From the Weight Control Research Project at Kansas University:
1. You are not doomed to gain weight just because it's the holiday season. Though the holidays present unique challenges, the depressing prophesy of going up an entire pants size is not supported by research. The few studies in this area show the average person gains only a pound from Thanksgiving to New Year's. The problem is, they usually don't lose that pound after the holidays, so over the years, it can add up.
2. Don't weigh yourself every day. Fluid shifts, especially with high-sodium snack foods, can skew the numbers on the scale. It is physiologically impossible to gain 4 pounds of fat overnight. Seeing such a number sends some people into a downward spiral of eating because they figure they have blown it anyway. Better to weigh yourself once a week, preferably in the morning, to get a clearer picture of how your weight is doing. During the holidays, focus on maintaining rather than losing.
3. Avoid the mindset of "well, I'm going on a diet in January so I should have some fun now and eat whatever I want." Even if you just gain 1 or 2 pounds, you are looking at probably three weeks of hard work down the road to get if off. Though weight loss is fast in the beginning - on any program - it eventually slows and that is when those 2 extra pounds really become a burden. We ask the participants in our clinics: "Was it worth the 30 seconds that it took to eat the extra half piece of pie?" Focus on maintaining your weight so that when you start a weight loss program, you won't have that much farther to go.
4. Focus on high-volume, low-calorie foods that fill you up, both at holiday parties and the meals/snacks in between. In our clinics we teach the principles of "energy density" - the ratio between amount of food and calories it has. Foods with a high water and/or fiber content tend to have very low energy density: vegetables, fruits, soups, salads, etc. Conversely, fat-free products (crackers, cookies, bagels, etc.) tend to have a high-energy density because they have little or no water. We require participants to consume at least 5 fruits or vegetables a day in order to "crowd out" other food choices with a higher energy density.
5. Hit the holiday buffet with a plan in hand. Go through twice. First time, fill the plate with fruits, vegetables and lean protein. If you are afraid there won't be healthy choices available, offer to bring some. Eat, and wait 15 to 20 minutes. THEN return to the buffet on a fairly full stomach and get small amounts of the high-calorie foods that you really want to try. Focus on eating the high-calorie foods to satisfy your desire to eat delicious seasonal foods rather than to satisfy your hunger. This approach allows you to be fully satisfied with much smaller amounts.
6. Protein is very satiating. Recent research has pointed to the benefits of protein in weight control because dieters seem to report less hunger than when eating equal amounts of carbohydrate. Use protein as a tool to help you stay satisfied throughout the day and when you head to the holiday parties. Remember, protein comes from many sources, not just meat. Low-fat dairy, beans and legumes, and soy are all good low-calorie protein choices.
7. To avoid feelings of deprivation, follow the 80/20 rule. We teach this during the maintenance portion of our clinics. Weight maintenance is a lifelong pursuit - and you can't avoid your favorite foods the rest of your life. Therefore, determine to eat healthy, low-calorie choices 80 percent of the time, and then save your splurge for that 20 percent. Before eating a high-calorie holiday treat, ask yourself "Do I really want to 'spend' my 20 percent on this food?" If pumpkin pie isn't really your favorite, pass it up - it's not worth your 20 percent. But if Grandma's homemade fudge is worth your 20 percent, then eat it and enjoy every bite. Choose your splurges wisely and remember one splurge won't cause weight gain. It's the extra unconscious calories day after day.
8. Imbibe wisely. You can lower the calories in alcoholic beverages by mixing with seltzer, club soda or diet sodas. For example, mix wine with Fresca for a low-calorie wine cooler. At parties, never have a caloric beverage and food in your hand at the same time - either do one or the other. Make the association that what you're drinking does have calories. Research indicates that humans do not "register" the calories in drinks they way we do the calories in food, so you have to make a conscious effort to do so. As for the old trick about drinking water before eating to cut down on consumption, this seems to be an urban myth. Research shows that drinking water before a meal does not reduce your food consumption. But research shows choosing foods with a high water content (fruits, vegetables, soups and salads) does reduce the calorie content of the meal overall.
9. Keep exercising, no matter how busy you are. Obviously it burns calories, but what's more important this time of year is that it keeps you in the groove. It's just too easy to fall out of the habit for good if you use the excuse, "I'm too busy so I'll skip just this once." Our participants report exercise minutes every week in the clinic, and the most consistent ones almost always do it in the morning. The best type of exercise is the one you will do, and for most people, that's walking. Research has shown that shorter bouts throughout the day are just as effective as one long bout, so break it up if you have to. Exercise also helps to dissipate stress-related hormones, another big bonus this time of year.
10. Consider wearing a pedometer. They are inexpensive, easy to use and provide concrete, immediate feedback. Our participants wear pedometers and report their steps every week. For some it becomes a source of healthy competition. We recommend our participants work up to getting 10,000 steps per day (in addition to other exercise). However, any amount over what someone is normally doing will be beneficial. If someone does not want to start a "regular" exercise program until after the holidays, they should wear a pedometer and just keep striving to add more steps every day.