How to Not Get a Santa Belly During the Holidays
Even if you have the world’s strongest willpower, the holiday season is bound to be a challenge. It can seem virtually impossible to stay on track with your healthy living goals and plans.
If you want to navigate the season without causing tremendous damage to your health and body, there is hope!
Knowing the potential pitfalls and planning ahead will allow you to make sure you aren’t overindulging—a little indulging is okay, but overindulging is a problem! —and take the right measures to avoid starting out the new year with a “Santa belly.”
Now, we aren’t saying it’s going to be the easiest thing in the world, but you can maintain your health and physique during this time of temptation with the following tips:
- Eat before drinking and celebrating. Skipping breakfast or lunch in order to “save your appetite” isn’t the best weight-maintenance tactic. While the jury’s still out on how important breakfast truly is, not eating until the afternoon may lead to serious binging later. Our advice? Stick to a reasonably-sized breakfast with plenty of protein, which will keep you fuller longer and temper the urge to stuff your face later.
- Pick protein. Like we just mentioned, protein can help maintain a healthy weight because high-protein diets are associated with greater satiety. Make sure to feast on turkey, roasted chicken, or prepare animal-free alternatives like quinoa, lentils, or beans. As an added bonus, foods like these are essential for healthy muscle growth (which burns fat).
- Bring your own. Rather than try to figure out what’s in every dish at a friend’s party, bring a healthy side dish or dessert. Sample a little of what you want, but know you have a healthy alternative to fall back on.
- Eat and chew slowly. Eating slowly may not be easy when appetizer options are endless, but it pays off to pace yourself. The quicker humans eat, the less time our bodies have to register fullness. So slow down and take a second to savor each bite of pumpkin pie or that scoop of spiced nuts.
- Serve meals restaurant-style. When you sit down for the main event, leave food in the kitchen (away from reach) rather than display a basket full of piping hot rolls, multiple casseroles, and an entire turkey directly on the table. When you’ve cleaned your plate, take a breather, and then decide if you really want seconds. Changing up the environment—in this case, by leaving food near the stove—can help reduce overall food intake.
- Fill up on fiber. Along with eating plenty of protein, snacking on vegetables and other high-fiber items like legumes can help keep us fuller, longer (though there’s always space for dessert). Give the vegetable platter a second chance with a healthy, tasty dip.
- Use smaller plates. Plate sizes have expanded significantly over the years…and so have our waistlines. Whenever possible, choose the smaller salad plate (8-10 inches) instead of tray-like ones (12 inches or more). Using smaller plates can actually make us feel fuller with less food. The brain associates a big white space on the plate with less food (and smaller plates generally require smaller portions).
- Make room for (healthy) fats. Cutting butter and oil can slash calories, but not all fats are bad fats. We need fat in our diets to provide energy and absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, plus it helps us feel full (which is becoming a theme!).You can get healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats from avocados (guacamole!), nuts, and olive oil (in baked goods, on veggies, in homemade dressings, etc.). Combining fat with fiber—like dipping veggies in guacamole—has been shown to increase fat’s power to make us feel full.
- Ditch added sugar. Holiday cookies, cakes, and pies are nothing short of tempting, but all that added sugar may increase the risk for cardiovascular disease and obesity. Stick to sugar that comes in its natural form (fruits, veggies, and whole grains) and try small tastes of the desserts you’re truly craving instead of loading up a full plate of bland cookies.
- Sneak in the veggies. Munching on vegetables has long been recognized as a way to protect against obesity. Mix puréed veggies (like pumpkin) into baked goods or casseroles, or sneak them into pasta or potato dishes. Adding veggies increases the amount of fiber you consume, which is a good thing!
- Just say no. Though relatives may encourage overeating by shoving seconds onto a cleaned plate, it’s okay to respectfully decline. “I’m full” or “I’m taking a break” should be enough for friends and family members to back off (and give you time to decide if you really want more).
- Wait before grabbing seconds. As we mentioned, the quicker you eat a meal, the less time you give your body to register fullness. Since it takes about 20 minutes for the brain to get the message that dinner’s been served, it’s best to go for a walk or chat with friends before dishing up seconds.
- Take it easy on the white stuff. The “white stuff” in this context isn’t winter snow, but rather simple carbs like white bread and refined sugars (the kinds used in candy and sodas). The foods may provide bursts of energy, but the lack the same nutrients found in healthy complex carbohydrates. While some simple carbs are actually good for us in moderation—like the kinds found in fruit and low-fat dairy products—the body breaks down simple sugars more quickly. This contributes to a spike in blood sugar that will just make you feel hungrier faster.
