How can I avoid weight gain over the holidays?

Dr. F. Michael Gloth, III
Geriatric Medicine Specialist

It is best to avoid gaining weight in the first place, which involves establishing the right frame of mind and then using this mindset to stay on course. Most of us know our most likely downfall situations. For example, if you know that every Thanksgiving you'll be confronted by your favorite apple crumb pie (that no one in the world has ever been able to duplicate), you have two options. First, you can avoid the dessert—which is not likely to be an acceptable option. The second option is to establish a routine in your mind before you attend the party or dinner. It's the same as the golfer or field goal kicker who visualizes the shot or kick in his mind before ever stepping up to the ball.

Creating a mental visualization can help you follow through with the same motion when it counts. First, imagine being offered the eggnog, the holiday cookies or the mashed potatoes with gravy. Establish in your mind how it will taste. Satisfy yourself that it just isn't worth the extra miles of walking or hundreds of sit-ups you would need to do in order to undo the damage done by the additional calories. Imagine avoiding these foods. Ideally, this means visualizing avoiding reaching for the dish, as well as having it offered and declining. Then imagine what you will consume—the lean turkey, the green beans or the fresh cranberry sauce. This doesn't mean you can't enjoy a few splurges. Just recognize in advance what is acceptable and stick with your plan. Saving up for one splurge is actually helpful in cutting down on other distractions.

In addition to psychological preparation, physically avoiding temptation is also helpful. For example, remember that when you get up from the table after a single helping of dinner, you will experience complete satiation within minutes. This is a good physical strategy—removing temptation or removing yourself from the temptation. Remaining at the table makes temptation greater and should be avoided. Walking into another room with a cup of coffee or helping to clear the table are excellent ways to avoid overeating while still participating in the social aspects of the occasion.

Fit at Fifty and Beyond: A Balanced Exercise and Nutrition Program (A DiaMedica Guide to Optimum Wellness)

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Fit at Fifty and Beyond: A Balanced Exercise and Nutrition Program (A DiaMedica Guide to Optimum Wellness)

As people reach their fifties, the body’s metabolism slows. Without a change in eating or exercise habits, it’s common to put on weight and become less able to perform routine physical...
Shannon Jay Dougherty
Fitness Specialist

There are several ways to stay fit over the holidays and avoid weight gain. My top seven suggestions are as follows:

  • Walk: Start and end your day with this simple movement. Get your endorphins pumping, even if it's just for 10 minutes.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables: Fill up your plate with these choices first.
  • Portion control: Enjoy the great flavors, but don't gorge yourself on the tasty food.
  • Snack first: Grab a quick snack before you party. Chances are you will make better choices and eat less at the event.
  • Drink water: Fill up on water. It's calorie free and helps you digest food. You will feel fuller faster.
  • Chew your food well: The more you chew, the less you are inclined to eat. Trick your brain into thinking you are eating more.
  • Move: Play tag, do jumping jacks or throw the football. Try some fun family activities that are great calorie burners as well.
Judy Caplan
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Plan ahead before the holidays. Set your New Year's resolutions before the holidays begin. Up your workouts and limit alcohol. Make lighter meals during the week and avoid carbs during the day you know you will be attending a party.

Many people struggle with weight gain during the holiday season. However, there are some tips for curbing weight gain amidst all the holiday treats. One very helpful tip is to always eat a healthy calorie-controlled meal prior to attending any holiday events where you might be tempted to overeat. Other recommended methods are to limit yourself to one treat per day. Try eating only half of a cookie if you are going to sample a variety. And be sure to drink plenty of water at holiday events since many alcoholic beverages are very high in calories.

Robert DeVito
Fitness Specialist

Holidays can be hard on your waistline and hard on your mind. We take a normally “busy” lifestyle and add more “busyness” on top of it. All of this rushing around can lead you to make impulsive food choices, feel continuously fatigued, emotionally drained and end up NOT enjoying much of what is supposed to be a very happy time.

