Survive the Holidays -- Without Gaining Weight!

We all know what party season means to our waistlines. By the time New Year’s rolls around, we’re likely to find our favorite jeans a little snug and feel guilty about skipping the gym three weeks in a row.

It doesn’t have to be that way. You can have your cake and eat it too. And by that, we mean you can join in the festivities and welcome 2013 feeling slim and healthy. 

On average, women gain an extra pound to two pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, says Dr. Joy Dubost, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “That may not sound like a lot,” Dubost says, “but those pounds tend to stay on the rest of the year.” 

What’s more, start the new year feeling sluggish and stuffed, and you’ll find it more difficult to keep all your well-meaning fitness resolutions. Instead, follow these simple do’s and don’ts from Dubost to survive the holiday season with your weight and well-being intact.

1. Don’t skip meals.
If you have a party in the evening, you may think you’ll save calories by going without breakfast or lunch. But this strategy backfires: “It sets you up to overeat,” Dubost says. “Once you have all that delicious food, especially desserts, in front of you and you’re ravenous, you won’t have any self-control.”

A better plan is to have a filling, high-fiber breakfast of oatmeal with fruit, half a bagel with peanut butter or low-fat Greek yogurt with berries, and a lunch that’s smaller than you typically eat. “Cut your normal portions in half,” Dubost suggests. “Eat only half a sandwich or instead of pouring dressing over the salad, have the dressing on the side and just dip the tines of your fork in with each bite of salad.”

2. Don’t drink your calories. 
Those sodas, fruit drinks and creamy cocktails (like eggnog) add up fast. And studies show, says Dubost, that we don’t compensate for liquid calories by eating less. Opt for low-calorie beverages, like sparking water or wine spritzers.

3. Do pace yourself. 
When you’re sitting around a dinner table for a few hours with friends, you’ll likely keep eating as long as everyone else is. Second portions are fine, says Dubost, but that doesn’t have to mean doubling the amount you normally eat. When food is served family style, scoop out half as much high-calorie food like mashed potatoes as you’d typically take. Then, go back for another half portion for your second serving. You get a free pass on fruit and veggies that are steamed, grilled, roasted or raw. Take as much of this fresh fare as you’d like.

4. Do sit far away from the fattening stuff.  
If the cheese and crackers or chocolate brownies are within arm’s reach, there’s a good chance you’ll keep reaching for them. So step away from the buffet or dessert bar, and find a seat next to the crudites or roaring fireplace. 

5. Do eat off other people’s plates.
When it comes to sweets, share a slice of pie or a hunk of cake with your sweetie or best friend. This is a trick that Dubost follows herself. “I usually take a bite of other people’s desserts,” she says. “I get my taste that way without gulping down more than I really need to feel satisfied.”

6. Do build movement into your day.
You might not be able to make it to your yoga class or regular gym sessions, but that doesn’t mean you need to turn into a couch potato from late November to early January. Small bouts of movement can be just as healthy as an hourlong workout, studies show. Start your day with a 15-minute walk, pace the airline terminal while you’re waiting for your plane to take off, park farther away from the mall, take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.

“Don’t sit for more than an hour at a time,” says Dubost, “even if that means just standing up and walking around the house for a few minutes.” Better yet, start a new holiday tradition that includes ice skating, building a snowman or post-dinner strolls around the neighborhood.