Trying to lose weight during the holidays is sort of like trying to fill a bucket with a hole in the bottom. For two months, you are constantly bombarded with holiday parties, cookies from neighbors and pies in the break-room.
On top of the endless availability of desserts and booze, the season from Halloween to New Year’s seems like an endless parade of social responsibilities: school parties, work parties, networking responsibilities, the burden of Christmas shopping, cooking and cleaning for our own parties. You may not have a night to yourself for three weeks.
The combination of stress, crunched time and over-abundant food makes for a perfect storm of weight gain. Many Americans gain as much as 10 pounds during the last two months of the year.
The holidays may not be the best time to decide to lose 20 pounds, but it can be a reasonable time to hold the line and take action to stay where you are.
Here are five tips to help you on your path to maintenance:
- Budget time for exercise. Put it in your smartphone, write it on your calendar, mark it in Sharpie on the back of your hand. It doesn’t matter what kind of exercise you choose -- even brisk walking through downtown Fredericksburg while you do your Christmas shopping can count. If you do a high-intensity kind of exercise like running up stairs, budget 20 minutes. If you choose a less-intense exercise like relaxed walking, budget 30 minutes.
- Set a firm bedtime, and stick to it. People who are sleep-deprived tend to eat more during the day, and they deprive their bodies of rest time to repair the effects of stress. Try to allow yourself eight hours of sleep per night, and enjoy a calming activity before bed, like reading, taking a hot bath or cuddling.
- Eat before you party. Before heading off to a party, eat a small, healthy snack like a cup of vegetable soup, packet of oatmeal or a banana. The little snack will take the edge off your appetite and help you make better food choices.
- Set limits on what you eat at parties. Use a cocktail plate instead of a full-sized plate. If you must use a large plate, make sure you don’t stack it two or three layers high. Pick a few of your favorites and eat just until you don’t feel hungry anymore, not until you feel stuffed. Choose one dessert only.
- Identify the situations that prompt bad choices. You know what I’m talking about: “quality” time with friends and family you like best when they are safely tucked away in another state. Just remember, you can’t change others; you can only change the way you react to them. If you can’t remove yourself completely from the people who stress you out, have a strategy in place for dealing with them. Tell your mother-in-law that her job at the Christmas party is to manage the kids’ craft table (far away from you). Set up a secret code among family members: when your sister starts criticizing your appearance, have the kids jump in and ask her to come play Parcheesi with them.
Some of the biggest health challenges in the holiday season are influenced by unrealistic expectations. You just can't do it all. To minimize your stress, take it easy on yourself wherever possible. That way, you at least have an opportunity to plug up the hole at the bottom of your holiday health bucket. You will be in a better position on January 1st to understand what you really want to improve about your life, and plan to make it happen.