’Tis the season to celebrate with friends and family, and to eat and drink plentifully—often too plentifully.
According to a recent post on The Daily Beast website by nutritionist Susan Roberts, an adult typically gains between five and eight pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s by consuming approximately 20,000 excess calories.
“Everyone is at risk for over-consumption at the holidays simply because it is expected as a part of any celebration,” said Jeffrey Wilbert, a nationally recognized diet psychologist who is director of the Counseling Center for Emotional Eating in Ohio. Holiday office parties and domestic gatherings revolve around food and drink.
We tend to overeat during the holidays because we often deprive ourselves of certain foods during the rest of the year, explained Carol Munter, co-director of the National Center for Overcoming Overeating in New York. “When something is off limits, we want it more,” she said. “If we furnish our houses with holiday food all year round, then it wouldn’t be so particularly enticing at the holidays.”
People often experience increased financial and emotional stress during the holidays, and turn to food for relief. Distinguishing between physiological hunger (eating for fuel) and emotional hunger (eating to quell anxiety) is the key to avoiding over-consumption.
“Keep reminding yourself that you can find comfort and compassion within yourself, and that it really does not exist in the cookies,” Munter said.
At a Christmas, Hanukkah or Thanksgiving feast, it’s easy to overdose on refined carbohydrates that can leave one feeling unsatiated. A rise in one’s cortisol and insulin levels, caused by seasonal stress, can also bring on a craving for comfort food, said Jolene Harrison, a dietitian for Keri Glassman’s Nutritious Life in New York. To steer clear of the vicious carb-hunger cycle, she suggested making a balanced plate that consists of “mostly vegetables and lean proteins.”
Lisa Jubilee, co-owner of Living Proof Nutrition/Fitness, suggested shifting the focus of the holiday away from eating to other activities.
“People eat out of boredom when there is nothing else to do and the food is staring at them in the face,” she said.
Lindsay Dettbarn, a personal trainer at Equinox Fitness Club, proposed organizing a touch football game with your family, or joining a 5K benefit walk with your friends.
Coming into the season with a game plan can also combat holiday overeating. “The more prepared you are, the more control you’re going to have,” Jubilee said.
For starters, don’t go to an event on an empty stomach, Jubilee advised. Consuming 80 to 100 calories worth of nuts or fruit prior to a function will help you moderate your intake when you get there. When you arrive at a holiday party, where finger food is often profuse, “Scan the options first before you delve in,” she said. Pick two or three of your favorite snacks, and resist indulging in more.
An open bar at holiday parties is a recipe for disaster. Nutritionists advise partygoers to curtail the number of drinks (three to four for men, and one to two for women) and to be aware of the amount of alcohol poured in each drink.
Harrison said that a glass shouldn’t exceed 8-ounces of beer, 3-ounces of wine or 1-ounce of hard liquor. Limiting one’s alcohol consumption also tends to save on food calories, since overdrinking gives us “a newfound freedom to eat whatever we want,” Harrison said. Jubilee recommended switching between the alcoholic drink and seltzer, or ordering spritzers that contain half the calories.
Physical cues can also help fight cravings. Nutritionists recommend wearing tight clothing to discourage one from over-munching and gaining flab. Dettbarn suggested collecting snacks on a small plate or napkin so that portions look sufficient.
Dettbarn also advised avoiding those tempting leftovers that co-workers bring to the office. Promise yourself that in splurging on a salad at the deli, you will forgo that extra martini at the bar.
Perhaps the best way to beat the odds is to set a goal of coming out of the holidays the same weight you went into them.
“It’s not about losing weight afterwards—it’s about not gaining it in the first place,” Jubilee said. “And it’s totally doable with some planning in advance.”
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