  1. Decide what you are going to eat each day before you start. Have a plan for your food. No one says you can’t have a snack, then dinner a while later and then dessert a while after that. Often we have "soup to nuts" meals multiple times per day.
  2. Get some exercise right after you get out of bed. This will help you focus on your fitness and make you aware of how your body feels. Make mini bouts (5 mins) of exercise a priority for the day. Play with the dog, chase your kids, do squats and jumping jacks every 30 -45 minutes.
  3. Drink lots of water throughout the day. We all know how important it is to drink water and to stay hydrated. Water will fill you and keep you from feeling hungry throughout the day. Begin by setting a water goal for the day. Track your intake and drink BEFORE you eat.
  4. Eat breakfast to set up a slow eating dayDo not make the mistake of "making room" or starving yourself in preparation for the feast. You will consume substantially more food and calories that way AND feel awful.
  5. Load up on the veggie tray. Carrots, celery, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower. If you are not hosting the festivities, find out from who is if they will have a veggie tray. If not, bring your own. I guarantee you that if you load up on veggies first, you will not eat as much throughout the day. 
  6. "Cheat well." There are foods that you are really looking forward to and there are foods that you do not really care for. Eat the ones that you really want. Ignore the ones that you don't. Often, in holiday/social situations we eat impulsively and reactively. Be sure to Stop, Think, ChOose then Proceed with your eating by making a choice that you really want.
  7. Go for another walk. The worst thing to me is that after having a great dinner there is no energy outlet so you end up just sitting and almost falling asleep. 
  8. Kinect with the Wii. Have an interactive game to play. What you want to do after dinner and dessert is keep away from the regular habit of snacking even though you are full. Set up a family tournament to get moving! Have fun and bond together!

The best way to avoid weight gain over the holidays is to be accountable. Track all foods and drinks with a food-tracking app, or keep a handwritten journal. Weigh yourself daily, or at least twice per week. Eat regular meals and don’t skip any meals. During the holidays, use a smaller plate to cut back on portion sizes. That way you’ll leave room to enjoy some of the goodies. Make exercise a priority–schedule time for it! Exercise a little bit longer each time you work out.

Dr. Darren Treasure, PhD
Sports Medicine Specialist

Whether someone gains one, five, or ten pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year research clearly shows that this weight gain accumulates through the years and is a major contributor to obesity later in life. Research also shows that the holidays are a “high risk” time for weight gain compared to the rest of the year. There seems to be even a higher risk for people who are currently overweight or obese as they tend to put on more weight than people who are not overweight. Although a daunting task, purposeful planning and commitment should make it possible to not gain weight over the holidays.

  • People who increase their level of physical activity during the holidays gain less weight. Although important all year round, finding ways to be physically active is even more important during the holidays. Go for a walk after the party with a friend, park a little further away from the party/mall, take the stairs. Every little is going to help.
  • At its most fundamental level, weight gain is the difference between calories in and calories out. In addition to increasing your physical activity you need to focus on the calories in part of the equation. This is even more important during the holidays when it is likely that you will attend more social events that have food and alcohol than is norm. 
  • Holiday parties are likely to be a major challenge as we are faced with an endless supply of high calorie appetizers, sweets and drinks. Understand that whether in the kitchen or at the buffet table, people at parties tend to congregate around the food. This makes it particularly difficult for anyone not to “graze and munch.” Move away from the food and engage in another important aspect of a party – socializing. If there is dancing even better!
  • Never arrive at a party hungry! Try to have a snack before you get to the party and drink water so that you already feel full. Limit your consumption of alcohol. This will not only help keep your calories down but also help you stay more in control of your eating.
Dr. Katie Rickel, PhD
Psychology Specialist

The holidays are a time during which Americans are not only permitted, but actually encouraged, to overeat. To make it through the holiday season without undoing the progress made in your weight management efforts this year, consider these strategies:

Begin the day with a satisfying meal. Yes, you read that correctly. You can and should eat a hearty breakfast. You might think that you are “saving calories” by skipping breakfast and/or lunch, but you are simply making yourself more vulnerable to overeating when faced with the tempting spread that will greet you later. Arm yourself with a satisfied belly, and you will be much more likely to make reasonable decisions during the main event.

Dress for success. It might sound trivial, but wearing fitted clothing makes you feel attractive, as opposed to loose or stretchy clothing that can easily accommodate a full belly, will encourage you to eat until you are satisfied but not stuffed.

Limit the number of items you choose for your meal. Before you arrive to your holiday meal, make a decision to limit the number of items you will consume. Research tells us eating “a little of everything” usually adds up to many more calories than does sticking to a smaller number of items.

