Exercise is very important in maintaining a fit and healthy body and the holiday season is the worse time of the year for most people to keep fit. From Thanksgiving dinner in November through to Christmas and New Year celebrations, the late autumn and early winter are the hardest times to keep slim and in shape. Many people put on weight during the holiday season and then struggle to lose it again.
The amount we eat during the holiday season is not the whole problem either – we all become so much more lethargic. With afternoons spent eating and then watching television, followed by evenings of more eating, drinking and more television, it is no surprise that by the New Year everyone is planning to get fit and lose weight as part of a New Year resolution.
One way to limit the weight gain during Thanksgiving and Christmas is to get active and do some exercise. In a study published in New England Journal of Medicine the lead researcher Dr. Yanovski stated that:
“The finding that study volunteers reporting more physical activity had less holiday weight gain suggests that increasing physical activity may be an effective method for preventing weight gain during this high-risk time” (source: nichd.nih.gov).
The advice is exceptionally simple – do some exercise during the holiday season. We know that exercise alone does not help you lose weight, but it does help you maintain your current weight. Also, when you are exercising, or just playing an sport, you are not eating!
Stay Healthy This Thanksgiving
Conventional wisdom is that most people gain from five to ten pounds of fat during the holidays. Happily, that much at least appears to be false. However, Americans do tend to gain some weight during this time of the year.
Studies have shown that Americans gain an average of 0.4 to 1.8 pounds each year during their adult lives. What is alarming is that although we are putting on fewer pounds during the holidays than we had previously thought, we are not taking that extra weight back off.
Studies have shown that most of us gain less weight over the winter holidays than we think, only one pound on average. However, the news is not all that good, as many people never manage to lose the weight again.
Average weight gain over the Holidays
Permanent holiday weight gain is not a pleasant thought for most of us, especially since the number one New Year resolution is to lose weight fast. Eighty percent of Americans make a New Year resolution each year, and twenty six percent of those resolutions were to improve overall health and fitness, making this the top category for self-improvement. This year was no anomaly either, according to Amy O’Connor, deputy editor of Prevention magazine: “Fifty-nine million people every year resolve to lose weight.”
So what can we do to maintain some degree of weight control this season? Is there anything we can do to stick to our weight loss plan or perhaps even achieve some quick weight loss, in the midst of all that Christmas cheer?
Healthy Holiday Food Tips:
- Reduce Saturated Fat. At holiday parties, provide or bring veggie trays instead of traditional meat and cheese platters. Reduced fat salad dressing makes a great veggie dip, and when used in place of the full-fat version will save you at least 70 calories per serving.
- Eat More Fruit. When it comes to holiday desserts, replace the typical pies with fruit or yogurt parfait.
- Drink Less Alcohol. Cut back on alcoholic drinks and drink water, fruit juice or diet soda instead. An 8-ounce eggnog with rum contains 450 calories, about 25 percent of what the average woman should have in an entire day! The average alcoholic drink contains 150-200 calories per glass.
- Eat More Protein and Less Refined Carbs. Be sure to eat a healthy, high-protein snack before going to that holiday party or dinner. The protein will help you feel full for longer and stabilize blood sugars. You’ll be less likely to binge and overall calorie consumption will fall.
- Avoid Buffet Chat. It seems that at every holiday party there is a group that congregates near the buffet table to talk. Do not be part of that group!
- Keep Treats Out of Sight. Out of sight is out of mind. If you have a stockpile of Christmas candy at home (only for guests, of course!), hide it in a cupboard. You will be much less likely to graze on it throughout the day. Keep a bowl of fresh fruit on the counter instead.
- Avoid temptation. If the break room at work is full of holiday treats throughout November and December, consider taking breaks at your desk. Even better, use that time to take a walk down the street or simply around the office building.
- Eat a Healthy Breakfast. On the day of the party or big family feast, do not starve yourself prior to the banquet. That will only leave you so famished that you overindulge. Instead, eat small high-protein meals or snacks every three to four hours before the big dinner.
- Eat the healthy parts of the Turkey. All turkey is not equal. Choose light meat instead of dark meat and you’ll save a lot of calories. A 3 1/2 ounce serving of sliced meat from a whole roasted turkey has either 161 calories (white meat without skin) or 192 calories (dark meat without skin).
