How to Avoid Weight Gain During the Holidays
Page Medically Reviewed and Edited by Cyrus Khambatta, PhD
Family gatherings, cocktail parties, gift-giving, and receiving. There is a lot to love about the holiday season, but let’s face it… there’s plenty to dislike, too, and weight gain is at the top of that list. Fortunately, with a bit of care, you can set up some winning strategies to avoid overeating or loading up on sugary foods.
There are lots of reasons you might be watching your waistline, whether you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 1 or type 2 diabetes, or you are just beginning to feel the aches and pains of living life in the Fastlane catching up with you. Just about all of us, at some point, will find our attention turning to the foods we eat and how to adjust them to get the most nourishment out of our food. Holiday time can be challenging to stick to this, though, especially if we are new to the idea of food as preventative medicine.
Wherever You Are for the Holidays, There Are Ways to Stay Healthy
You might be staying right at home, doing all of your shopping online, or you might be headed cross-country to see family and friends. With places opening up and people traveling again, you might be worried about how you will manage your health and weight while taking trips or attending parties. You might be concerned about peer pressure at the office or offending family by not eating the same old traditional fatty foods at family gatherings. With a little foresight and planning, you can use some easy-to-implement strategies to not only control blood glucose and blood pressure but keep those extra pounds from creeping up, too.
On the Road
Travel plans may be in your near future. If you are heading out--whether by plane, train, boat, or car--these tips can help you stay on track with your goals.
Plan for pit stops - but don’t fall for the gas station snacks.
Long periods of sitting in the car can take a toll. In fact, some studies have linked prolonged sitting to increases in the risk of deep vein thrombosis, which happens when a blood clot forms in a deep vein. This can lead to illness and disability. So do get out for a short, brisk walk whenever you have the opportunity to stretch your legs, but be sure to resist the gas station snacks, which can be tempting. If you have to choose something, opt for nuts, fresh fruit, and water to fill your stomach and chase away that hungry feeling.
Bring along the munchies.
Boredom can be a problem when traveling by car, and boredom can lead to mindless munching, so be prepared with healthier options. Nuts, fruit, and fresh-cut vegetables are all excellent choices and are easily carried in a small bag or cooler. And, if you do find yourself reaching for a snack, be sure to ask yourself why you are eating. Is it because you are bored or because you are actually hungry?
Get plenty of sleep and dump the coffee.
Caffeine can act as a diuretic, so you will need to make more pit stops possibly resulting in dehydration. Dehydration is associated with higher weight gain, so instead of grabbing the coffee or sugary soda, opt for sparkling water or green tea flavored with natural flavors. A round of jumping jacks or a short brisk walk can wake you up after a lull in the passenger or driver’s seat. Another tip is to switch out the coffee or sugary sodas for green tea. It has a gentle caffeine effect, removing the roller coaster highs and lows of other caffeinated drinks.
Boost your immune system for plane travel.
Airports and planes are notorious for providing the chance of coming in contact with viruses and bacteria, so you want to boost your immunity as high as possible before traveling. Load up on antioxidants like amla to power up your immune system, so it is ready for that air travel. And best yet, amla also reduces blood glucose, LDL cholesterol, blood pressure and dramatically increases your energy levels during the day, which is perfect for those long travel days this holiday.
Find a podcast to inspire you.
Again, those long travel hours can take a mental toll, so find an interesting podcast to help pass the time, and perhaps one that will inspire you to keep on track with your health goals. There are plenty of health and wellness podcasts out there, and if you are living with diabetes, we like the Mastering Diabetes podcast.
Online shopping is becoming more popular, but experts anticipate a return to brick and mortar stores this year. And while these shopping trips can find you some great deals, they can take a toll on your health.
Fuel up for the walking.
Eat a protein-powered meal before you head out to shop. Not only will the protein make you feel fuller longer, but it will also help you stay energized and avoid snacking on sugary temptations while out. Take along a bottle of water to stay hydrated and keep that full feeling even longer.
Avoid the food courts.
Malls are not yet obsolete, and you might find yourself in one around lunchtime or near a fast-food restaurant in between shops. While they may be convenient, they are a no-go when it comes to your health. Plan a healthy lunch stop in advance by either mapping out your shopping journey or by making reservations at a restaurant that offers low-sugar, low-fat choices.
Drink green tea.
Another tip is to drink green tea, which can act as an appetite suppressant, to help you resist munching along the way. If you choose a tea that is loaded with antioxidants, all the better, as you will get both the appetite-reducing benefits as well as the nutrition kick. Plus, green tea has a gentle caffeine effect, which won’t give you the jolting high or lows other caffeine sources might.
Add “Me” to the shopping list.
