Surviving the Holidays Without Gaining 10 Pounds

Fighting the urge to turn 3 days into 60.

The holidays are fun. It’s the end of the year. There is a promise of life slowing down. There is vacation. Hanging out with family and friends. And a hell of a lot of food. 

If the grocery stores are a signal of our collective consciousness, the holidays started on November 1. That’s when the candy aisle was updated from Halloween to Christmas flavored sugar. 

Apparently “the holidays” now take up one sixth of the year. That’s potentially 60 days of indulgences ahead of us. 

I find it ironic that on January 1, many people will kick off their New Year’s resolutions. Most often these are resolutions to lose weight or spend more time in the gym or otherwise the complete opposite of the preceding two months. 

As a reminder, there are only 12 months in the year.

For most of my life, 3 of these months were spent yo-yoing between two extreme states. January was for perfection. November, December were for indulgence. 

It’s only in recent years that I acknowledge the ridiculousness of this annual cycle. 

There are 9 weekends between now and next year. With the world opening back up, perhaps you can expect a few holiday parties. I estimate most people will have 6-10 holiday parties. 

We are looking at 25+ opportunities to indulge in the next 60 days. Not to mention the leftovers that might creep into our weekday consumption. 

Adding holiday treats and drinks into your diet on a given day can easily lead to 1000 extra calories.

That’s a potential 25,000 extra calories consumed between now and the end of the year. 

While everyone is different and this is a very rough estimation, you're looking at 5-10 added pounds. 

This in and of itself is not bad or good. But when you think about the state of health in the U.S., and the fact that many people are going to turn around and use January to “get back on track”, this seems insane. 

When it comes to gaining or losing weight, the most fundamental law is calories in, calories out. There is no magic diet out there. If you want a specialist’s take on it, I highly recommend Dr. Spencer Nadolsky’s memes on the gram

Some people will lose weight on higher carbohydrate, lower fat diets. Some people will find success with higher fat, lower carbohydrate diets. 

For some, cutting out grains seems to help. For others, intermittent fasting works. 

What’s critical to understand is that it’s not the diet that holds the key to success. 

There are many means to hack your way into eating less calories. So don’t worry about picking the right method. There is no right method except the one that you can do consistently.

But back to the holidays for a minute. 

Let’s assume you are generally working towards health goals and specifically losing or maintaining your weight. 

How can you make it through the holidays without gaining 10 pounds and setting yourself back? 

As someone who could eat an entire sheet cake in a sitting and thinks a large pizza is one serving… I needed ways to keep my indulgences in check. 

There are a couple of things that have helped me.

Pick my treats

There is a hierarchy of treats I like. I’m sure you have yours too. 

If there is a pizza and a cake in front of me, I will pick the pizza.

If there is wine and dessert in front of me, I will pick the wine.

I will happily give up hors d'oeuvres for a glass of wine.

I will forgo mashed potatoes as a side to my steak if I know there is a cake with amazing frosting at the end of the meal. 

Because willpower will fail you, have a plan when you go into a holiday party situation. Be clear about what you love and prioritize that. Don’t let the tasty-but-not crave-worthy throw you.   

Quantify your cravings 

If you're faced with a magnificent spread of tasty holiday treats and the urge is strong, try quantifying your craving. On a scale of one to ten, how badly do you want that chocolate bourbon pecan pie? If the answer is 7+, go for it. If it’s 4, let it go. 

Take something off the table

Last year, I instituted Dry November in our household. My husband even played along, although we had slightly different definitions of dry. And in case you thought I was a monster, we technically made the month start on October 25 so we could wrap up before Thanksgiving (the greatest holiday of all time).

Dry November helped achieve two things. It was a practice-run for 2021 where one of my goals was to cut alcohol down significantly (I have lots of thoughts on resolutions… for later).

And it took alcohol off the table for half of the holidays. This made it much easier to pass because I didn’t have to decide every time I was faced with the decision to drink or not. The answer was predetermined.

Maybe your thing is desserts. You could consider saying that eating desserts at home is off the table. Reserving those indulgences for when you are at a party, but making it easier to say no at home.

If you work in an office and the holiday candy bowl is too tempting, take it off the table. 

Up your Holiday Salad Game

I once saw a sign that said “no good ideas were discovered over salad”. I not-so-politely disagree. 

I’m only half kidding on this one. November and December are not your traditional salad months. 

However, we are going to be surrounded by deliciously rich foods at an increasing rate over the next few months. Prioritizing vegetables and lean proteins as much as possible in the in-between moments will go a long way. 

Even if we have 25+ holiday parties / indulgent moments in front of us, that's 35 days without soirees. 

Let’s take that quantification further. 

Assuming you eat three meals per day, there are 180 meals between now and next year. In our example, 14% have the potential to be highly indulgent. That means 86% of the holidays are average moments. 

Use those moments wisely! 

Even if salads in December don’t work for you, find your nutrient dense, calorically light go-tos (soups, frozen vegetables, chicken, etc.) to be your staples.

Disclaimer time. 

Obviously I don’t want to be the grinch.

Not everyone has trouble controlling their intake. 

I have struggled in the past with portion control. I’ve yo-yoed between overindulgence and what I fondly call “extreme mode” where I get overly restrictive. 

I know others have similar challenges and these tricks have helped me. 

We’re in early November. The holidays, which really amount to a handful of days, are going to dominate life for the next two months. 

If these are historically challenging times from a nutrition perspective, now’s a good time to make a plan for how to handle them. 

🔥 Imagine if you could walk into 2022 ahead of the game! 

🙏 Thank you for reading. If you have questions, please ask. 

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