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November 28, 2016

6 Keys to Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain

by Amanda MacMillan

Last week’s post looked at all the ways you’ll burn calories this holiday season without even trying, whether you’re shopping for groceries or laughing around the table with loved ones. But the period between Halloween and New Year’s is also ripe with opportunities for overindulging -- and if you’re not careful, it can be easy to pack on extra pounds. In fact, a recent study from Cornell University found that people really do get heavier between October and January -- and that it takes them five months, on average, to get back to their pre-holiday weight.

But plumping up isn't inevitable, says registered dietician Christine Santori, program manager for Northwell Health's Center for Weight Management. A few simple moves can help you stay health and keep the scale steady:

Celebrate holidays -- not holiweeks. So you ate yourself into a food coma last week? Relax. One big meal on Thanksgiving and a few extra sweets at your company holiday party don’t have to add up to extra inches around your waistline. What really causes problems, says Santori, is when the season gets packed with multiple celebrations and get-togethers several times a week for a month or two -- and you let loose, calorie-wise, at all of them. By all means, enjoy the festivities! But focus on conversation or dancing at most of them -- not feasting.

Lose the all-or-nothing attitude. A “diet mindset” can actually backfire, experts say. “People who go on and off diets are likely to consider the holidays their ‘off’ period,” says Santori. “And because of that, they’ll go all out and ignore even the simplest strategies for weight management.” In the long run, she says, it’s easier, healthier and more effective to have a moderate, mindful attitude about eating year-round.

Keep your expectations realistic. If you are actively trying to slim down, you may not make progress during the holidays -- and that’s okay. “It’s normal for your weight loss to slow at this time of year,” says Santori. “The important thing is that it doesn’t go too far in the other direction. Just keep up healthy habits to lessen the impact.”

Follow your regular routine. Treat a holiday the way you would any other day, Santori suggests: Stay active and get your normal exercise. Also important: Don’t skip meals because you’re having a big dinner. (If you go into it starving, you’re more likely to binge on high-fat, high-calorie items.) Planning to squeeze in an extra workout in the morning? Go for it -- but remember that it’s a lot harder to burn calories than it is to eat them. “Exercise isn’t an excuse to go totally overboard,” Santori cautions.

Say goodbye to leftovers. Enjoy your holiday favorites at the feast and then move on: Pack up hard-to-resist indulgences and send them home with guests. Hang on to the turkey and vegetable sides, but as for leftover desserts, starchy side dishes and all those Christmas cookies: ‘Tis the season for sharing!

Remember that liquid calories count. “Cutting back on alcohol is the first thing I recommend for reducing calorie intake,” says Santori -- especially during the holidays, when some festive drinks (like punch and egg nog) can pack 400 calories a cup. Plus, drinking in excess can lower your inhibitions and make you more likely to keep snacking after you’re full. For your waistline and your overall health, limit yourself to just one or two drinks a day.