Here it comes—the holiday season! If you sit in staff meetings in October and even September dreaming of chestnut dressing and pumpkin pie, and your mind keeps running to glazed ham, sweet potato casserole with marshmallows, hot cocoa and cookie swaps, this year can be different. Who says those two months between Halloween and New Year’s have to turn you into the poster child for size 3X. Time to pound those pounds, or better yet, not put them on at all with these holiday tips for weight loss.
In fact, statistics show that for many of us, the pounds gained during the holiday season are not taken off, even later in the winter when New Year’s resolutions are well underway and health club membership numbers climb through the roof.
“Everyone has the best of intentions,” says triathlete, personal trainer and former Vermont gym owner Rob Hanson, in the fitness field for 25 years. “But like anything else, for too many people life just gets in the way.”
Still, the holidays don’t have to sabotage your weight in the first place, Hanson continues. Married to licensed nutritionist Evie Snow, the couple says they take precautions from the beginning to make sure food tastes great and satisfies them and their guests—without all the fat, sugar and extra calories. “There are so many substitutions, you either don’t know you’re eating anything different or you realize you’ve found something even better than the traditional recipe,” Snow says. “It’s like creating a new tradition.”
Tips for Weight Loss: “Move” Aside
According to Hanson, the first of the tips for weight loss is getting out of the holiday food line of fire. By ramping up your fitness routine—maybe adding an extra 15 minutes each time you go to the gym or out for a run or cycle, or adding on another workout day, you increase the number of calories you’ll burn each week. “It’s like a preemptive strike,” Hanson says, noting no matter how hard you try, you’re bound to succumb to an occasional treat at this time of year.
Next, Snow says upping your daily protein intake is the key to maintaining a good weight. Making sure you include an egg, natural peanut butter or tofu at breakfast, and perhaps some tuna (hold the mayo; use nonfat condiments like Dijon mustard with a little honey instead) or deli turkey with apple slices for a snack during the day—can go a long way in evening out blood sugar and quelling those big drops that leave you cranky and ravenous.
Increasing fiber in the form of oatmeal (try it with almond butter or canned pumpkin with cinnamon at breakfast!) and bountiful seasonal fruits and vegetables is also a big step in weight control. Snow favors baked apples filled with raisins, cinnamon, and a little honey. With an apple orchard in the next town, Snow and Hanson have a standing weekend date in the early fall where they pick and store enough to last into the holidays. Experimenting with homemade applesauce recipes like Golden Delicious ginger cinnamon with honey and stevia (skin left on for a fiber powerhouse treat) fills their home with fragrance and their stomachs with delicious no-fat fiber. The couple also purees apples and pears, using the results in lieu of oil in homemade baked goods.
Big on raw vegetables, Snow prepares guacamole (yes, avocados are high in fat but it’s healthy fat, and they’re also high in fiber) and platters of crudites to munch on in front of football games rather than greasy, high fat, high-calorie foods. Greek yogurt makes a rich, tasty base for dips, and Snow also uses it in mashed potatoes instead of butter and cream. Mashed cauliflower or celery root are also excellent holiday (and every day) substitutes for white potatoes, Snow explains.
Turning to an abundance of homemade soups in the cold Vermont winters, the couple cooks and purees broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, parsnips, winter squash and other root vegetables. Added fat-free vegetable or chicken stock may be complemented by a splash or two of fat-free cream—high in calories but not in limited amounts—and important for texture and taste.
Also, when it comes to stuffing, Snow and Hanson believe they’ve actually improved family recipes by adding more vegetables like onion, celery, carrots and even parsnips, kale, tomatoes, green beans and more to cut down on all the bread or corn bread called for. They also substitute robust, juicy, meaty-tasting Portobello mushrooms for sausage, promising that family and guests have never noticed any difference.
Tips for Weight Loss: Slow Down to Go Down
With the temptation to have it all, one of Hanson and Snow’s tips for weight loss is eating slowly and practicing portion control. “It’s okay to try everything on the buffet table, as long as it’s a bite or two of everything,” Snow says. Better yet, key in on a few leaner proteins, salads (if they’re available without fatty dressings, most of which are also loaded with high fructose corn syrup), fruits and vegetables. And if you must try the high calorie foods, choose one or two and limit it to a few bites. Also, because poultry skin is where the fat lives, Snow suggests removing it but not sacrificing taste by spooning items like salsa or pesto over it.
Where alcohol is concerned, it’s not news that alcohol lowers resistance to temptation and may lead to increased food intake. Try adding tasty “diluters” such as sparkling water or diet tonic water (strong, tangy lime essence) or opting for sangria with lots of fruit. Hydrating with lots of water throughout the day prior to the party will help fill you up, and hydrating during the party will do the same with the added benefit of giving you something to hang onto—instead of a wine glass that keeps needing to be filled.
“Dessert should definitely be portion-controlled,” Snow says. “Try filling your plate with three parts fruit salad to one part sweets.”
Tips for Weight Loss: Eat and Eat Some More
Too many people starve themselves all day if going to a holiday party in the evening, according to Snow. This sets them up for something equal to binging when they finally arrive at their destination because they’re just ravenous, causing a real assault on the body. It’s so much better to spread the calorie intake throughout the day, keeping blood sugar levels even and the stomach pleasantly full. Adding a pre-party workout, if possible, may allow for a little extra indulging sans guilt.
“During the holidays, it’s better to put some thought and discipline into it and gear up for weight maintenance rather than experiencing weight gain,” Hanson says. “If you don’t follow some kind of plan, that downer idea that you’re going to have to take it off will put a dark cloud over things.”
That said, if you do gain weight, Hanson is a strong advocate of working to take it off immediately, rather than doing what most people do and adding it to last year’s holiday gain, and using it as a precursor to next year’s.
“It’s the same as dropping out of school,” he says. “Each year, it gets harder and harder to go back. Life just gets in the way. It’s the same way with weight loss. It can be done, no matter where you are in the general scheme of things, but why not hit the ground running and start the next holiday season at the top of your game.”
Snow agrees. Once packing 162 pounds on her 5’5” frame, she lost 40 pounds in the course of a year, becoming a registered dietician and nutritionist—and meeting her husband— in the process.
“Not everyone can have their own personal live-in trainer,” she says, adding he keeps her on her toes in exchange for her tasty, health-conscious food and the opportunity to cook with her. “During the holidays, when our families come to visit, between the two of us they don’t stand a chance,” she quips.