- Invest in some toss-away “Tupperware” containers. Before guests leave you with half-full platters of food, have some Tupperware at the ready. Load up containers for friends and family to hand out as they leave. Bonus points for getting containers that are holiday-themed or for adding a festive bow to your parting gift!
- Freeze it. If you end up with loads of leftovers on your kitchen counter, pack up the extras and store them in the freezer for a later date. Studies show that when food is out of sight, you’ll be less likely to reach for a second helping.
- Turn off the TV. Watching television is linked to poor food choices and overeating. (Think about any Super Bowl party you’ve ever been to…) It’s too easy to mindlessly eat while watching Elf or It’s a Wonderful Life and consume countless cookies, candies, or chocolates. You don’t have to completely abandon the holiday classics – just make sure you are aware of the potential pitfalls and plan ahead with healthy snacks while watching a movie or football game.
- Beware of booze. Not only does alcohol add unnecessary calories to your diet, but getting boozy has another effect on us, too. Drinking too much can make us lose our inhibitions around food and start eating irresponsibly. Take it easy with the eggnog before you start saying things like, “Eh, what’s one more cookie?”
- Cave into cravings. Finally, a suggestion everyone can get behind. It’s smart to acknowledge a few cravings instead of pushing them away completely. Caving to a craving—as long as it’s in moderation—can curb the desire to go at it like a kid in a candy store.
- Meditate. Emotional eating to make ourselves feel better during a stressful time—and how many times of the year are more stressful than the holidays (which are supposed to be festive)?—can interfere with weight loss and health goals. But meditation with techniques like muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and mindfulness can help us maintain our focus, while at the same time relieving stress!
- Set realistic goals. Come New Year’s resolution season, it’s easy to set lofty goals about weight loss (i.e. drop three dress sizes by February!). Since impractical targets can slow down long-term weight-loss, it’s important to address those goals before making any health and fitness changes. Write down your goals—keep them specific and attainable—and post them somewhere highly visible, like the refrigerator door. If your goal is “stick to two cookies at every holiday party” seeing it periodically may help you commit.
- Move it and lose it. A simple phrase for losing weight is to “move more and eat less.” The secret here is that moving doesn’t just mean hitting the track or going to the gym. Make a conscious decision to get more steps into the day by taking the stairs or parking the car far away from the grocery store entrance. Before curling up around the fire, round up family members for a hike or snowshoeing session.
- Stay positive. Many of us demonize certain foods and even punish ourselves for indulgences. Instead of adopting that approach, use positive messages like “I can control my eating” or “I’m proud that I ate responsibly today” that can reframe your relationship with food. Research shows positive expectations are associated with weight loss. Even if it feels a little silly, try telling yourself at least one positive affirmation per day.
- Let go of limitations. No, we’re not talking about unbuttoning your pants at the dinner table! Before hitting up holiday parties, remember that a good workout isn’t limited to a gym or the track. It’s easy to use your bodyweight to work up a sweat and raise your heart rate.
- Get functional. Functional exercise has been shown to increase strength and balance and reduce risk of injury, all while working multiple muscle groups at the same time. It also means you can squeeze in an effective mid-Christmas-movie-marathon workout in a shorter amount of time. All that movement promotes muscle gain and, over time, can increase metabolism.
- Sleep smart. Though there’s likely no stopping the urge to wake up early on Christmas morning—or stopping the kids from waking you up early!—getting enough sleep can help shave off pounds, since sleep loss is linked to changes in appetite. Getting enough sleep has been associated with less weight gain. Practice good sleep hygiene this holiday season, like turning off electronics in the bedroom and avoiding high-fat foods at night.
- Partner up. Research suggests we perform better on aerobic tasks like running and cycling when exercising with a partner. If you’re home for the holidays, call up a friend or family member for a gym date or a home workout with our favorite partner exercises, including medicine ball lunge-to-chest passes, and clapping push-ups.
For more information on how you can stay healthy this holiday season—and avoid ending up with a Santa Claus-worthy belly—contact our team at Premier Podiatry Group. We can offer tips on healthy eating and exercise habits for any time of the year.
Call us at (814) 472-2660 and we will be happy to help!