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  • Shannon Crocker RD

7 Healthy Holiday Habits to Avoid Weight Gain

As a dietitian, I hear a lot of talk about weight gain at this festive time of the year. A quick online search for “holiday weight gain” brought up 2,040,000 results (in 0.60 seconds!). Wowza!

What’s the worry?

There’s a nasty rumour going around that people gain between five to ten pounds over the holidays. Not so. Research shows that it’s closer to about one to two pounds.

That doesn’t sound so bad, right?

It’s true that a little extra holiday cheer at a party or two isn’t cause for concern – in fact, it’s an enjoyable part of the holidays; however, if overindulgence occurs for the entire holiday season, and the weight gain sticks, that is cause for concern.

If a pound or two of weight gain happens every holiday season, well, that will contribute to a gradual increase in body weight that some of us experience as we get older. And that is not good.

So, how can you enjoy the holidays and avoid long-lasting weight gain?

Here are my seven healthy holiday habits to keep you going in the right direction.

1. Set yourself up for success.

Stock your kitchen with nourishing choices so that you have ingredients to make healthy meals and snacks. You know what I’m talking about: vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds, yogurt, eggs, pulses (e.g. chickpeas) and lean meats (e.g. turkey). We’re talking about all those foods that wholesome meals and snacks are made of.

Put that healthy food at the front of the cupboard or fridge, and at eye level, so that the healthy choice is the easy choice.

2. Snack smart.

If you’re hungry between meals, eating small, nutrient-rich snacks can help keep those cravings for holiday treats at bay. Choose snacks that give you some fibre and protein for staying power. Here are a few of my favourites:

  • A few big crisp apple wedges smeared with natural peanut butter and topped with pepitas and dried cherries

  • Veggies with a few scoops of loaded hummus

  • Plain Greek yogurt topped with clementine orange sections and sunflower seeds

  • One or two (depending on hunger level) hardboiled eggs and a handful of snap peas

3. Store the stash.

Keep boxes of chocolate treats and tins of holiday cookies in the back of the cupboard. Studies show that the more accessible treats are, the more likely you’ll be to eat them. Out of sight, out of mind!

4. Fill half your plate with vegetables.

Whether it’s Monday night dinner or a holiday cocktail party, fill half your plate with vegetables. Vegetables are filled with fibre, low in calories and have high water content. All of these features add up to keep you satisfied for longer after you eat, and that can help you manage your appetite.

While we’re talking about plates, a big plate means a big pile of food. To help keep portions in check, use smaller, lunch-sized plates for meals.

6. Enjoy indulgences mindfully.

Eating healthy over the holidays doesn’t mean depriving yourself. Give yourself permission to eat those special, unique holiday favourites – they only come around once a year.

Savour your favourite treats. But do avoid the non-stop nibble.

Choose the treats you love the most. Have one of those gooey caramel squares or one of grandma’s famous gingerbread cookies. Enjoy every bite.

On a side note, I seriously love baking Christmas cookies. This year I made white chocolate peppermint mocha cookies. Totally drool-worthy! To help manage portion size, I made them small (just 1 teaspoon of batter per cookie); that way, you get great taste in a bite-size treat.

7. Refresh yourself with water.

I keep a pitcher of fruit-infused water on the table all the time. It helps me to drink more water during the day. What’s the big deal with water? Well, there are several benefits:

  • A glass of water before meals is one simple strategy that might help you to eat only enough food to be satisfied – but not stuffed – at mealtimes.

  • Water is hydrating and that helps you fight feeling fatigued. When you’re tired, you don’t make great food choices.

  • Drinking water at a holiday party, or Friday night after a long week, helps slow down your intake of alcohol.

Real talk. I enjoy a cranberry martini or glass of crisp sauvignon blanc as much as the next person. But as I get older my tolerance isn’t what it used to be. Plus, calories from alcohol can add up quickly and lower inhibition, which means I’ll likely eat more (and maybe say things I shouldn’t!).

A simple strategy? Know your alcohol limit. Consider stopping before you get there. And, sip at least one glass of water (sparkling or plain) in between boozy beverages.

7. Stay Active.

Keep physical activity on your “To Do” list. Plan to do something active every day: a hot yoga class, kettle ball workout or run on the treadmill. Or just walk! A quick walk on a crisp day can go a long way toward staying vibrant during the stressful festive season.

One final word…please know that you are probably going to overindulge at some point over the holidays. It’s normal. Don’t beat yourself up. Eating shouldn’t come with a side of guilt. Get right back to healthy choices the next meal and move on.

Happy Healthy Holidays!

Vibrantly Yours,



Wagner DR et al. Weight and body composition over a six-week holiday period. Eat Weight Disord. 2012 Mar;17(1):e54-6.

Yanovski JA, Yanovski SZ, Sovik KN, Nguyen TT, O-Neil PM, Sebring NG. A prospective study of holiday weight gain. N Engl J Med. 2000 Mar 23;342(12):861-7.

Hull HR, Radley D, Dinger MK, Fields DA. The effect of the Thanksgiving holiday on weight gain. Nutr J. 2006 Nov 21;5-29.

Cook SM et al. Relation between holiday weight gain and total energy expenditure among 40- to 69-yr-old men and women (OPEN study). Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Mar;95(3):726-31.

Boutelle KN et al. How can obese weight controllers minimize weight gain during the high risk holiday season? By self-monitoring very consistently. Health Psychol. 1999 Jul;18(4):364-8.

Phelan S. Wing RR, Raynor HA, Dibello J, Nedeau K, Peng W. Holiday weight management by successful weight losers and normal weight individuals. J Consult Clin Psychol 2008 Jun;76(3):442-8.

Wansink B et al. The office candy dish: proximity’s influence on estimated and actual consumption. Int J Obes. 2006 May; 30 (5): 871-5.

Hollands GJ et al. Portion, package or tableware size for changing selection and consumption of food, alcohol and tobacco (review). Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Sep 14; 9.

Parretti et al. Efficacy of water preloading before main meals as a strategy for weight loss in primary care patients with obesity: RCT. Obesity. 2015 Sept; 23(9):1785-91. Doi: 10.1002/0by.21167

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