Weight loss

8 simple ways to avoid holiday weight gain

Cue up the holiday tunes and break out your festive recipes. Here’s how to celebrate without losing sight of your health goals.
Published 3 December 2020

Do you find yourself asking “Is it normal to gain weight over the festive season?” Sure, some research suggests that holiday weight gain is a common experience, but that’s not to say extra kilos are inevitable. By focusing on a few simple strategies, it’s possible to stay on track and still enjoy this festive season.

Read on for some expert-backed tips for helping you navigate festive eating without missing out on foods you love. You’ve got this!

1. Try to maintain your typical meal schedule

Between chasing online shopping deliveries and organising Christmas cooking, the festive season can be hectic. When major aspects of your schedule get thrown out of whack, forgetting to eat a balanced meal is all too easy. You might be ravenous by the time you realise you missed lunch—and are more likely to overeat in the hours that follow, says registered dietitian Jackie London. Even if the rest of your day is busy, try to maintain your regular meal and snack times. And don’t go too long without food and water. “I typically recommend aiming to eat something every three to four hours, but find whatever consistent timing works for you and aim to stick to it,” London says.

2. Get some sleep

Lying awake all night worrying about your holiday to-do list won’t actually help you get stuff done. What you need is sleep! People who skimp on sleep may experience increases in the hormone ghrelin (associated with hunger) and decreases in the hormone leptin (which triggers feelings of fullness), affecting food choices the following day. That may explain why high quality sleep is correlated with better weight maintenance, according to a 2017 literature review in the Journal Sleep Medicine Clinics.

Feel like your brain clicks into overdrive at night? A bedtime mindfulness exercise may help you drift off by refocusing your attention on the present moment, according to a 2015 Sleep Medicine Reviews analysis. To practice, take 10 deep breaths—inhaling for a count of five and exhaling for a count of five—or try a guided meditation when you hit the hay.

RELATED: 5 surprising ways sleep may be affecting your health

3. Remain active where you can

Physical activity can help minimise stress, boost your mood, and can help fire up your resolve to make healthier food choices, London says. And there’s no need to double up on workouts or add another sweat session to your week. This time of year, it’s all about getting active when you can! “Try walking while you’re doing something else—like catching up with loved ones on the phone or listening to a podcast,” London suggests. Even short stretches of movement here and there count toward your goals.

4. Choose satisfying snacks

Snacks may be smaller than meals, but they can still play a significant role in how satisfied you feel across the day London says. To keep you feeling fuller for longer, London suggests mixing and matching your snacks so you get a combo of fibre with protein. Quick ideas include a crunchy apple with reduced fat cheese cheese, a banana with a spoonful of peanut butter, or carrot slices dipped in creamy hummus. Also, the tastier your snacks, the less tempted you’ll be to, well, keep looking for snacks. Some fun, simple options include pumpkin yoghurt hummus, 3 ingredients banana, oat and sultana biscuits and Victoria's chocolate bliss balls.

5. Drink water

Even slight dehydration can cause headaches, reduced energy, and affect mood, according to a study in The Journal of Nutrition—not exactly a recipe for festive cheer. To feel your best, consider carrying a water bottle during these busy days so you can hydrate early and often.

Bear in mind that what you drink matters. While sugary beverages like soft drink and fruit juice technically count towards your daily water goals, they still contribute calories from carbohydrates and added sugar and therefore can shrink your daily PersonalPoints Budget quickly. Instead, London suggests mixing spirits with sparkling water and adding a squeeze of citrus, such as lime or grapefruit, for extra flavour. “Personally, I feel like a fruit-filled garnish of any sort makes everything more festive!" she says. “Sparkling water with a cocktail umbrella and cherry on top? Why not?”

6. Go big on veggies

Whether you’re serving yourself Christmas dinner or prepping a quick lunch, filling half your plate with veggies is a relatively painless way to prevent extra kilos. “No matter what else you’re having, piling on the veggies naturally adds more bulk to your meal from nutrient-dense, fibre-filled foods that’ll help you feel more satisfied overall,” London says. So go ahead and portion out some stuffing with gravy, then serve up salad and green beans alongside it. The same principle applies to sandwiches: meat and cheese are fine to enjoy if you like them; just stack some grilled or raw veggies in there too.

7. Don’t stress over stress-eating

Along with bringing joy, the holidays can quickly set your nerves on edge. And increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol may lead to more cravings for sugary carbs, London cautions. For this reason, you may benefit from making a plan that can help you manage holiday stress if it strikes. One helpful step in stressful moments might be to check in with your needs (“Am I actually hungry?”). Then, hit the pause button. “Putting a little space between recognising that you’re stressed and taking action can help you reroute and respond differently,” London says. Try setting a 5-minute timer and switching gears to focus on something else you find calming, whether it’s an outdoor break, talking to a friend via phone or text, or a spin through your favourite Spotify playlist. Once time is up, do you still feel the urge to eat, or are there other activities that might help you ease feelings of stress?

If you’re just having a day and you want nothing more than but a plate of nachos, that’s totally OK, too. “Empower yourself to make that choice and truly own and enjoy it,” London says. Remember that long-term weight loss is a product of the choices you make most of the time, and no single meal or day will determine your success.

8. Spare yourself the guilt

Part of a healthy lifestyle is taking physical and mental breaks to do what feels purposeful and joyful to you. Give yourself permission to make informed choices during the holidays based on your personal preferences, prioritising the foods you love and activities that you enjoy.

“Not everything about health and wellbeing can be measured or tracked,” London says, “so I’d encourage all of us to be kind and compassionate to ourselves this holiday season!”