The secrets to avoiding holiday weight gain

Last Modified: 12/17/2021

holiday weight

The average American gains approximately 1.5 pounds between Thanksgiving and the New Year. And it’s no wonder, with all of the treats and culinary traditions surrounding the holidays! We invited Ryan Singerman, DO, PPG – Weight Management & Bariatric Surgery, to discuss how people can find balance this time of year and keep their waistline where they want it.

Plate construction and control

This topic comes up regularly at the Parkview Weight Management offices this time of year, and the biggest reason is people feel paralyzed. They know they’re going to be snacking or cooking, and they worry about control. They think they have to eat everything to enjoy any of it. 

When you’re going to a meal, whether it’s a family dinner or a party, if you’re really trying to be better, you have to do better. You have to load your plate differently than you normally would. Imagine cutting your plate in half. At least 50% should be piled high with salad, green beans, broccoli or other veggies. The good news here is, vegetables are more filling and help you avoid higher-calorie items.

What if the veggie options have a dressing on them? Great question. In general, the thicker and the opaquer the dressing or garnish, the worse it’s going to be for you. Olive oil or raspberry vinaigrette will have fewer calories than ranch, bleu cheese or Italian dressing, or mayonnaise. Go for the most basic veggie dishes available and make the healthiest choice possible. You might not want to, but you can do it.

Cut the remaining half of your plate in half. One quarter should be protein, and the other quarter can be whatever you want. Use that space for your mashed potatoes, sweet potato pie, stuffing or any holiday treat your heart desires!

One challenge we face in social settings is that we can’t control things as we can at home. For example, most places offer a 10-inch dinner plate. We’re trained to fill the plate we’re given, and then to eat everything on it. If you get a bigger plate, you’re going to eat more food. Try grabbing a 6-inch or dessert plate, instead. Fill less, eat less.

The sweet spot: moderation + a balanced budget

If you want to try all of the desserts, great! Do that. But you don’t need a full quarter of the pie when you take a slice. A sliver will suffice. Take a quarter of a cookie instead of a whole. In the end, it’s always better to take a small taste and decide whether you want to expend calories on that.

It’s a budget. You’re allowed so many calories a day without going over. In the financial world, if you deficit spend, you go into debt. With eating, you get calories and gain fat. Be mindful about how you’re going to eat and the total calories you’re bringing in. If you know you’re going to go to a party, have light snacks and save 80 percent of your calories for the party. If you’re drinking, count those beverages into your calorie count as well.

Navigating the social aspect

If you’re going to a gathering, and you’re trying to be good, eat a snack beforehand or bring your own container of prepared food. Depending on how serious your goals are, and how much control you have over your habits, you might need to reconsider attending. If you struggled with alcohol, and you were invited to a function where they were serving a lot of wine and cocktails, you might not go. If you have food issues, and food is going to be in abundance, it’s really no different.

As a society, we’re not good at accepting eating as a disease state, or as anything more than a self-control issue, but make no mistake, it is. Our friends and family need to be accepting of our efforts to improve our personal health. Most people might ask questions, but they will support your decision to carry in food or forgo the celebration.  

Guilt and goals

When it comes to the guilt, to the “Oh my gosh, I blew it!”, I can tell you that the only time you’re truly defeated is when you stop trying. The very next day, you have to commit to doing better at the next meal. Don’t focus on being perfect for the next 90 days, that’s overwhelming. Take it one day, one meal at a time. The more self-control you exert, the more times you exert it, the easier it gets.  

It’s also common for people to resign themselves to the idea that, once they’ve gone off track, they might as well just forget about eating healthy until their New Year’s resolutions set in. What’s one more indulgent meal?

Do you know when the most popular day to start a diet is? “Tomorrow.”

All of the diets – keto, vegan, paleo, DASH, Mediterranean – have been studied to find out which one is the best. And the fascinating thing is, according to the meta-analysis, the answer is often none of them, with few exceptions. They all produce the same results; All participants are able to lose weight on their diet of choice, with one significant caveat. They have to be consistent. As long as people stick to a chosen diet and don’t deviate, weight loss occurs.

When people go on these extreme starvation diets and lose 10 pounds, which is a common trend around the first of the year, they’re often surprised when the weight comes right back on. Therein lies the danger of that “Diet starts January 1” weight loss mentality. People who’ve lived a certain lifestyle for years are trying to cut everything out at once, which puts them into a state of shock. It’s much better to find a diet that agrees with your finances, morality and palate. If you stick with your diet and a caloric requirement for your body, you can find success.

I also caution against putting so much emphasis on this one day of the year. You can do really great with willpower for maybe a week or two until you forget to meal prep and it gets pushed off a little further and further. Make small, sustainable changes and find a group that can help hold you accountable to make true life changes. Remember, diet isn’t something you’re going to do short-term and give up. It has to be a lifestyle change.

The final word

When you plan to indulge, don’t overindulge. Have the pie or casserole or spiked eggnog, but do it in a reasonable manner. Don’t take it to the point where you’re going to explode. And if you do, realize that you’re human. No one has a big red cape waving behind them. Just because you messed up, it doesn’t mean you’re going to continue making mistakes. Take a minute to understand why you overindulged. Were you feeling down or having too much fun? Were you stressed out? Explore what might have contributed to it so next time you can guard against it. Feeling guilty is an emotional response to being in a bad situation. The best way to move past it is to plan for the future and make better choices.


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