Managing Holiday Food & Weight Gain

By 2nd Lt. Evan Tryon, Madigan Dietetic InternNovember 16, 2022

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

MADIGAN ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. - It's November, which means the holiday season is here. Holiday weight gain can be a concern for many military members. Americans gain an average of 1-2 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year's. With the right mindset and self-regulation, weight gain around the holidays is preventable.

Here is what the research shows.

A National Institute of Health research team found that participants gained 0.8 pounds on average during the holiday period, despite believing they gained four times more weight than measured. Hunger and a change in activity were the main components related to holiday weight gain. Not surprisingly, participants with increased hunger and reduced activity had more weight gain.

Studies have shown weight gain during the holidays is attributed to increased stress, greater frequency of social gatherings with high-calorie food and drinks, and limited physical activity.

But most people don’t try to lose weight during the holidays and instead are there to enjoy the three Fs (family, friends, and food)

Try these strategies that don’t require excessive restriction and allow you to enjoy your holiday favorites.

(1) Self-monitoring

Observing and recording your eating and exercise patterns is a simple strategy to use during the holiday months. Use a personal journal to monitor hunger before and after meals. Observe changes in appetite or food consumption and adjust your eating choices over time.

“Challenge the concept of having to be stuffed during holiday meals,” said Nora Patterson, a registered dietitian at Madigan.

Another self-monitoring option that is the most effective in weight maintenance is self-weighing. Note that you may see an increase in weight after a large meal, which is normal and likely related to water retention and sodium.

(2) Making specific food choices about what is worth eating

Two questions can help you decide whether to eat or forgo an item. Is this available only at this meal, such as grandma's sweet potato casserole, or is it a more common treat like sugar cookies?

“Foods that are more commonly experienced during the year can be minimized, while truly enjoying the special foods only available around the holidays,” said Patterson.

Additionally, on a scale of 1-10, how much do I want to eat this? If your rating is not a 7 or higher, it’s probably not worth eating.

(3) Attend to portion size

Hands can get heavier come the holiday season with larger serving bowls and more delicious treats. Try using a smaller plate to eat your meals or start with a smaller portion first and go back for seconds if you are still feeling hungry. The benefit of using a smaller plate is the psychological effect of more food without eating the same amount.

(4) Plate Design

Keep the look of your plate simple. Half consists of vegetables, and one-fourth of the plate should be protein sources. Vegetables contain fiber that aids in gut function and nutrients that promote overall health. Protein is essential in maintaining muscle mass and staying full longer. Great lean protein options include turkey, chicken, ham, eggs, seafood, beans, and soy products. Don’t forget about dessert! The remainder can be your favorite family pie or treat on a small plate.

(5) Proper Snacking

Treats that are high in added fats and sugars are easier to access around the holidays, making snacking more common. Try keeping treats out of sight by putting them in drawers or hard-to-reach places. An alternative is replacing treats with high-fiber snacks such as apples with peanut butter or carrots with hummus.

(6) Recipe Swaps

Incorporate alternative ingredients into classic recipes to include more fruits, vegetables and nuts can boost their nutrient content and volume of the food, leaving bellies fuller. Try splitting your white flour with a whole wheat flour blend in your next holiday pie or an additional serving of carrots or squash in your family stuffing recipe.

(7) Enjoy your meal

This time of year is about enjoying company and food. Take the time to slow down, put your eating utensils down, and talk with your family. Eating slowly and being less distracted can lead to consuming fewer calories and more enjoyment during mealtime.

“The holidays are a time to be present and enjoy the time with your family without feeling guilty about eating too much,” advised 1st Lt. Emily Lim, the chief of Outpatient and Community Nutrition at Madigan.

(8) Maintain your exercise habits

Around the holidays, the colder months unconsciously reduce physical activity. Strive to be physically active during the holidays with family by incorporating a backyard sport or going for a walk during family activities.

The holidays can be a time to enjoy and maintain healthy habits. Know that holiday weight gain is usually small and can be mitigated while enjoying the festivities and foods you love.

Grandparents And Granddaughters Walking Dog Along Street
Grandparents And Granddaughters Walking Dog Along Street (Photo Credit: Monkey Business Images) VIEW ORIGINAL

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