- Say No to Turkey Skin. Speaking of turkey, do not forget to trim off the skin before serving it up! You will save 33 to 40 calories and 4 or 5 grams of fat per serving.
- Skim the Fat Off the Gravy. Make the gravy in advance so you have time to put it in the refrigerator. As it cools, the fat will rise to the top and solidify, allowing you to skim it off with a spoon and put it where it belongs: in the trash!
- Eat Slowly. Do not rush the meal. It takes about 20 minutes for the stomach to signal the brain that you’re full, so any meal should last at least that long! Take your time, eat slowly, and enjoy your family and friends.
- Wear Tight Clothes. Wear ‘skinny’ clothes to the holiday party as a reminder to watch what you eat. Snug, tight clothes do not leave much room for bingeing!
- Only Pick the Healthy Buffet Options. When confronted with a buffet table, make your first trip count. Pile up your plate with fresh vegetables, lean meats and other low calorie options. Eat as much healthy food as you can! This will dramatically lower the amount of desserts you will later take and will result in a healthier meal overall.
- Do Not Over Feed Children. When filling up plates for the kids, only give them what they can eat. It is too tempting to just ‘finish off’ those leftovers for them. Moms, you know what we are talking about here!
- Share Your Dessert. Follow the ‘Dessert Split’ plan: Go ahead and take something from the dessert table, but split it with a friend. If you must taste two desserts, split them with two friends. If you feel the need to sample three desserts, split them with three friends. You get the idea. That way you will get to taste all the new foods and recipes without completely breaking the calorie budget.
- Eat Your Favorite Food. Do not attempt to deprive yourself of your absolute favorite food. This only sets you up for a disappointing binge. Instead, allow yourself one small serving of your preferred treat and really savor it.
- Exercise. Just watching your diet alone will not lead to easy weight loss. For true fat loss, it is critical that you incorporate regular exercise during your holiday.
How To Make a Healthy Dinner
Holidays Are Dangerous For Your Weight
Anyone who is struggling with their weight knows that the holidays are a dangerous time. Among all holidays, Thanksgiving is the worst of all holidays for losing weight, because it is centered around food. Just because you want to lose weight it does not mean that you should not enjoy yourself on this holiday. After all, Thanksgiving only comes once a year.
If you want to enjoy thanksgiving without letting it ruin your diet, follow these tips. Simple adjustments to the regular Thanksgiving dinner dishes can make all the difference between a calorie swamped meal to a lean, but enjoyable feast for you and your family.
Tasty and Healthy Thanksgiving Recipes:
1. Thanksgiving Turkey
This is of course the center piece of any holiday meal and for no reason should you avoid it. Turkey is a very lean meat. The problem is that it is usually basted in butter and its own fat. The butter adds many calories and saturate fat to the meal. Rather than use butter swap it for another dressing like olive oil and herbs. See a full recipe below.
2. Thanksgiving Eggnog
Eggnog is a calorie rich beverage and the bad thing is that it does not even fill you up. If it is possible, swap this drink for hot cider, which is another traditional drink. You should limit yourself to 1-2 cups of eggnog at most.
3. Thanksgiving Rolls and bread
Swap white flour rolls for whole wheat or whole flour rolls. Try to avoid buttering your rolls, try olive oil and balsamic vinegar instead – the Italian method is much healthier.
4. Thanksgiving Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are healthy and low in calories. The problem is that people make it into casseroles with a lot of extra ingredients which are fatty and unhealthy. Simply bake the sweet potatoes and serve with a salad and dressing.
5. Thanksgiving Deserts
Many family meals are actually reasonably healthy, until the final course. Desert is a calorie minefield. The best healthy solution is to serve fruit as desert. A healthy dollop of fresh cream provides the sweetness without adding too many calories. People love fruit, and it is very healthy.
These few small changes will not spoil the festive spirit of Thanksgiving, but will help to make the day a little healthier, and some people will not even notice the difference! Remember to also exercise during your holiday!
Healthy Meals for an Alternative Thanksgiving and Christmas
Thanksgiving recipes generally contain a lot of fat and this increases the energy in the food which leads to weight gain over the holiday period.
