How to Maintain, or Even Lose, Weight Over the Holidays

By Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

We all know how easy it is to eat too much over the holidays. Most people gain weight, but surprisingly not as much as you might expect. Research shows that the average person gains about 1 pound between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. If you are overweight or obese, however, you can gain as much as five pounds. While one to five pounds doesn’t sound like much, the bad news is we don’t lose that weight when the holidays are over—and it contributes to our ongoing weight gain over the years. This is not a good trend since 67 percent of Americans are already overweight or obese.

The good news is that with some thought and simple actions on your part, you can maintain or even lose weight over the holidays. These strategies can help you now—don’t wait until January 1!

New Research with Specific Recommendations
A recent Lancet article says that to bring our weight back to 1978 levels (when the average American weighed less), we need to cut about 240 calories a day for most people and about 480 calories a day if you are obese.

Cutting out 240 calories is easier than you think. Keeping a food diary for a few days can help you identify where you are getting your extra calories and, most importantly, where you can cut them out.

“What” you eat is also important to consider. A recent Harvard study found that certain foods caused more weight gain than others. French fries and potato chips were at the top of the list. Next were sugary drinks, red meat, processed meats, potatoes, sweets, refined grains, fried foods, and fruit juice. The foods that were linked with weight loss were vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and yogurt.

Knowing the amount of calories you need to cut and the types of foods that cause the most weight gain can change your weight this holiday season (and, frankly, every season) if you are willing to use that knowledge to make changes in how you eat.

Try some or all of the following strategies below and start a new trend—weight loss between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day!

Tip #1. Get the tempting foods out of the house.
Food manufacturers do their homework. They know we have a hard time passing on foods full of fat, sugar, and salt, and that’s why they add them to their products. These additives make foods “craveable” (i.e., they make us go back for more). One of the biggest contributors to the obesity epidemic is an unhealthy environment. Why add your home to the list of unhealthy places? Research also shows that if a food is right in front of you, you will eat more of it. So get rid of all the chips, sweets, and snacks you can’t say “no” to and make sure to have plenty of vegetables and fruit on hand.

Tip #2. Cut the sugary drinks, limit or avoid alcohol, and drink water.
Getting rid of sugary drinks is such an easy place to start. Just one can of Coke has 140 calories and will add 14 pounds if you drink one every day for a year! Healthy and tasty drink options are sparkling water, fruit-infused water, or unsweetened tea.

Alcohol can add calories and lower your inhibitions, potentially giving you the green light to eat foods you might normally stay away from. Drinking a few glasses of water before a meal has been found to help you eat less and lose weight.

Tip #3. Serve or bring a healthier option instead of unhealthy snacks, desserts, or side dishes.
Did you know that 3 ounces of potato chips has 480 calories? If you are having a party or going to one, serving or bringing a healthy snack instead of unhealthy snacks, sweets, or desserts is a good strategy. Healthier snack options include veggies with hummus, sugar snap peas, jicama, baby carrots, olives, cherry tomatoes, or nuts.

For dessert, the creative use of fruit is key. You can also bring a healthy side dish such as a salad or other cooked vegetable to a party and make sure to have them at the table when you are the host.

Fill up on the healthy options and then just have small tastes of your high-calorie favorites.

Tip #4. Use the healthy plate method as a guide to healthier meal proportions.
It’s tough to eat too many calories when half of your plate is filled with vegetables or salad—just watch the sauces and salad dressings. This is a win-win for your waistline and your overall health.

Tip #5. Exercise at least 5 days a week for 30 minutes.
Exercise burns calories, helps you manage stress, increases energy, and promotes better sleep. If you weigh 140 pounds and walk for 30 minutes, you will burn about 130 calories! Make an effort to fit it in your day whether you walk to the post office or store rather than drive, take 15 minute walk breaks at the office, or take the stairs. Write down what you are willing to do on a sticky note and put it on your bathroom mirror as a reminder.

Which tips are you willing to act on?
Take a moment to think about what you are willing to do. Remember that for many of you we are talking about only 240 calories a day. Even a few of these changes can help you to maintain or even lose weight over the holidays.


This article was originally published by Kaiser Permanente Healthy Workforce. Used with permission.