By Craig Weatherby
On average, Americans gain from 0.5 to 1.75 pounds a year – and about half of that gain occurs during the winter holidays.
People tend to lose a little of that weight in January, but the net holiday-related gain really adds up.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), average body weight in adults aged 25 to 44 years rises by 3.4 percent in men and by 5.2 percent in women (Williamson DF et al. 1990).
The same CDC study found that people who gain five pounds or more during the holiday season are more likely to already be obese or overweight, compared with those who gain less.
It’s also well known that weight-loss programs are less effective over the holidays than at other times of year.
With those sobering facts in mind, we offer a few simple tips on avoiding weight gain during the winter holidays.
Stick to healthful whole foods
We’re faced with an abundance of alluring, fatty and starchy foods during the holidays.
There’s nothing wrong with fat per se … omega-3s in particular are metabolic allies. But don’t add much oil or butter to otherwise healthful, filling, high-fiber whole foods such as colorful vegetables.
Go easy on fatty ingredients like gravy, oil, and butter ... and favor monounsaturated oils like olive, canola (organic, non-GMO), or macadamia, over oils high in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats.
By weight, fat has the twice the calories of carbohydrates or protein. A little fat goes a long way toward enhancing flavor and absorption of the fat-soluble nutrients in foods.
Some foods may actually help limit appetite and overeating … a topic we covered in “Food Allies in the Weight War: Spices, Tea, and Fish” and in other articles in the Foods & Metabolic Health, General Weight & Fitness, and Omega-3s & Metabolic Health sections of our news archive.
Favor filling foods
Focus on foods low in “energy density” and high in “nutrient density”.
Energy density means the number of calories per ounce or gram, and nutrient density is the amount of protein, fiber, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Nutrient-dense foods are relatively low in calories. These include seafood, lean meats, beans and legumes, whole grains, whole soy foods (tofu, tempeh, miso), and colorful vegetables.
Energy-dense foods that are typically high in starches, sugars, and fats.
Slow the pace of meals
Relax during meals. Chew your food slowly and thoroughly so that you can start feeling full before you’ve wolfed down a lot of calories.
Studies consistently show that exercise prevents weight gain and maintains higher levels of appetite-suppressing hormones (e.g., leptin) and brain chemicals.
Take walks after meals, add extra workouts, and whenever possible, stand instead of sitting.
Stress promotes weight gain in several ways, and the holidays are an inherently stressful time for many people. Make time for rest, relaxation, and leisure.
“Emotional eating” is common over the holidays. People tend to spend more time with their families over the holidays and – depending on the relationships in question – that can be stressful.
Remain aware of why you are eating, and if you are not actually hungry, take a walk to ease anxiety.
Poor sleep is proven to increase eating. Even a single night of poor sleep can increase appetite the following day.
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