Every year, the holiday season seems to start earlier and earlier. With many holiday parties being centered around food, there is always temptation to overindulge, which can put even the well-intentioned eaters off-track.
But regional experts say there are numerous ways to avoid overeating during the holiday season.
Lori Granich, a registered dietician for the Midwest Bariatric Institute at Franciscan St. Margaret Hospital, said some experts say the holiday eating season now extends from Halloween through the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day.
“The parties keep going, and they focus on food,” Granich says.
The average-weight person gains about a pound between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but overweight people tend to gain about seven pounds during the same amount of time, explains Lorri Field, director of Bariatric Services for Community Healthcare Systems.
Since 60 percent of Americans are overweight, and 33 percent of those are obese, this can be a problem, Field says.
“The real kick is that we tend not to lose the holiday weight,” Field says. “We just realize our pants are getting tighter and we reach for a bigger size.”
It is possible to go to parties and not ruin your diet, experts say. They suggest planning ahead, drinking a lot of water, and using small plates during meals.
“Don’t starve yourself in preparation for a big meal,” Granich says. “Bring a healthy dish to share, or eat the fruits and vegetables. Don’t stand next to the food and absently pick out of the chip bowl. Try to sit as far away from the food as possible.”
Granich suggests eating slowly, because it takes the brain about 20 minutes to let you know you’re full. Starting with light foods like salad and broth-based soups lets your brain catch up with your stomach before you fill up on calorie-heavy foods, she says.
Field suggested wearing fitted clothing to parties.
“If you wear baggy or loose clothing, it is much easier to grow into them,” she says.
Erik Carpenter, an operations supervisor and certified personal trainer at Franciscan Alliance Omni Health & Fitness in Schererville, suggested eating before you arrive at a party.
“That way you can plan your meal and eat healthy,” he says. “Most holiday parties are just snack foods. This will help you to snack less and focus more on socializing.”
Vanessa Provins, registered dietician at Porter Regional Hospital, suggested selecting what foods you want to splurge on when you get to the party.
“If the rumaki is a treat for you, don't overindulge in other items. Save your calories for the rumaki,” Provins says.
Karen Kretz, bariatric coordinator for the Northwest Indiana Center for Bariatric Surgery at Methodist Hospitals, agreed that it’s okay to splurge on your favorite holiday items.
“Don’t eat everything, but don’t deprive yourself of the things that you only eat during the holiday season,” Kretz says. “Drink lots of water, to balance the high sodium and high sugar in holiday foods.”
Carpenter also suggests staying away from alcohol because it is full of empty calories, reduces inhibitions and slows your metabolism.
“We tend to make choices we wouldn’t normally make while we’re drinking. This means eating things we know we shouldn’t, too,” he explains. “Offer to be the designated driver and you’ll save a few pounds and possibly save a friend’s life, too.”
It also is important to keep up with dental care during the course of the year and not wait until the holidays to catch up on tooth repair, says Dr. Matt Logmann, a Hammond-based dentist.
“If you have a problem with your teeth, get it taken care of right away. Don’t wait,” he adds. “I have people come in the week of Thanksgiving and say they need to get their teeth fixed so they don’t miss that meal.”
Dr. Logmann says the number of people who come in for broken teeth during November and December is triple the rate of other months in the year.
“During the holidays, people eat things they don’t normally eat,” he says. “Sticky things, like fruitcake, or hard things, like candy canes, you need to be wary of.”
Between holiday activities, Field said it’s important to stay physically active during the course of the day.
Park in a the spot furthest away from the grocery store, pace when you’re talking on the phone, or shovel snow instead of using a snow blower.
“Simple activities can burn hundreds of calories during the course of the day,” Field says.
Provins suggested using weights and resistance bands while you watch holiday movies on TV. Or, if you feel an eating binge approaching, leave the house.
“Bundle up and walk the neighborhood looking at Christmas lights,” she says.
Carpenter said an early-morning workout is the best way to ensure getting your exercise in, since most parties happen in the evenings.
“If you truly can’t make it to the gym and want to get in a quick workout at home, the best thing to do is some calisthenics like push-ups, crunches or jumping jacks,” he says. “This will get your heart pumping and the resistance aspect of these exercises works your muscles in such a way that it helps boost your metabolism for a longer period of time than a short walk will.”
If you do overindulge and feel as if your diet and exercise routine has gotten off-track, experts say it is important not to get discouraged.
Provins suggested incorporating cheating on your diet into your lifestyle.
“Don’t try to be an A+ student, but rather a B+ student or you just set yourself up for failure,” she says. “Have planned cheating, like one ‘blow it’ meal per week or one ‘blow it’ item per day.”
“Few people lose weight during the holidays, but it is possible to maintain your weight,” she says. “If you overate at one party, don’t beat yourself up. Start back up the next day.”