Between the holiday parties and ever-present treats, December can be a tough month to make healthy choices. We talked to Lesley Rotchford, author of Women’s Health Take It Off! Keep It Off! ($12.91), for easy-to-follow-tips for the holiday season and beyond.
“Most people gain an average of one pound over the holiday season (overweight people gain five or more pounds), and despite virtuous resolutions and new gym memberships, most people don’t take the weight off in the new year,” says Rotchford. Setting up the groundwork for a diet and exercise plan now will prevent holiday weight gain, so you have less damage to undo in January. Here’s how:
Keep temptation at bay
“The key is avoidance,” says Rotchford. If your coworker has peppermint bark sitting out on her desk, take a different route to the bathroom so you aren’t tempted to pop a piece in your mouth every time you walk by. And bring your own pre-portioned snacks to work (like a low-sugar nutrition bar, a Greek yogurt, or a Ziploc bag containing cut-up veggies or 1-ounce portion of almonds) so you aren’t starving and ravaging the office for treats.
“At parties, stand as far away from the food table as possible to prevent temptation,” says Rotchford. Want proof? A study by researchers at Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab showed that people with higher BMIs were more likely to seat themselves facing the buffet at a restaurant.
Avoid common holiday mistakes
First, skip the pre-party snack. Rotchford says this favorite advice from nutritionists doesn’t work in practice: “I have always found that to be unrealistic advice. If there’s guacamole in front of me, I’m going it eat whether I’m hungry or not—especially if I’m drinking.” Second, try to be mindful of small apps like meatballs and pigs-in-blankets, which are easy to inhale without realizing it. Instead, take time to make a balanced plate of food; include a treat or two, but fill up on mostly healthy options.
Use the holiday time to ease into a New Year’s program
Key word here is plan—not start. “The holiday season is not the time to suddenly adopt a strict exercise program,” says Rotchford. “Between parties, shopping, cooking, tree trimming, and other holiday festivities, none of us have a spare moment—not to mention a spare hour—to hit the gym everyday.” Same goes for intense dieting. There’s just too much temptation. Instead, use this month as an ease-in period. Rotchford notes that research shows it takes 66 days to develop a new habit. So get a jump on the process by establishing a few manageable healthy habits now—like going to the gym three times a week and only drinking on the weekends. “When I say manageable, I mean something you can realistically stick to—vowing to work out every single day and not drink at all are not habits most of us can swing this time of year,” says Rotchford. By mid-to-late January, these new behaviors will start to have become ingrained and you’ll feel healthier—which will make you want to keep them up!