We know the saying “It is better to give than to receive,” but there is an exception to this rule: your health. Be sure to place your physical and mental health on your list of people to shop for. Have you been waiting to buy yourself a new blender? An air fryer? A subscription to a daily dose of antioxidants? Go ahead and indulge in your health. Your family will thank you.
While seeing family can be joyful, family gatherings can be the most challenging part of the holidays. Aunt Edna’s banana pudding might be a traditional treat you are expected to eat along with hams, sugary pies, and other delectable but horrible-for-you foods. So how do you say no?
Tell your family your goals - ask for their support.
If you know your family gatherings will be full of less-than-optimal foods, you can try to make some changes in advance. Call or email your family and let them know of your new diet goals and why you have them. Let them know your new emphasis on health and living longer, better, and ask them to support you.
Look for or bring alternative treats.
While you might not expect an entirely new meal to be prepared by family and set just for you, you are always able to bring your own, healthier food choices. If you know Aunt Edna’s banana pudding is a temptation, bring ingredients to whip up a healthier-for-you smoothie to drink in place of the pudding.
Share what you’ve learned - be a resource.
Nobody wants to be lectured about the foods they are eating, but you might be pleasantly surprised when other family members become interested in your health journey. Chances are they may be looking for resources to help curb their own bad eating habits. Share what you have learned and some of the healthy foods and drinks you love. Show them how to eat to lower their blood glucose and blood pressure and fuel up their bodies with energy.
Ironically, office parties might be the easiest aspect of holiday eating to manage. You have some control over how long you stay, and this makes planning easier.
A delicious smoothie or oatmeal topped with fruit to fill up before heading out to the party is an easy way to stave off hunger. If you arrive full, you can concentrate on interacting with coworkers and your boss rather than on not eating sugary, high-fat foods.
Search out healthier foods.
Ideally, your office party will have a vegetable or fruit plate or some type of charcuterie board. Gather those healthier-for-you foods on a plate to serve as your treats for the night.
Beware of alcohol.
Liquor, beer, cocktails, and other alcoholic drinks are often loaded with “empty” calories and sugar. Learn to say “no, thank you” graciously and without explanation when somebody offers to get you something. Sparkling water or hibiscus tea works just fine for toasts and all.
Being Healthy at Home
You will most likely spend more time at home than anywhere else this holiday season, so set yourself up for success.
Enlist the help of your spouse and kids.
Just like extended family, talk to your spouse and children about your eating goals and why you have them. Ask for their support. Most likely, they will be eager to help you, and you will be setting a great example along the way. By putting your own health first, your children will learn to do the same.
Clean out the cabinets.
Do a kitchen detox by cleaning out the sugary, high-carbohydrate foods and those sugary sodas. If it is a temptation, get rid of it completely. Your home should be your safe space where you do not have to keep your guard up about what you can and cannot have. Instead, load up the pantry and fridge with various nuts, fresh fruits, vegetables, and meal-prepped options.
Get moving a little more.
If you are not already on a regular exercise routine, build a brisk walk into your daily schedule. Ride a bike, have a dance-off with the kids and look for other ways to elevate your heart rate each day. Studies show that 30 minutes of exercise reduces your risk of heart attack, lowers your cholesterol and blood pressure, helps manage your weight and blood glucose, and makes you feel more energized.
Find some downtime.
While you should incorporate that daily exercise, you should also find some downtown to mentally unwind. Whether sitting in front of the fireplace with a cup of green tea while listening to your favorite playlist or spending ten minutes doing a breathing meditation, investing in yourself benefits the entire family. Remember, stress can lead to weight gain, so build in that quiet time!
Take care of your tummy.
Finally, be sure to build in some preventative measures in regard to your digestive system. Holiday eating, travel, and stress can give you a bit of an upset stomach. A soothing tea loaded with antioxidants can help keep your digestion regulated and help you feel better overall.
No matter what the holiday season has in store, you now have the strategies you need to stay on track for healthy eating to reach and maintain your wellness goals.
Page Medically Reviewed and Edited by
Cyrus Khambatta, PhD
Cyrus Khambatta, PhD, is a cofounder of Mastering Diabetes and Amla Green is an internationally recognized nutrition and fitness coach who has been living with type 1 diabetes since 2002. Using an evidence-based approach to nutrition and fitness, he first reduced his own insulin usage by more than 40%, and has educated thousands of people with all forms of diabetes how to reverse insulin resistance using food as medicine. Cyrus earned a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford University in 2003, then earned a PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry from the University of California at Berkeley in 2012. He is the co-host of the annual Mastering Diabetes Online Summit, a featured speaker at the Plant-Based Nutrition and Healthcare Conference (PBNHC), the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM) Conference, Plant Stock, and has been featured on Forks Over Knives, NPR, PBS, KQED, Fast Company, and is the author of the upcoming book Mastering Diabetes.
- Cyrus Khambatta