The question: I've heard people gain five pounds during the holiday season. I have many work-related parties to attend, not to mention the usual family functions. I don't want to gain weight. Help!
The answer: December isn't exactly known for producing hard bodies. Even though there are countless opportunities to overeat, it is possible to survive the season without gaining weight. Despite what you hear, holiday weight gain is not unavoidable.
It's also not inevitable that you will gain five pounds. Research suggests that holiday weight gain is actually quite slight. According to a previous study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, the average adult gains only one pound during the winter holiday season. The bad news, however, is that this extra weight tends to accumulate year after year and contributes to the so-called middle-age spread.
In other words, it's what you do January through November that really counts when it comes to weight control. Even so, you still need to make careful choices – and exercise portion control – to minimize the damage during a food-centered holiday.
Whether it's a cocktail reception or family dinner, don't arrive hungry. No doubt you've heard this before, but it's advice worth repeating. Don't skip meals during the day to "bank" calories for later on. Doing so is a surefire way to arrive at your party ravenous, ready to eat everything in sight.
What you can do, however, is modify your meals slightly to help compensate for extra calories you're likely to consume at your social event. For example, if you usually have Greek yogurt, fruit and granola for breakfast, skip the granola. If lunch tends to be a sandwich and soup, pass on the soup. Or have half of a sandwich and soup. If you usually eat a salad with tuna, chickpeas, nuts and feta cheese, skip the nuts and cheese. You get the picture.
Make sure you eat a protein-rich snack before you leave for your event. To take the edge off your appetite, try Greek yogurt and berries, fruit and a small handful of nuts or a hard-boiled egg, a nonfat or soy latte, even a bowl of vegetable soup.
When you arrive at the party, manage your environment to prevent overeating. Don't stand beside the food table where hors d'houevres and sweets can tempt you. If appropriate, bring your own healthy dish to a holiday gathering. At the office, make a point of not hanging around a lunchroom that's laden with holiday cookies and chocolates.
Don't blow your calories on foods you aren't crazy about. It's just not worth it. Pass on everyday appetizers and desserts you can have any time. Instead, have a small serving of something you really enjoy that's not available year-round.
Imbibing in a few holiday cocktails can weaken your resolve to eat moderately, not to mention add extra calories to your daily intake. Plan in advance to have only one or two drinks. Alternate alcoholic beverages with sparkling water.
I also advise my clients to make time for a little exercise. You might not have time to fit in your usual workout routine, but chances are you can sneak in a quick 20-minute workout, which is enough to burn 200 calories and reduce your appetite. Plus, you'll feel good about yourself for doing it and as a result, you'll be more likely to make smart food choices.
December's endless string of parties won't make you lean, that's for sure. But with careful planning, mindful eating and the right mindset, it doesn't have to translate into a tighter waistband. So go ahead and indulge (a little). Just do so sensibly.
Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto. She is a regular contributor to CTV News Channel.