COLUMBUS, Ohio -- If visions of sugarplums and other holiday treats dance in your head, materialize in your mouth and then on your hips, you’re not alone. It’s that time of year.
Fortunately, studies show that most people gain just 1 or 2 pounds over the holidays. Unfortunately, people who are already battling the bulge tend to gain more. And it can be difficult for anyone to shed those pounds after the holidays are over.
Bridgette Kidd, Healthy People program specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, offers guidance to help you enjoy the holidays without calorie-laden regrets:
- Don’t skip meals. A busy, stressful holiday season can lead people to skip meals, which often leads to poor food choices and overeating later, “especially when everywhere you look there are holiday-themed treats with flavors like pumpkin spice and peppermint chocolate,” Kidd said. Arm yourself against this temptation by planning ahead: Keep healthy snacks on hand while you are out holiday shopping or at home decorating. Good choices include veggies and hummus, apples and peanut butter, or dried fruits and nuts. All contain fiber and protein, which will help keep you feeling full until your next meal.
- Keep temptation out of your home. Just because it’s the holiday season doesn’t mean it’s time to stock up on baked goods and candy. Having tempting treats in the home tests your willpower, especially when you are stressed. Kidd suggests adopting an “out of sight, out of mind” philosophy: “It is much easier to make healthy choices when you provide a healthy environment in the home.”
- Stay active. In general, keeping up with physical activity can be challenging in the winter months, but it’s important to meet that challenge head-on, Kidd said. “If you are feeling the urge to eat due to stress, getting out and moving around can be the easiest way to stop yourself from overindulging,” she said. “Physical activity also increases endorphins, which can improve your mood and reduce stress.” Fortunately, the cold weather brings opportunities to do certain activities not possible in warmer months, such as ice skating, sledding, holiday-themed charity walks or runs -- or even having a snowball fight.
- Practice mindful eating. Go ahead and allow yourself the occasional indulgence, Kidd said. Completely depriving yourself of your favorite holiday treats can cause just as much stress as the guilt you may feel after overindulging. But when you do treat yourself, try practicing mindful eating. Remove all distractions. Eat slowly and enjoy every bite. Tune in to the taste, texture and flavor. Before going back for seconds, wait at least 10 minutes to see if you are really still hungry.
- Make plans for leftovers. If you are hosting a holiday party or event, send leftovers home with the guests or make plans for their use on a later date, such as using turkey or ham for a morning breakfast. Packing up leftovers immediately after the meal is not only a good food safety practice, Kidd said, but it will stop you and your guests from grazing all night long.
- Plan ahead. If you are a guest at a holiday party, bring a healthy dish that you made yourself, or ask the host if you can help prepare the menu. Then you’ll know there is at least one healthy option for you at the party. If this isn’t possible, Kidd recommends having a light, healthy snack before you go to keep yourself from overeating.
- Keep healthy alternatives handy. If your co-workers tend to bring in a lot of holiday treats, be proactive and keep healthy snacks around. It will be easier to pass on the unhealthy sweets if you have an alternative such as popcorn, nuts, fruits and veggies on hand.
For more guidance from OSU Extension’s Family and Consumer Sciences program, see the Live Smart Ohio website at go.osu.edu/livesmartohio.