Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain

The next two weeks are the year’s most dangerous when it comes to the radius of your waist, the width of your thighs, and the heft of your chins.

As I write, it’s two degrees below zero in Chicago and I think we can safely agree most of us won’t be jogging off the extra calories we’re facing from now into the new year. Driving to the health club in a winter storm is also a bit off-putting.

So here’s what you do:
1. Eat a solid breakfast. Scramble two eggs with spinach. Top a cup of Greek yogurt with fresh fruit and walnuts. Or enjoy a half cup of oatmeal with cinnamon, milk, and berries. Eating well during cookie-plate season may seem counterintuitive, but it’s essential. You don’t want to arrive anywhere feeling remotely hypoglycemic, which sends your brain into feed-me mode (like the carnivorous plant Audrey in “Little Shop of Horrors”). Approach a snack table in this state and you’ll find you’ve downed 1,000 calories worth of appetizers/cookies/tidbits before lunch or dinner.
2. Speaking of appetizers, avoid all finger foods except those that would thrill a rabbit (a handful of nuts makes a fine accompaniment).
3. Lunch is a must too. Keep your blood sugar stable mid-day by eating a lunch of fresh nutrient-rich foods. Toss a big salad, with dark greens, veggies, some protein (chicken, hard-boiled eggs, salmon), and good fats like avocado and olive oil. Mid-afternoon, enjoy a bowl of vegetable or bean soup. Or an apple with a piece of cheese.
4. At any holiday meal, avoid poultry skin (no nutrition, all fat calories) and go easy on the side dishes except for fruit, veggies, and salads.
5. Most buffets offer an assortment of plate sizes. Yours would be the 9-inch plate and by choosing it you’ll immediately reduce your calorie intake by 20%. The concept of “piling it high” is not in play here.
6. No second helpings of anything, period.
7. Say a silent thank-you that your particular challenge is caloric abundance. An estimated 43 million Americans need help feeding their families.
8. Chew your food slowly, tasting it and engaging with your tablemates. You’re not malnourished and no one is going to take the food from you.
9. You are not a sausage. Pause occasionally during any meal and ask, “Am I no longer hungry?” If you sense you’re not, stop eating, even if there’s still food on your plate. Anybody can recognize when they’re overly full (that unpleasant combination of discomfort, vague nausea, and guilt). The real talent is stopping before you feel you’ll explode.
10. Drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water throughout the day. I know—boring. But water will fill you in a calorie-free way (plus hydrate your winter-dry skin) while eggnog, juices, sodas, and sugar-laden coffee drinks quickly add up to thousands of calories.
11. After any large calorie intake (dinner, book club, office party), bundle up and go for a long, brisk walk. You’ll be digesting and burning some calories.
12. Don’t go overboard on denial. If there’s something you really look forward to and love, have a modest portion. A small piece of pie to enjoy slowly, a cookie, a half-cup of eggnog. But not every day, right?
13. Shop well. Keep your fridge well-stocked with the fruits, vegetables, salad greens, and protein you’ll need for breakfast, lunch, and dinner makings.
14. Holiday weeks are a bad time to consider a weight-loss plan or detoxification. You’ll have plenty of time in 2011. But do please keep conscious of what you’re eating.
15. Actively exercise. Enlist a co-worker and schedule a twice-daily stair-climb. Up a bunch of floors and down again. This will rev up your metabolism for the rest of the day and pull you away from the endless array of sugar your well-intentioned fellow employees bring to share.

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