that switching too quickly can lower your self-control resources. Time block what you need to get done, and knock off your to-do list one-by-one. Healthy snacking will keep you energized along the way!

Please note, this doesn’t mean obsessively or even every day, but at least 1 time per week to check in with how things are trending. Preferably weigh yourself at the same time and day of the week, and you need to weigh yourself on the same scale for this to be accurate. One study did show people who weigh themselves more frequently, even a few times within the week, lost the holiday weight they gained within about a month, whereas those who didn’t lost the weight in the next 5 months. Weighing yourself regularly MAY not be appropriate for everyone, especially if you have struggled with mental health issues around food and body. The more important message here is to be mindful of what is happening with your body and checking in with how you feel!

The holidays can be stressful enough without putting feelings of guilt or shame on yourself about weight gain. Sometimes that stress can even make our eating habits worse! Food is meant to be enjoyed, especially food with our family and friends! It’s okay to enjoy your favourite holiday treats, and you should absolutely savour that and reflect on how those foods make you feel. Keep it positive and remember to nourish your body as much as possible with fibre, water, sleep, movement, and good company to have a happy and healthy holiday season.

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