Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition

Easy steps to prevent holiday weight gain

Published December 10, 2015

URBANA, Ill. – A University of Illinois Extension nutrition and wellness educator offers advice on how to navigate the temptations and obstacles we face during the holiday eating season.

“A 2013 report tells us that the average American gains between one to just over two pounds each year—that means a possible 10 pounds in five years,” said Diane Reinhold.

“At this time of year, choosing to eat healthy can really be a challenge, even for disciplined people. With all of the holiday parties, office potlucks, and family gatherings, there are many more opportunities for eating and drinking,” she explained.

The research of Brian Wansink, an expert on eating behaviors and former U of I professor, has shown that by altering our personal environment, we can reduce consumption of calories.

“It’s important to understand how our food environment, and the factors associated with it, can significantly affect the amount of food we are consuming. That makes us better equipped to handle the unique holiday eating challenges that face us,” Reinhold stated.

During the holidays, we may not have a specified time to eat. Instead, we are often able to eat throughout the day.

“Think about the last time you gathered with friends and family. Did you have the chance to graze on snacks and sweets either before or after the big holiday meal? In these situations, we often have easy access to a variety of high-calorie foods in large quantities, and we simply are unaware of how much we are actually eating. We need to be mindful of the delicious dishes and snacks, but also the calorie-rich beverages,” she said.

Healthy Holiday Eating Tips

Eat sensibly. If you have a party to attend, eat sensibly throughout the day. Skipping meals often leads to overeating later in the day. Instead, eat breakfast, a light lunch, and a small afternoon snack. Include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables along with lean proteins to help fill you up. This will not only help prevent overeating later in the day, but it will also give your body the energy it needs.

Be mindful of what and how much you eat. In fact, decide ahead of time how much you will eat. This is especially important if you will be around well-intentioned loved ones who like to encourage seconds and even thirds. Select your favorite foods in small portions and choose carefully between the foods you will sample and those you will skip altogether. Include plenty of fruits and vegetables and other low-calorie foods.

If possible, use smaller plates. This practice leads to smaller portions and a feeling of fullness after eating just one plate of food. In fact, research has shown the use of smaller plates (a 9-1/2- inch plate versus a 12-inch plate) decreases food consumption by 22 percent.

Limit the opportunities for mindless eating. When your meal is complete, move either yourself or the food away from the table. This allows you to focus your attention on the conversation without the temptation of eating unconsciously.

If you do overeat at one meal, don’t give up. Avoid the urge to throw in the towel and continue to eat poorly the rest of the day. Instead, eat a light meal or snack later on, and remember all the hard work you have been putting into making healthy choices.

Consider how many calories you are drinking. Do you love hot apple cider or warming up with a large cup of cocoa after an afternoon of sledding? Many holiday beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, are full of added sugars that can significantly increase your total calorie intake, leading to unintended weight gain. Consider using low-sugar and sugar-free options whenever they are available. Keep flavor while cutting calories by using a variety of spices, such as cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.

“We all want to be healthier, but being healthy is hard work. It takes planning and intentionality. Make healthy choices easy so more people will make those choices. With a little planning and insight, you have the power to create a healthier food environment for yourself and those around you. Give your family and friends the gift of health this holiday season!” Reinhold said.