In much of the country, there's a chill in the air and a riot of color in the woods, causing folks to look ahead with anticipation to the holiday season that's right around the corner. Ah, crackling fires, Thanksgiving turkey, festive gatherings, homemade cookies and... popped pants buttons?
While the pleasures of the holidays are many, all that inevitable indulgence generally comes with at least one significant downside - weight gain. It's not just you. As the New York Times recently reported, research confirms everyday observation. Nearly all of us, even those who are the most dedicated to healthy living, experience an uptick in the number on the scales between now and the New Year.
You aren't going to sit home eating quinoa and kale like a grinch, but is there anything within reason you can do to enjoy the pleasures of the holidays without setting yourself a real fitness challenge come January? Science has plenty of suggestions.
1. Eat before you celebrate.
You want to enjoy all available seasonal festivities, but the load of events over the holidays can sometimes be more than your willpower can bear. Help your better impulses out by making sure you don't head to parties while absolutely ravenous.
"New York psychologist Carol Goldberg, PhD, says planning ahead can help you maintain discipline in the face of temptation," WebMD reports. "Try to have a nutritious snack beforehand. If you do arrive hungry, drink some water to fill up before filling your plate."
Similarly, starving yourself in the morning so you can indulge at night is a losing strategy. As you're voracious by the time you arrive at your event, you end up consuming more than you would if you had eaten small, healthy meals beforehand.
2. Serve meals restaurant style.
Want to help your loved ones enjoy the season's bounty without expanding their waistlines? Then don't leave all your delicious-looking holiday dishes out to continually tempt everyone. Instead, tuck them away in the kitchen, so folks at least need to walk across the room to indulge in seconds (or thirds).
Plus, in the moments it will probably take you to work up the energy to stand up for more, you might even reconsider that additional slice of pie. Maybe.
3. Turn your back on dessert (literally).
In a similar vein, "the closer we are situated to food that's in our line of vision, the more we'll actually consume," explains Nicole McDermott on Greatist. She offers this simple fix: "Face away from the dessert spread to listen to cues from your gut rather than your eyes."
4. Use smaller plates.
You've probably heard this one before, but just because it's familiar doesn't make it any less effective. "Whenever possible, choose the smaller salad plate (8-10 inches) instead of a tray-like one (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)," McDermott also suggests.
5. Indulge your cravings.
You're going to like this bit of advice! Pushing cravings aside entirely tends not to work, as eventually we succumb to temptation and go overboard in our excitement. It's better to decide to indulge strategically in the things you truly love. "Limit your indulgences to small portions and only what is very sensual to you," Goldberg advises.
Some suggest the three bite rule: choose the most luscious dessert on the buffet, but limit yourself to only three truly mouth-watering morsels.
6. Be mindful while cooking.
A little spoonful to check the seasoning here, a nibble to gauge if the bird is done there. These little "tastes" when cooking might not seem like much, but they can actually add up to a whole lot of calories, so be mindful about how much you're sampling when preparing that holiday feast.
"Limit yourself to two small bites of each item pre- and post-seasoning," recommends WebMD. "Just put the spoon in and taste a little bit," adds Susan Finn, chairwoman of the American Council for Fitness and Nutrition in the same article. "It's not grounds for a big scoop."
7. Drink more water.
It's not just all the food that does our diets in over the holidays, it's all the booze too. (Plus, few of us make our most healthy decisions after a couple of cocktails.) Keep your hands busy and your consumption down by interspersing festive beverages with glasses of water. As an added bonus, McDermott points out that "drinking water helps people feel full, and as a result consume fewer calories."
8. Move more.
Let's be honest, even if you follow all the healthy eating advice in the world, you're still probably going to consume more calories during the holiday period than usual. That's fine, as long as you also move more. And that doesn't have to mean long hours at the gym. There are plenty of ways to slip a little more activity into your days to compensate for the odd holiday treat (yes, even if it's cold outside). Here are three.
9. Weigh yourself regularly.
"Stepping on scales more frequently during the holiday season might help," Cornell business professor Brian Wansink tells the New York Times. "Participants who weighed themselves four or more times a week gained less weight and dropped it all more quickly, by the end of January," he reports of his recent research on holiday weight gain. Four times a week might be a bit obsessive, but even once or twice a week should help.
10. Invest in plenty of Tupperware.
Here's the brutal truth. If it's hanging around in your fridge, you almost certainly will eat it. So make sure your guests contribute their fair share of self-discipline to your quest for holiday healthfulness but sending them home with some fully loaded Tupperwares. "It's the leftovers that do you in," warns Foodtrainers founder Lauren Slayton in Health.