Choose “special” over “ordinary” foods. Why waste calories on crackers and cheese appetizers that can be purchased at the supermarket all year round? If you choose to indulge in snacks or a dessert at your holiday gathering, keep an eye out for selections that might not be available at other times or in other settings.

Beware of leftovers. Keeping large quantities of food in your home is never a good idea when trying to manage your weight. If you know that the half-eaten pies, massive containers of remaining stuffing, and wrapped up turkey legs will call to you from the refrigerator the rest of the weekend, then make a decision to send leftovers home with your guests or give them away to a friend or neighbor.

Get moving! Create a new family tradition. Rather than spending the post-meal hours on the couch, try a game of Frisbee, take a walk, or just put on some music and dance around the living room. Exercising after a large meal will help you burn some of the calories you consumed, but more importantly, it will re-engage your healthy mindset. You are sending yourself the message: “That was a great meal, but now I am excited to go back to my active and healthy lifestyle.”

Jessica Crandall
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

This time of year between Thanksgiving and New Year's can be very challenging not to gain weight. One simple tip to keep in mind is to stick to a consistent exercise routine, and if you are traveling or are unable to follow your normal routine, choose to go for a brisk walk, do some stair climbing at your relative's house, or play some football outside with your family to get your body moving. Another tip is to not skip meals in preparation for large social food gatherings. When doing this we become hungrier and tend to overeat. Also offer to bring dishes that are lower calorie to social gatherings and stand away from the buffet table. Remember that conversation is calorie free! Try to limit alcoholic drinks to 1 to 2 drinks per day and maybe even try some fun "mock-tails" to bring to holiday gathers for lower calorie consumption.

First of all, avoid multiple visits to the buffet tables—and don’t dump so much food on your plate that you can’t see the bottom of it. Second, burn some calories walking away from the egg nog bowl and stick to low calorie holiday spirits. There’s no need to deprive yourself of the foods you love, instead control your portion size and account for every calorie you eat, even the snacks and nibbles throughout the day. And don’t forget to count those drinks! It is probably best to have very small amounts of drinks high in calories like egg nog or sugar laden martinis. Some holiday “cheer” is like having a meal in a glass. Not sure you can avoid the temptation? Research shows that you will eat about 100 calories less if you drink an 16oz glass of ice water before you eat. This can help your belly feel fuller before you start eating. Next you need to get your butt off the couch and get moving. I would recommend taking the whole family for a walk before and after your holiday meal. The extra movement can help remind you that you don’t want to eat too much and may help you burn off an extra cookie. But beware one extra cookie a day and you can gain approximately 5 extra pounds a year. Being aware of the food you put in your mouth and making better calorie choices will help you stay away from those 10 extra pounds over the holidays that most people never get rid of.

Dana Friedman, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

A good idea during the holiday season is to plan for extra exercise. Exercise helps relieve holiday stress and prevent unwanted weight gain during this time of year. Walking after a meal aids in digestion and will help you burn off some of the calories that you just ate. A moderate daily increase in exercise can offset increased holiday eating so try taking a 10 to 15 minute brisk walk twice daily. If you are traveling it's a good idea to plan for on-the-go eating. Pack healthy snacks like fresh fruit, pretzels, granola bars and nuts to have with you at all times.

Dr. Bernadette Anderson
Family Practitioner

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! How do you enjoy the holiday festivities without completely throwing in your fitness and nutrition routine? These tips can prevent you from totally derailing yourself.

Try a low-fat twist on a recipe. Stir in unsweetened applesauce instead of butter or oils. Pour in evaporated skim milk to replace cream. Fold in Greek yogurt and skip the sour cream or mayonnaise. Curb that sweet tooth by adding vanilla, cinnamon, or nutmeg. Serve a delicious dish without weighing down the sleigh!

Don't skip meals. Saving is a thrill of Black Friday, but saving all your calories for dinner can cause increases in undesirable places. Eating several smaller meals is a better option. 

Pass on seconds. Be Santa’s helper. After dinner, offer a hand with the cleaning or to serve the coffee. You will avoid endless munching and Santa will appreciate it.

Eat lean proteins and veggies first. No desserts until you finish your dinner. The childhood dinner rule that can help keep you fit. Eat vegetables and lean meat before the starchy side dishes and desserts.

Bring a healthy dish to share. Bring healthier alternatives. You will be less tempted by the high calorie dishes; unless, they really are the treats on your Christmas list.

