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Surviving the Holidays

Written by Tom Nikkola - Director of Nutrition & Weight Management

We're in the middle of the holiday season. While the holiday season is about much more than food, the five-week period between Thanksgiving and New Year's is filled with more treats and sweets than people experience at any other part of the year. There is a way to manage your weight while still enjoying holiday foods. Following the suggestions below can help you keep the holiday weight off and still have a good time.

Pick your "treat" meals and enjoy them

Around the holidays, special foods are often available everywhere, every day. While it would be nice to be able to indulge a little each day, it can be pretty difficult to manage weight while having a couple of cookies every day. From Thanksgiving through New Year's, there are 37 days this year. Eating an extra 300 calories per day for 37 days results in an extra 11,100 calories. In addition, many people find the weekends get more out of hand with holiday parties and get-togethers. If Friday through Sunday result in an additional 2000 excess calories, which might be conservative, that's another 12,000 calories. Eating an excess 23,000 calories theoretically results in an extra 6.5 pounds of pure fat. If these extra calories were coming through lean meat and vegetables, they may not result in much weight gain, but when they're coming from sugar and other processed carbohydrates, and (sometimes) alcohol, the weight-gain can be significant.

Having said all that, many people can find more success with simply enjoying their holiday get-togethers and making some sacrifice during the rest of the week. If you have something to look forward to at the end of the week, you may find it easier to eat a reduced-calorie diet during the other days. Skip the office "goodies"  and avoid buying sweets for your desktop or countertop. If you're eating five to six times per day, you'll eat 35-42 meals per week. If you get off your plan on Friday and Saturday night through the holidays, it's only two of those total meals during the week. Eating a reduced-calorie diet, higher-protein diet five days per week and enjoying a couple of holiday parties or get-togethers each week can easily result in maintenance of body weight through the holidays. Depending on how well people eat during the week, they may even find they lose weight during the holiday season.

Eat your protein first

Many previous articles have discussed the importance of eating a sufficient amount of quality protein. Higher-protein diets help to regulate blood-sugar, which helps to maintain insulin levels. When insulin levels are constantly high from too many carbohydrates in the diet, the body can't use fat for fuel well. Eating plenty of protein can help keep insulin levels lower. In addition, eating plenty of protein reduces hunger, or increases the feeling of fullness. Eating plenty of protein at the beginning of a holiday party can help you control your cravings for the other high-calorie foods. You may even want to drink a protein shake on the way to the party to reduce your hunger even more.

Drink plenty of water

Drinking plenty of water helps fill your stomach, which can reduce the amount of food you can eat. As mentioned above, drinking a protein shake on the way to a party can help you feel more full, partly from the protein content and also from the amount of water in it. If you don't have a protein shake available, at least drink a bottle of water en route. Try to drink another glass or two of water each hour during the party.

Choose your beverages wisely

While a glass of red wine has been shown to provide some health benefits, drinking alcohol is not usually included in a healthy eating article. However, it is a reality for many people during the holidays. Drinking alcohol has been shown to do little for satiety, meaning when you drink alcohol, it won't help you feel more full, no matter how many calories are in it. If you are going to drink, it's best to avoid mixed drinks which can have a lot of sugar.

Other festive drinks, like those at your favorite coffee house can be incredibly high in calories as well. Loaded with sugar, they do little to satisfy cravings for very long, and can quickly become a bad habit. A Grande Starbucks Peppermint Mocha has 440 calories. A cup of eggnog has about 350 calories. The worst part about these drinks is not the total calorie content, but the amount of sugar.

Don't skip a workout, but don't use a workout as an excuse to eat more

During the season of eating, it's critical to stick to your exercise program. Strength training and higher-intensity cardio can improve your body's ability to store the sugars you may be eating during the holidays. That said, workouts are not a license to eat. When people have the mentality that they can eat because they exercised, the metabolic effects of their workouts can easily be offset by a few high-calorie snacks.


An inevitable reality of the holiday season is that get-togethers will include a lot of special foods. One or two meals per week will not sabotage your fitness program if you're strict to your plan during the rest of the week. When people indulge a little each day and indulge a lot at the holiday parties, it can easily lead to several pounds of new, unwanted body fat to start off the New Year with. Stick with the suggestions above and you may have a head start on your New Year's program on January 1.

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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Reader Comments (1)

I think it is wise to think about what we are drinking at this time of year besides what we are eating.. As the article mentions, alcohol and sugary coffee drinks are not healthy choices to make at this time of year. It is also encouraging to hear that if we eat well all week and only splurge on a couple of meals during the week, we should be able to stay fairly on track with our weight goals.

December 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPam

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