7 Ways to Outsmart Overeating & Holiday Weight Gain

by Julie Upton, MS, RD

It may be the most wonderful time of the year—but it’s not always so kind to your waistline. With all the office parties, family dinners and social functions, it seems impossible to not gain weight over the holidays.

For many, holiday weight gain isn’t the one “gift” they really want to return after the season is over.

The goal is to get through the eating season without gaining an ounce. Then, when all the temptations are gone come January 1, losing weight will be a cinch.

To help, try these seven tricks that dietitians do themselves to keep on track during the holiday season. Some of these dietitians have devised ways to lose weight during the most tempting time of the year.  Here’s how:

  1. Nix or Limit Alcohol

Here’s my best tip: It’s hard not to drink when everyone else is, but alcohol ups your appetite, makes food seem more appealing and decreases your resolve to eat well. Not to mention the empty calories in alcohol: A regular beer has 150 calories; light beer, 100; a glass of wine, 120; a shot of alcohol, 100. A spiked eggnog, 300 calories and most cocktails are 250-300 calories. If not drinking makes you feel like a party pooper, go for calorie-poor options like a half-shot of distilled spirits mixed with a calorie-free beverage or a wine spritzer.

  1. BYOD = Bring Your Own Dish

Another trick of mine: When I’m going to a holiday dinner, I always bring a healthy dish to share. Most people will bring a bottle of wine or desserts, but I often show up with a veggie crudité and a trio of healthy dips, a lighter cranberry sauce or large fresh fruit salad topped with mint leaves. You may be surprised: your healthier dish may make you the MVP of the party.

  1. Keep Problem Foods Out of Your Home

“Keep ‘trigger foods’ out of the house,” says Erin Macdonald, RD of U Rock Girl. “Out of sight, out of mind, out of mouth.” Studies consistently show we’ll eat more if those foods we love so much are visible and readily available. If you can’t control yourself with homemade baked goods in the house, have them stored at someone else’s house or don’t bake them and buy them or have someone else bring them.

  1. Honor Your Hunger

If I eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full, I don’t overdo my intake.  I eat in a well-balanced way most of the time and then allow myself to eat what I want at the big holiday meals while following my hunger fullness cues,” explains Julie Brake, MS, RD, from Positive Nutrition. Use the Hunger Scale over the holidays to help keep you honest.

  1. Say Thanks, but no Thanks

“Just because food is offered, doesn’t mean you have to eat it,” says Sherri, from North Dakota State University. “Even if you’re attending an expensive shin-dig at a four-star restaurant, it doesn’t mean you have to eat until you feel sick.”

  1. Get Some Exercise Every Day

“Don’t put your health on hold by saying there’s ‘not enough time,’” says Jennifer O’Donnell-Giles, MS, RD, CSSD, of Active Nutrition LLC.  “On the days that you exercise, you’ll eat better. Exercise releases “feel good” chemicals in your brain, and if you don’t get this chemical release through exercise, you’ll reach for food to release such chemicals (i.e. high fat and refined carbohydrates).”

  1. Move up the festivities

This may not be for everyone, but I love it.  In recent years, I plan my holiday dinners earlier in the evening or late afternoon. I find that by doing this, there is less time spent on loading up on appetizers and cocktails before dinner and it is a way that people seem to combine lunch and dinner into one larger meal. Guests also seem happy to be able to get home at a decent hour too.

Julie Upton is a registered dietitian and communications expert specializing in nutrition, fitness and health. Ms. Upton is a nationally recognized journalist who has written thousands of articles for national newspapers, magazines and e-media including The New York Times, Prevention, Shape, Health, Good Housekeeping, Redbook and Men’s Journal.  

She is co-author of The Real Skinny: Appetite for Health’s 101 Fat Habits and Slim Solutions (Penguin 2013) and Energy to Burn: The Ultimate Food and Nutrition Guide to Fuel Your Active LIfe (Wiley 2009). Upton co-founded Appetite for Health (www.AppforHealth.com), where she blogs daily about nutrition, fitness and health.

She is a frequent guest on national and local television and radio stations. She has been interviewed on the NBC Today Show, CBS Evening News and ABC World News Tonight. She co-produces Appetite for Health, a weekly nutrition news segment that airs nationally and writes for the companion website, AppforHealth.com.

Ms. Upton attended the University of Michigan and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition from Michigan State University.  She completed her dietetic internship at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital.  She holds a Master of Science Degree in Nutrition Communications from Boston University.