7 Ways to Stop Holiday Weight Gain

Here’s how to ring in the new year without putting on pounds.

Medically reviewed in March 2022

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By Olivia DeLong

The time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day can bring joy, excitement, special times with family and friends—and, if you’re not careful, weight gain.

While we’re not suggesting that you skip out on grandma’s chocolate pie, this year you can plan ahead and navigate diet-wrecking situations with ease. We talked with Sheetal Patel, MD, FACS, Medical Director of Bariatrics at Medical City Plano and Bridget McCormick, MS, RD, dietitian at Medical City Fort Worth, to uncover common holiday weight gain traps—and how to avoid them.

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Problem: Parties and More Parties

Solution: More talking, less eating

“We’re social beings, and in the season of celebration the things that bring us together are also the things that are detrimental to our weight,” says Dr. Patel. So how are you supposed to navigate these social situations? “The key is conversation,” she says. “As long as you make sure you’re taking a bite, talking and taking breaks between eating, that’s key. Put your fork down, have a conversation with the people you’re with and that will slow you down as far as eating is concerned.” Another strategy? Both experts suggest not arriving at a party ravenous. Instead, eat a small snack beforehand, such as an apple and peanut butter or lean turkey on whole-wheat bread. 

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Problem: Eggnog Overload

Solution: Drink this, not that 

Seasonal beverages like eggnog combined with drinking more than usual can tip the scales by the time you ring in the New Year. “You may be drinking a lot of liquid calories without realizing it,” says McCormick. “People don’t tend to factor alcoholic beverages into their total daily caloric intake plan.” Sugary mixers are the main culprits when it comes to cocktails. “Try sugar-free options or seltzer water as mixers instead,” she says. Another factor to consider? Alcohol can lessen your inhibitions to eat unhealthy foods—just another reason to drink in moderation.

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Problem: Office Goodies Galore

Solution: Balance out indulgences

The holidays can be a dieter’s landmine in the office, with coworkers sharing the seasonal joy with plates of homemade cookies and boxes of chocolates. Do you need to summon every ounce of willpower to avoid every treat? Not at all, says Patel. “The biggest misconception is that to lose weight you have to deprive yourself,” she says. “You have to have checks and balances in your life.” She recommends allowing yourself a treat, but then being more physically active throughout the day. “On your next coffee break, go for a walk,” she says. “Keeping checks and balances is the best way, in general, to not gain weight.”

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Problem: Eating Until You’re Stuffed

Solution: Two words: portion control

“You need to participate in the Thanksgiving or other holiday meal just like everyone else,” says Patel. “You should be able to have the luxury foods.” But to keep from overdoing it, Patel suggests that you skip the 12-inch dinner plate and serve yourself on a salad plate instead. “With large plates, we always feel like we have to fill it out and we end up eating more with our eyes than what we really want. Portion control is key throughout the holidays.” By using a smaller plate “you’ll find that you’re eating less, feeling fuller, and that’s ultimately more satisfying,” she says.

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Problem: A Fridge Full of Leftovers

Solution: Get them out of the house

While glazed ham, candied yams and pecan pie are traditional holiday staples, a steady diet of high-sugar foods won’t help your waistline. We’re not suggesting that you toss the extra food in the trash if you’ve hosted a dinner. “Send doggie bags home with guests or take the extras to a local food kitchen,” says McCormick. “Out of sight, out of mind.”

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Problem: The Urge to Hibernate

Solution: 10-minute workouts

While we know that packed calendars and chilly temperatures make it almost impossible to exercise consistently throughout the holidays, Patel has an easy solution. “Get just ten minutes of physical activity in twice a day. Whether it’s Pilates, yoga, jumping jacks or a quick upper body workout video you find online, you’ll reap the benefits and feel accomplished.” Short bursts of exercise will help your waistline—and your mood. “Exercise increases endorphins so you feel happy. That helps you make better choices during mealtimes,” says McCormick.

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Problem: Going Overboard

Solution: Give yourself a break

If you overdo it, “the first thing is to forgive yourself,” says McCormick. “Don’t feel guilty about it. That can lead to emotional eating, a cycle that will put you where you don’t want to be.” How can you get back on course? “Take the very next opportunity you have to eat or be healthy,” says Patel. In other words, no waiting until January 1 to hit the “restart” button. “If you overeat at dinner, have a really healthy breakfast. And make sure to squeeze in 10 minutes of working out, twice a day, too.” Patel also recommends keeping a journal of both your food and drink intake to hold yourself accountable.

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