The holiday season brings both the good and the bad: stress and togetherness, gifts and expenses, festive lights and bad weather. For many of us, it also leaves behind a few extra pounds that we attack with zeal come January.
Between extra family responsibilities, cold weather, and rich holiday food, how is anyone supposed to stay trim? And please, don’t tell us to avoid parties and eat rice crackers while we jog in the snow.
To get some ideas on how to hold your weight during the holidays, we spoke to Dr. Keith Ayoob, a professor emeritus at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and editor of Cut to the Chase Nutrition.
Estimates for typical holiday weight gain range from two to seven pounds says Dr. Ayoob, but in practice some people gain a lot more, while others gain little or nothing. If you’re already overweight, “there tends to be more weight gain" during the holidays.
While eating rich, seasonal dishes is a big part of why we gain weight, Dr. Ayoob doesn’t advocate denying these foods altogether; instead, he encourages people to make good decisions about when to indulge and not just give in completely to seasonal temptations. “People just write off the whole holiday [season] and say, ‘I guess I’ll just start again at the beginning of the year,’ he notes, adding, that’s when you get into trouble.
But winter should be a season of joy: denial and misery have no place in the month of December. So here are five surprisingly fun ways to stay active and make better choices during the treacherous, food-filled holiday season.
- Buy a nice coat or some cute boots. We all know that getting out and about, whether for exercise or fresh air and sunlight, is one key to maintaining your weight. Especially when the alternative is being in front of the TV and close to the refrigerator. But let’s face it, winter weather can be rough so make sure you have the right equipment for your climate.Splurging on some warm, dry, fashionable clothes can put the joy back into being outside, and it’s cheaper than buying a new exercise machine in January.Or use your disposable income on exercise clothes and gear. Good gear is important to experiencing the joy of winter sports. As Dr. Ayoob says, you want to make exercise part of your fun, not part of your chores. Getting exercise improves your mood as well as your health.
- Snack more (but snack better). It’s a common but fatal mistake to skip lunch because you know there’s a holiday party right after work. Naturally, you think you’re saving some calories to offset the splurge, but in reality you’re going to show up starving at a place full of bacon-wrapped dates, hot toddies, and pie. We all know how that story ends.Instead, make sure you have good, healthy snacks on hand at all times. Dr. Ayoob recommends filling an old mint tin with almonds and keeping the holy trinity of snacks with you: a hard-boiled egg, an apple, and a thirst quencher, or E.A.T. for short. Try a C.A.T. (substituting cheese for the egg) for another variation.
- Enjoy a cappuccino after dinner. When dining out, avoid the sugar-laden, 500-calorie desserts and order a cappuccino instead. (Chances are, if others are ordering dessert, someone will offer you a taste of theirs anyway.) Even made with whole milk, this nice little treat will still be only about 100 calories. Have it made decaf if caffeine disturbs your sleep.
- Dig your Wii game console (or Twister) out of the closet. Remember how much fun playing games in the house was? When it’s too cold to rally folks for a walk, active games like Twister, Wii, or Dance Dance Revolution are a great way to get people moving. If you’re solo, online exercise and yoga shows offer a good alternative. Or just wrestle with your kids or puppy on the carpet.
- Go see the holiday lights. Every city has some kind of light display to chase away the winter gloom, whether it’s a neighborhood where residents get competitive about decorating their houses, the main street downtown, zoo lights, or Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan.
Take a walking tour of your community’s display. It’s a fun way to celebrate the season, get some fresh air, show off your new coat and boots, and let Fido stretch his legs.
These displays are almost always entirely free, and it’s easy to forget how magical colored lights in the night can be—even if you’re not a little kid.
Mark Saltveit is the author of The Tao of Chip Kelly (Diversion Books, 2013) and Controlled Chaos: Chip Kelly’s Football Revolution (Diversion Books, 2015). He writes regularly about health and science for the Oregon Bioscience Association and about football for Philly.com, BleedingGreenNation.com, IgglesBlitz, and FishDuck.com. His work has also appeared in Harvard Magazine and the Oregonian newspaper.