Dieting during the holidays is a tricky balance. Staying on track is not as easy when you have added pressure from your family and an endless amount of treats right in front of you. Often times as well, we hold emotional attachments to these holiday foods and associate some of our favorite memories of the holidays, with food. With the holidays already underway, we came up with this list of ways to dodge the pressure to overeat.
1. Remember Your Why
Weight loss motivation is powerful. And in all honesty, remembering why you started the diet in the first place may be what it takes for you to stay on point during the holidays. Do you have to eat completely perfect? Absolutely not, but making sure you don't go overboard might be easier with a little bit of a reminder from yourself. You started this diet because you wanted a change. Change is not the most comfortable process and will never be. Change requires real effort and allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable for a little bit. You do not have to give up everything for this diet, but be honest with yourself. You will not get the results you desire if you are not willing to make the needed changes.
2. Enlist Support
Use the buddy system by enlisting support from friends, family or co-workers. Whether they are following the same health and diet plan as you or just an advocate for your success, having someone on your side might be just what you need. And research implies having a support system can help you be more successful when trying to lose weight (1,2).
Ask a close friend or family to help keep you on track and keep them close during gatherings and events where food is present. Your diet buddy can also help keep you busy with non-food activities, helping you enjoy the company without the calories.
You can also hold yourself accountable and gather support by posting about your health journey on social media.
3. Plan Ahead
You may have heard the saying a time or two but, failure to prepare really is preparing to fail. If you know that you are easily influenced by your surroundings, make your surroundings more comfortable for you. And studies suggest that having a pre-planned strategy could help double your chance of success (3).
Bring an appetizer or dish, as well as a healthier dessert option to the party. Knowing you have food you can rely on will help you moderate your overall intake. Planning ahead on the holidays will allow you the maximum amount of stability for your diet while still allowing you to indulge a little.
And if traveling, keep healthy snacks on hand. Protein bars, jerky, and nuts can be great travel companions!
4. Keep Hunger in Check
Don't allow yourself to get too hungry. There is no way you're going to stick to your plan or make good decisions if you show up to an event or meal starving. Make sure you are eating throughout the day and choose more foods that promote better appetite control, like high fiber foods, lean proteins and healthy fats.
Here are some easy tips you can incorporate:
- Eat a high protein breakfast
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day and before eating
- Load up on high fiber foods like fruits, veggies and whole grains
- Curb afternoon cravings with a handful of nuts
- Limit sugary foods like candies, desserts and refined grains
5. Fill Up On Veggies
Load up on produce to keep you feeling full, and boost your overall nutrition intake. Many veggies and fruits are very low in calories and high in fiber and key nutrients - doing wonders for your appetite, energy and mood (4,5).
Aim to stack half of your plate with non-starchy veggies and fruit when available. Think carrot sticks, leafy green salads, and fruit salads.
Headed to a party? Bring your own healthy veggie dish you can enjoy without guilt.
7. Keep Treats Out of Sight
There is something to be said about "out of sight, out of mind" when it comes to sticking to your diet - research suggests that just having high calorie foods in sight can increase how much of them you eat (6,7). Although this can be a major challenge if those around you offering constant treats and keeping them on their desk or in common areas, finding ways to avoid these encounters is key.
Purposefully avoid common areas where treats are offered, ask your co-workers to put them out of sight, and don't keep them in your house.
8. Prioritize Your Favorites
We all have seasonal treats that we look forward to each year, whether it is thanksgiving dinner, a piece of pumpkin pie or your mom's homemade cinnamon rolls. And there is nothing wrong with indulging a little. The trick is to make your calories worth it, and to not overdo it.
Instead of using the time of year as an excuses to treat yourself whenever the opportunity arises, consider prioritizing your favorites and being more strategic about your "cheat meals" . This is especially true when wondering the holiday buffet line or event, allow yourself to taste your favorite foods and skip the rest to cut out the calories you care less about.
9. Stick to Low Calorie Cocktails
Alcohol can wreak havoc on a healthy diet by adding excess calories and lowering your inhibitions - leading to decreased willpower and less give AF overall. Not to mention, binge drinking may slow your metabolism, promoting more body fat storage, and cause your appetite and blood sugar to be slightly out of whack the day after.
But it is possible to enjoy a few cocktails and stay on track. Your best bet is to just drink less, and alternate between low calorie cocktails and water. Here are some options to look for and some to avoid:
Best Alcohol While Dieting:
- Clear liquor mixed with soda water and citrus
- Champagne and wine
- Light beer
- Scotch on the rocks
- Martini straight up
Worst Alcohol While Dieting:
- Cream based drinks like egg nog, white russians and mudslides
- Juice and sugar sweetened mixers
- Frozen drinks
- Long Island Iced Tea
10. Stay Active
Staying active or even increasing your physical activity this time of year is one way to counteract the extra calories you might be consuming. The key to weight loss is to eat a calorie deficit - so it's a no brainier, if you are eating more, you should consider burning a few more calories as well.
But this doesn't mean you should have to hop on the treadmill after every "cheat" or high calorie meal, or that you should use exercise as an excuse to eat whatever you want. Remember it is much harder to exercise off a few hundred calories than it is to consume them. And using exercise as a way to counteract food intake is a dangerous pathway to disordered eating.
Instead, do your best to stay on track with eating and focus on staying active this time of year to keep yourself feeling energized and motivated.
Even just staying busy can help. Cutting calories can have you constantly thinking about food. And the fear of temptation can make you want to cut yourself off from social engagements. But studies suggest keeping your mind active, especially while dieting, can strengthen your willpower (8).
Hint: exercise is also thought to be one of the best cures for a hangover.
11. Keep a Lid on Stress
Holidays can be a stressful time of year for most, and stress can inhibit your progress when it comes to weight loss and sticking to your diet in general. Studies have linked stress to increased abdominal fat and poor mood (9,10,11,12,13). And high stress may also cause high sugar cravings and drain your willpower (14).
Combat holiday stress by taking care of yourself. Get enough sleep, find time to rejuvenate and focus on enjoying the holidays.
12. Track Your Calories and Macros
As painful as it might sound, you should still track all of your food intake - including alcohol and treats! While it is easy to go overboard, paying attention to how much you are consuming is the best way to hold yourself accountable and keep track of your progress. You might even be surprised at how little small indulgences are effecting your weekly averages.
Track your intake daily and use weekly averages to determine how well you are sticking to your eating plan overall. And if you've gone a little overboard, don't try to starve yourself the next day to make up for it; your best bet is to let it go and get back on track with your daily goals.
When You Do Indulge...
Instead of going through the holidays with an all-or-nothing mentality, allow yourself some wiggle room. And don't beat yourself up when it doesn't go as planned. Results come from consistency not perfection. How you bounce back from a slip up is much more important than the slip up itself. So remember to shake it off and get back on track.
One day will not entirely offset everything you have worked for. Getting right back to your diet, even after a day of slightly veering from it, is what will make all the difference. It is really easy to let the holidays turn into a domino effect of poor eating decisions, but remember why you started! Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments. Stay focused!
If you want a little extra help getting back to your diet after the holiday season, check out these healthy ready-to-eat meals!