Choose your favorite treats. Only indulge in the foods that have been dancing in your head all year.

Share leftovers. This is the season for giving. Create doggy bags for your guests and share with neighbors. Reduce the extras that are in the house.

Drink water. Spirits may give you holiday cheer, but you want feel so jolly when you waistline expands.

Minimize high calorie snacks. It takes an extra 500 calories per day to gain one pound. That extra piece of cake may tilt the scales. 

Keep it simple. Hold on all the holiday trimmings. Focus on celebrating with family and friends. Time is the best gift of all!

Don't abandon your workout. Adjust your exercise regimen, but do not give it up or you may be bringing in a little more of you into the New Year.

Don’t center all your holiday events on food. What about a spa, a gym, or a volunteer activity? Create a tradition other than a restaurant for gift exchange or to meet to celebrate the holidays. 

Leave the chubby cheeks, plump belly, cookies and milk to Santa. He needs the extra carbs to deliver all the packages to the nice boys and girls. Happy Holidays to all and to all a fit year!

Eat more flavonoids! A flavonoid is a plant polyphenol that helps maintain body mass index (BMI), inhibit weight gain, boost weight loss, diminish body fat, and even improve memory! Sold? So guess what food contains this miracle nutrient?


As holiday party invitations start arriving, you can arm yourself by offering to bring a dish secretly spiked with pears. Later you can boast about the genius alterations you made, as well as keep that waistline in check!

Women who consumed high amounts of three different types of flavonoid antioxidants — flavones, flavonols and catechins — saw the smallest increase in BMI over a period of 14 years. Pears contain two of these phytonutrients: catechins and flavonols. They're also high in filling fiber and low in calories, making them a win-win-win solution for your waistline, appetite and social cred.

Here are some guilt-free ideas!

  • Just pears — You can never go wrong.
  • Pear butter — A flavorful spread to top your morning toast.
  • Roasted pear-butternut soup with crumbled stilton — A sweet and savory winter soup.
  • Pork chops with pear and ginger sauce — A tangy and spicy sauce that perks up basic chops.
  • Or get creative on your own — Traditional dish + pears = flavorful flavonoids.
Jennifer L. McDaniel
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Believe it or not, most individuals will only gain about 1 to 2 pounds over the holidays. However, the problem is that most people do not lose this weight and over the years, the pounds add up. Here are some of my favorite tips to "maintain" your weight through all the holiday festivities.

  • Avoid the “all or nothing” philosophy. You can enjoy holiday parties without over indulging. Even if you overeat one night, the whole weekend doesn’t have to be a diet bust. You can still wake up the next morning, take a walk, eat a healthy breakfast, and get right back on track. Don’t beat yourself up over one overindulging event.
  • Watch beverage calories. These are calories that usually only taste good, but fail to fill us up, or provide any real nutrition. Choose diet and sugar free drinks when possible, and remember that alcohol calories add up quickly!  If you drink, do so in moderation, and choose drinks lower in calories: such as red wine or light beer, versus eggnog or margaritas.
  • At a holiday event, try to “survey the scene” before filling your plate. Find out all of the options on the buffet or what the dessert may be at the end of a meal. Before you begin choosing food, determine which foods you like the best, choose only those foods, and don’t fill up on the foods that don’t sound as appetizing to you. Many times people will fill up on bread or rolls at the start of a meal, only to find the dessert is what they really wanted, so instead of skipping the dessert, they fill up even more. Plan ahead—save “room” for the foods you most enjoy.
  • Don’t be a “resoluter.” Keep up with that salad eating at lunch, and that daily walk with the dog. These healthy habits do not have to be put on hold until the holiday season is over.

Like you, I have to really watch my weight over the holidays as I gain weight very easily, especially when I indulge in sugary baked goods (which I love!). Here are some things that I'm trying to do as much as possible to stay on track:

