Do you find it almost impossible to stay conscious and contentious about weight and nutrition during the holidays? Of course you do. More than half of all Americans are overweight: You're not alone.
A new government study might give you a ray of hope though: The study shows that Americans gain only about one pound over the holidays. The study found that people participating were influenced by two main factors over the holidays: The level of their hunger, and the level of their activity. In other words: Those who reported being less active or more hungry during the holidays had the greatest weight gain.
So common sense says: If you can stay focused on dealing with just those two things, you'll probably win your personal holiday weight loss battle. At the very least, you'll win by not adding more weight to what's already waiting to be shed.
"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of weight gain," says Dr. Samuel Klein, the Director of the Center for Human Nutrition at Washington University in St. George Louis, MO. "Preventing the increase in weight is a lot easier and better than actually gaining weight and then trying to get it off again."
So the answer seems simple: Eat less and exercise more. The reality of implementation of course, is far more difficult.
The good news is that most of the people overestimate how much weight they'd gained over the holidays. Fewer than 10% gain 5 pounds or more.
The bad news is: The small amount of weight gained is never lost. One pound of weight gain is quite a small amount, but since it's not usually lost again: The weight adds up over time – to obesity.
Now we all know there are tons of tips out and about this time of year, designed to help us keep from putting on that extra pound or two during the holidays. Unfortunately what's usually not talked about is: The reality of day-to-day holiday stress and situations. Let's explore the tips … along with their reality checks … in depth:
Weight Loss Tip 1: Stay active. The best thing you can do is try to stick to your normal schedule and routine.
Holiday Reality Check: It's pretty hard to have any kind of decent routine in the busy months of November and December. Busy people tend to sacrifice yoga classes, long walks, and visits to the gym because they need time for extra things like decorating the house, cooking, cleaning up before the visitors get there, and of course: Shopping.
The Good News: Walking around the shopping mall and stores is great exercise, and so is cleaning the house. In addition to those activities, decorating can be quite intensive too: You're climbing up and down to hang things; lifting, lugging, and dragging boxes out of storage; bending, twisting and turning to get it all looking just right. So don't beat yourself up about not making it to the gym … you're getting plenty of activity and every little bit helps!
Weight Loss Tip 2: Don't let yourself get too hungry. If you go to a party and you're starving, everything will look even more scrumptious than normal. And of course, you'll eat much more because of it. Try starting each day with a good, solid breakfast – particularly something with protein. And when you're at the party, try munching on the veggies to help keep you feeling full. These two things will help your hunger stay under control, and will in turn help you refrain from "gorging" on anything you see just because you're famished.
Holiday Reality Check: We're all very busy during the holidays, and it's not always possible to remember to eat – let alone eat well – particularly in the morning when we may have already overslept and are now running late for everything. And eating healthy at a party isn't always possible either: Not everyone in this country serves vegetable plates, salads, or fruit bowls. Sometimes the only things in site are junk: Chips, candy, and cookies.
Here's a suggestion: Try taking your own veggie plate to a party where you know there won't be one available. A quick and easy way to do this is simply buy a bag or two of pre-cut veggies and some ranch salad dressing. Alternatively, eat a decent meal before you go to the party. Don't overdo things, but don't make it a light snack either. Eating first will help you to just "nibble" a bit on the worst of the holiday treats offered.
Weight Loss Tip 3: Stay away from the food. Literally. Just don't go anywhere near the buffet table, appetizers, or treats … and you'll be fine.
Holiday Reality Check: In most cases, the food is everywhere. And even if it's not right in front of your face, you sure can smell it! Trying to just "stay away from it" is pretty unrealistic – and it can feel like torture for some of us. And for most people: When you can't have something, you want it even more. So trying to stay away from the food will most likely just make you overindulge worse than you would have otherwise.
Try this instead: Allow yourself whatever you'd like. But with a catch. First: Take only half the amount you normally would. And take just one food item. Eat that and enjoy it without guilt. Then, wait a full 20-30 minutes before you get something else. Then repeat the process: One item, half the portion size as you normally would, enjoy it without guilt, then wait before getting something else.
Allowing yourself to eat gets rid of the mentality of "I can't have it (and thus I'm more determined to have it)" It lets you enjoy the good food and the holidays, without beating yourself up. This is healthy and can help tremendously with the way you view food and eating in general. Only taking half of it though, will help you not take in as much calories, fat, sugar or other bad stuff you usually avoid. And then waiting 20-30 minutes before you get something else will help your body realize when it's had enough … or too much. So you're much less likely to overdo things, and feel horrible physically later.
Weight Loss Tip 4: Wear cloths that are slightly tight on you. This should help you feel full faster, and keep you from eating too much food.
Holiday Reality Check: We want to wear looser cloths because we're looking forward to eating all that great food! Yes, wearing something tight might help us not go back for a second helping of potatoes … or it might ruin a favorite outfit.
In the end, how you approach this tip is up to you, and you alone. Make your decision and be happy with it.
Weight Loss Tip 5: Keep your portions small. Try to load up on salad and vegetables, and take just tiny amounts of anything else.
Holiday Reality Check: Taking just a "bite sized" amount of anything is going to put you into the have-not mental state mentioned earlier. You'll feel as if you can't have something, and you'll want it all the more.
Try the tip noted above instead: Take half the size you normally would. Trying to have just a little bite of pie will whet your appetite for more, but having a whole piece is going a bit overboard – particularly if there's 5 different pies for you to sample. So try actual sampling instead: Cut a piece half the normal size. This allows you to have a "whole slice", and more than several little bites. Then wait about 20 minutes before you go and try the next pie. Even if you end up eating a bit of all 5 pies, by having a half-sized slice of each, you've drastically cut the amount of calories, carbs and sugars compared to what you would have had with whole slices. And you'll still feel stuffed and satiated, instead of deprived and resentful.
So there you have it: 5 different, common holiday weight loss and eating tips, followed by the reality check of each, and a suggested compromise that should help you enjoy the holidays to their fullest, without depriving yourself of the great food we all look forward to.
Whatever you decide to do, remember to actually have Happy Holidays!