Tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

For many Americans, Thanksgiving marks the first day of a five-week holiday party circuit filled with incredible foods and decadent desserts. Joyful celebrations with co-workers, family and loved ones almost inevitably include high-calorie cakes, cookies and cocktails – making it near impossible to focus on weight loss. A more realistic plan is to aim for weight maintenance rather than trying to shed excess pounds during the holidays, experts say, and to wait until January to resume a more restricted diet.

Here are three smart strategies to keep your waistline in check through the final weeks of 2010, so you can start the New Year with a positive outlook.

1. Eat healthy between parties. From company events to festivities with friends, family gatherings and other holiday celebrations, you might easily have a dozen parties to attend between mid-November and year-end. By choosing nutritious, low-calorie foods for your regular meals, you have more wiggle-room to indulge in a few less-than-healthy options at holiday gatherings. Just remember: All good things in moderation.

“At a dinner party you should circle the buffet table at least once without a plate to see what’s offered, and then make a selection,” suggests Jill Turner, vice president of operations for nutritional supplement manufacturer Cooper Concepts. “You will choose less if you plan out what you are going to have instead of just digging in,” she says.

2. Cut calories in the kitchen. Look for ways to reduce calories in holiday recipes, such as using Splenda® instead of sugar in cookies and pies, or substituting chicken stock, low-fat milk, fat-free yogurt, and light cream cheese in recipes when possible. You can even substitute applesauce or low-fat yogurt for oil in baked goods.

You can also keep calories down based on the way you choose to prepare foods. For instance, make green bean almandine rather than the traditional, green-bean casserole, suggests Kathleen Duran-Thal, nutrition director at Cooper Wellness, and prepare roasted sweet potatoes instead of sweet potato casserole with marshmallow topping.

3. Stay on track while traveling. If you are one of the millions of people hitting the road over the holidays, don’t succumb to the temptation of the airport food court. Instead, pack healthy snacks for the trip, such as sliced apples, baby carrots, and low-fat cheese sticks. At the airport, pick up a bottle of water once you pass through security in lieu of a sugary coffee beverage or soda. When driving, look for restaurants – or even fast food chains – that offer healthy fare, like salads, low-fat sandwiches and figure-friendly wraps.

Whenever possible, take a few minutes to get up and move, too. Most hotels have at least a modest fitness center, where you can log a quick 30 minutes on the treadmill or recumbent bicycle. If you’re staying with family or friends, get up a little earlier in the morning to take a brisk walk around the block before breakfast, or invite others to join you for an after-dinner stroll through the neighborhood to help aid digestion.

By being mindful of the choices you make and balancing healthy options with occasional treats, you can avoid holiday weight gain and still enjoy celebrations to the full. If, come January, you find that you did put on a couple of pounds, don’t beat yourself up. Set a new goal, make a plan, and start the New Year focused on a healthy new you!