  • Load up on protein in the morning. I'm skipping the whole grain muffin/bread/oatmeal for a couple of weeks and just having cottage cheese or Greek yogurt (I like vanilla which has a little extra sugar but not too much) in the morning. This allows me a few extra "treat" calories later in the day. This is NOT a healthy long-term approach as whole grains are important for optimal health, but in my opinion its okay temporarily (plus I'm getting whole grains in later in the day).
  • Sip soup. I wish I cooked more. If I did I would make a giant pot of vegetable soup and eat at least 2-3 cups a day to ward off hunger between meals and even as a quick snack before heading out to a party. Instead I'm using canned soup, mainly Progresso light vegetable and vegetable barley, to fill me up with fewer calories. Yes, its a bit higher in sodium but it really helps me, and I do everything I can to keep sodium down in the remainder of my diet.
  • Squeeze in exercise early. I'm lucky enough to live in Los Angeles where its sunny most of the time. Over the holidays, in addition to my daily walks with the dogs and treadmill workout, I try to squeeze in mini workouts whenever I think about. Whether its dancing around the living room or putting in a great CD and doing 5 minutes of knee lifts, jumping jacks, or pushups, it can all add up to working off a sugar cookie or two so I think it's worth it.
  • Don't have the "last Christmas" mentality. It's not the last time you will have access to any of the treats you enjoy over the holidays. Don't feel like you have to get everything in to make it count. Have your favorites of course, in moderation, but try to spread them out -- even if it's saving a cookie for the next day if you've had a full meal. I don't agree at all with the idea of just letting go because it's the holidays. Research shows that people who keep the weight off eat pretty much the same year round so find a balance between treating yourself a little bit and going overboard which will lead to tipping the scale in January.
Kat Barefield, MS, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

You can avoid weight gain by ensuring you don’t take in more calories than you burn. You can do this by using any or all of the following strategies:

  • Control portion sizes so you don’t overeat. Go for generous servings of salad greens, fruits and veggies; have a lean protein (skinless turkey or lean beef); and have only a small portion of the high-calorie side dishes like mac and cheese.
  • Be sure to never arrive at a party, luncheon or special occasion hungry. Have a protein- and fiber-rich snack before you go so you don’t make poor food choices. An apple and a few almonds or whole wheat crackers with low-fat cheese are good choices.
  • If there are a variety of food choices, put only two items on your plate at a time. The more items you have to choose from, the more you may eat.
  • Limit alcohol to one drink a day for women and two for men. Light beer and wine spritzers are lower in calories than margaritas and blended fruity cocktails.
  • Wait 20 minutes before going back for seconds. That will give your body enough time to sense whether you’re satisfied.
  • Stick to a regular exercise schedule so you stay in a routine.
  • Add extra movement into your day any way you can—brisk walks outside, walks around the mall, pacing while you chat with friends, and even fidgeting burns extra calories.

Holidays are the time for friends, family and lots of food. If you're concerned about gaining extra pounds over the holidays, follow these tips for healthy holiday eating:

  • Use a smaller plate; this will encourage proper portion sizes.
  • Fill your plate first with vegetables, fruits and salad before diving into the entrees and desserts.
  • Eat slowly and savor every bite.
  • Before you go back for a second serving, wait 10 minutes to see if you really are still hungry.

Get some physical activity after dinner, like a game of basketball or football or simply taking a walk.

Marisa Moore
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Despite the myth that people gain 7 to 10 pounds during the holidays, research shows that people generally gain just 2 pounds on average during the period between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. That's the good news. The not so good news is that many people never lose that extra 1 to 2 pounds. So your weight gradually increases.

The best way to combat this is to nip it in the bud as soon as you notice the changes. Check your weight before Thanksgiving, mid-December and then again at the beginning of the year. If you notice it creeping up, cut back on the extra cookies, candies and cakes. Watch out for seasonal treats like gingerbread lattes which can weigh in at more than 400 calories a pop! Also, stay active. Many people take off during the holidays and break from their regular routine. Be sure to build in plenty of physical activity with extra trips to the gym to walking a few extra laps at the mall before you begin holiday shopping.

The holiday season is an exciting time. Sometimes it can also cause you to get off track with your weight loss and fitness goals. There are many expectations which can put you under stress and parties with tempting high caloric treats. Here are some ideas to keep you on a healthy path: 

  • Put your workouts on the holiday calendar and stick to your schedule — even though it is a busy time you will be MORE productive if you keep to your routine.
  • Start a new tradition of making healthy low-fat dishes and "treats."
  • Enjoy having the family home — schedule a time for a walk, bike, ski . . . together.
  • Take time for yourself — be alone/quiet/take a bath . . . meditates.
  • At parties — be mindful of what your choose — putting the food on a small plate rather than snacking mindlessly. Put water and lemon in your wine glass after the first drink.
  • Stop - look around — find joy in the special MOMENTS!

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.