Tips for Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain

The holidays are often associated with unwanted weight gain, but they don’t have to be. Following a few simple steps can help you stave off unwanted pounds while still enjoying the holiday festivities. Check out our list of do’s and don’ts.


It’s no secret that the holidays are full of delicious food like home-cooked favorites, special desserts, and rich comfort foods. With all of the joy and celebration centered on food, it is especially important to have some tips to help you keep within your calorie goal and prevent unnecessary weight gain.  

Do: Plan, plan, plan.  One major key to success is being prepared and having a plan. Big office party this weekend? Plan ahead by moderating (not restricting) your calorie intake for a few days leading up to it. The difference between moderating and restricting is that moderating means limiting portion size, but not excluding any specific foods. Restricting is when you eliminate entire food groups (e.g. dessert).  Restricting is more likely to lead to a binge and feelings of guilt and more emotional eating.

Don’t: Starve yourself the day of a party or event; this will only set you up for failure because you will be overly hungry when presented with a buffet of food and more likely to overeat. Be sure to have a balanced intake instead.

Do: Fill up on vegetable dishes, lean proteins, and lighter fare before having richer dishes.  This way, you are already somewhat full and less likely to overdo it on higher calorie options, but you can still enjoy sampling if you wish.

Don’t: Stand next to the food.  Try and mingle with friends and family, and walk around the room rather than standing in the kitchen or next to the food table. This way you are less likely to mindlessly snack.

Do: Drink plenty of water.  Oftentimes, dehydration can be confused with hunger. Sip water throughout the day and during the gathering to keep hydrated and help you feel full. 

Don’t: Drink alcohol on an empty stomach.  If you know you will be consuming alcohol, be sure to have a healthy meal beforehand and alternate alcoholic beverages with a glass of water to slow yourself down and stay hydrated. By limiting alcohol intake, you are more likely to stay in control of your decisions around food. Alcohol lowers blood sugar, which results in hunger and potential overeating (due to lack of inhibition); therefore, it is especially important to moderate alcohol intake if you want to keep within your calorie target this holiday season. 

Do: Offer to bring a healthy dish (or two!) to all occasions so that you know there will be something healthy available at all times.

Don’t: Stress about every bite.  Keep in mind that the holidays are about family, friends, and being thankful, not about food, so find a balance between enjoying yourself and having those special treats that are reserved for this time of year.  “Letting yourself go” for a few weeks is what results in holiday weight gain, and it will be harder to get back on track in the long run; therefore, if you do happen to slip up, just remember to get right back on track at the next meal.

Physical Activity

The holidays are full of delicious feasts, turkey dinners, and plenty of sweets. It is important to increase your physical activity throughout the holiday season to combat the extra calories and additional stress that could arise.  

Do: Start out at a moderate intensity level and progress slowly. The recommended intensity of different forms of physical activity varies between people. The intensity of physical activity depends on your previous exercise experience and your relative level of fitness. Exercising every other day will help you keep a regular exercise schedule during the holidays and still allow efficient amount of time to enjoy the holiday season.

Don’t: Increase your level of activity too fast.  It is important to start slowly and gradually increase your level of activity. Start by taking an afternoon walk every day. Try to walk for at least 20-30 minutes. If you’re on the road a lot, try to stop at rest areas and walk around for at least 5 minutes.

Do: Engage in physical activity 3 to 4 times a weekThat's especially important when you're eating more which is easy to happen during the holidays. Remember to have fun. Choose an activity you enjoy, so that it seems more like fun and less like a chore. You'll be more likely to stick with an exercise program throughout the new year if you enjoy the activity. For example, a fun holiday activity like a family ski trip or ice skating.

Don’t: Engage in physical activity too soon after eating (10 to 15 minutes after a snack or 20 to 60 minutes after a meal). During the holidays it is easy to snack all day. Make sure to time your exercise correctly to your meals. 

Do: Encourage and participate in physical activity with your entire family.  The holidays are here, and that means spending time with your family and friends. Encouraging your family to be physically active each day can help them develop heathy habits and develop a positive attitude towards themselves. Squeezing in some physical activity, like taking a walk after lunch, can be a great way to maximize your time together. 

Don’t: Exercise in extreme weather if you’re not prepared.  Participating in physical activity in extreme heat, cold, or humidity when you’re not properly dressed or haven’t properly trained for exercise in extreme weather is a recipe for disaster. Always dress for the weather conditions and wear protective footwear.

Sleep & Mind/Body

With the kids out of school and many adults off work, it’s easy to get off track from your normal sleep routine. Many may not realize how off track they are until they head back to school/work and find themselves sleep deprived and stressed out well into the New Year.

Do: Catch up on your sleep. The key is to go to bed and get up at the same time- even when you don’t have school/work. Your body’s natural sleep cycle loves a good, consistent routine! Additionally, you will be better equipped emotionally to handle all the holiday strain.

Don’t: Hit the snooze.  Snoozing is disruptive to your natural sleep cycle and increases your sleep inertia-the feeling of grogginess and disorientation that can come from awakening from a deep sleep. If you have to set an alarm, set it for a later time.

Do: Enjoy a holiday spirit (or two).  ‘Tis the season for moderation, not overindulging!

Don’t: Sip caffeinated or alcohol based drinks late into the evening.  Avoid these types of drinks 6 hours prior to bedtime in order to minimize their negative effect on sleep.

Do: Continue to be physically active.  Physical activity helps regulate your body’s natural sleep cycle, especially when you are exposed to natural sunlight in the morning. Exercise also releases endorphins.  These happy feeling hormones will leave you feeling less like a scrooge and more like the little drummer boy.

Don’t: Exercise at night.  Exercising too late at night will keep you energized well into the night. Try a morning walk or jog instead. It can be a great way to soak up the sun while also serving as a de-stressor. Try lower intensity activity at night. A walking tour of neighborhood Christmas lights is one example of this that also serves as a mood booster. 

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