Listed below are the ingredients that are usually to blame for causing expanding waistlines during the holiday season. Although many of the substitutions are not ideal, they are an improvement. To some extent high fat in the diet is not the major problem – the major problem is that high fat meals hold more energy, therefore you are actually consuming far more calories when you cook with the high fat versions.
Although Thanksgiving is not really a time to go on a calorie controlled weight loss diet, there is no reason why you cannot improve your Thanksgiving diet by making a few small changes.
Healthy Thanksgiving Recipe Substitutions
- Replace 1 Whole Egg with 2 egg whites (high in protein too)
- Replace sour cream with Low fat plain yogurt or low fat sour cream
- Replace Milk with Skim or 1% milk
- Replace Ice Cream with Frozen yogurt
- Replace Heavy Cream (not for whipping) with 1:1 ratio of flour whisked into non fat milk (e.g. 1 cup of flour + 1 cup of non fat milk)
- Replace Whipped Cream with Chilled evaporated skim milk or other low fat whipped products such as Nutriwhip
- Replace Cheese with Low-fat cheese (please note: non-fat cheese does not melt well if use in cooking or baking)
- Replace Butter with a light butter substitution
- Replace Cream of mushroom with fat-free cream of mushroom!
Criticism of the Thanksgiving Diet
This diet, often referred to as a Thanksgiving diet, or holiday season diet, is really slightly flawed. Although there is more energy in fat than protein or carbs, low fat foods are often higher in sugar. To ensure that you do not gain too much weight, it may be more sensible to consume less starchy food, such as bread, past and rice, before and during the holiday period. Eating less is the key to weight loss, but to manage your weight it is vital to exercise during the holiday season.
How To Exercise During the Holiday Season to Limit Weight Gain
Only regular and consistent exercise combined with a calorie restricted diet will get you the holiday weight loss results we are seeking. If you do not think that you have the time to exercise then here are some additional tips to get you more active:
- Take a walk outside. It is beautiful outside during the holidays, so take a walk down the street or around the block. Take a walking tour of Christmas lights in the neighborhood. A 165 lb. woman walking for 30 minutes will burn approximately 187 calories.
- Walk More. When you go Christmas shopping park as far away from the entrance of the mall as possible, so you are forced to walk further. Remember, every little bit adds up!
- Investigate a new shopping mall. You are going shopping anyway, so why not get some extra exercise in the process? Find a mall you have never been to before and make it a point to walk up and down every single staircase. While you are at it, walk past every single store too.
- Failing to plan is planning to fail. Right now, before the holiday get crazy, make a plan to get into the gym. Thinking you’ll ‘get around to it’ just doesn’t happen when there are gifts to buy, foods to prepare, and family to visit. Make a plan, write it down, and stick to it.
- Do not fall into the ‘all or nothing’ trap. If you have missed a few visits to the gym already this week, do not give up until New Years! Instead, get in there and exercise now – even if it is just once. Some exercise is always better than none at all.
- Do 10 Minutes of Exercise. When you are really short on motivation or time, try to get at least ten minutes of high intensity exercise. Chances are, once you get started you will finish up with the recommended thirty minutes. Even if you do quit after ten minutes, that is still a lot better than zero!
- Exercise Before Eating. Get in a good solid exercise session right before a big meal. It will increase your will power and your metabolism.
- Do Your Own Chores. Do not pay the neighbor kid to shovel off the walk for you – do it yourself! You will save a few bucks and burn about 225 calories for every thirty minutes of shoveling.
- Clean the house! Hey, you need to get ready for the annual family visit anyway. Vigorous house cleaning burns about 150 calories every thirty minutes.
- Find a workout buddy. Pick a good friend or family member that also wants to lose weight fast, and together make a commitment to exercise regularly. You might even want to buy each other a gift certificate for a local gym as a Christmas gift!
There is no doubt that healthy weight loss during the holidays is difficult, but it is certainly not impossible. One popular option now is to follow a 5:2 diet to help lose weight, and this can work well during the holiday period – you do not have to worry about how much you eat on the festive days, so long as you fast on the others.
Remember to exercise regularly and this year you will be smiling like Santa instead of grimacing like the Grinch!
Roast Turkey Photo by Gregory Kohs