Here we go; the holiday season is upon us once again. While looking forward to a little holiday cheer, many of us can't ignore that – much to our diet dismay – our waistlines tend to expand from December to January.
If chocolate, eggnog and five-course meals threaten to spoil your diet plans, check out the following 10 ways to avoid holiday weight gain.
1. Watch your alcohol intake
Sugary alcoholic beverages contain "empty calories" – offering little to no nutritional value – and contribute to excess weight gain. In addition, drinking too much alcohol may increase your appetite and alter your judgment, making other food temptations nearly impossible to resist. Try having a seltzer with a lime twist or drink a glass of water between alcoholic drinks to help cut calories and remain well hydrated.
2. Eat a small and balanced meal before partytime
It's a common misconception that you'll lose weight by skipping meals. In truth, this technique does not work. Skipping a meal makes you more likely to binge later at night. Instead of arriving at your holiday party famished, eat a balanced meal before heading out or, have a snack such as yogurt with fruit and nuts or a protein shake.
3. Bye-bye, white flour!
To keep your waistline thin and trim, avoid refined grain products such as white bread, white pasta and white rice. Such products trigger the oversecretion of the hormone insulin. An excess secretion of insulin can result in weight gain, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and the development of Type II diabetes. Go for healthier alternatives such as sweet potatoes, whole wheat or whole grain pasta and bread, and brown rice.
4. Have protein at each meal or snack
Protein triggers the release of a hormone called glucagon and glucagon initiates the release and breakdown of fat. Be sure to have a top quality protein source at every meal such as lean turkey, chicken, egg white, protein powder, protein bars, fish and lean beef.
5. Go green
Drinking three cups of green tea daily has been shown to increase metabolic rate and speed up fat oxidation. Compounds in green tea called catechin polyphenols appear to speed up the rate at which calories are burned, leading to weight loss. Green tea is also loaded with disease-preventing antioxidants. Instead of downing dehydrating drinks such as coffee or soda, stick to health-promoting and fat-burning green tea.
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6. Don't stress
The "so-called" stress hormone, cortisol, is released under times of stress. Unfortunately, many of us feel some degree of stress dealing with the daily grind and that only increases when you factor in higher demands and longer workdays leading up to the holidays. In terms of weight loss, research shows excess cortisol secretion stimulates weight gain and abdominal fat accumulation. For ways to decrease stress and keep your weight down, try exercising, stretching, meditating and journalling.
7. Stay hydrated
Being well hydrated makes you feel full longer, decreases bloating and optimizes digestion. Instead of sugary juice, pop, diet sodas or coffee, switch to hydrating drinks such as distilled water, herbal teas and watered-down natural fruit juices.
8. Modify your exercise routine
It's almost impossible to not indulge over the holiday season. If you fall off the health wagon and have a big piece of chocolate cake or one too many drinks, don't panic. Simply stick to your exercise routine and increase your cardiovascular workout to burn off excess calories.
9. Have healthier versions of your holiday favorites
Traditional holiday foods taste good but are often loaded with fat and calories. To make your favorite dishes healthier, opt for low-fat cheese, serve baked sweet potatoes instead of candied yams or white potatoes, and make pureed vegetable soups instead of cream-based soups.
10. Slow down
It takes a minimum of 20 minutes for your stomach to register a "full" sensation and signal to your brain that it's time to stop eating. In other words, by eating in a slow and relaxed manner, you'll feel more full and be less likely to overeat.
The holiday season is one of the best times of the year, filled with food, festivities and family. By following the tips above, you'll be able to occasionally indulge and enjoy the season without suffering any weight gain or unwanted bulge.
Dr. Joey Shulman D.C., RNCP, is the author of Winning the Food Fight (Wiley 2003) and The Natural Makeover Diet (2006). Visit her website at drjoey.com.
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