I have a confession: I've been a closet dieter since I was sixteen. Actually. As an ex fat kid, I've always watched what I've eaten, and the time of the year when I become most critical of my eating habits has been the Christmas holidays, when the meals are large and laden with fatty foods.
As much as I try to prep for the holidays by eating super well and exercising throughout November and early December, I still find Xmas time to be a diet-struggle. I'm sure you do too.
So, over the years, I've created some fairly simple strategies to avoid gaining any excess weight over the holidays. None of these are all the groundbreaking, but they work for me, and hopefully they will for you too.
Don't "Save Your Appetite" For Gigantic Meals
Anyone who counts calories (guilty as charged) may think it smart to go without food for most of the day, saving all those precious cal-points in preparation for one epic meal. And that might actually work if our bodies functioned like a SIMS character who has a set bar to fill every day.
In actuality though, all you're doing by starving yourself is building a huge hunger build up that will destroy any self control you have; you'll be so ravenous by the time your "meal of the day" comes that you'll overeat to the point of indulgence. You're already creating the mindset of "by not eating now I'll be able to eat more later" so the likelihood of you gorging is even higher.
Adding to the dark side of such a strategy is the fact that, by withholding food from yourself, you're lowering your metabolism while also going into a mild starvation mode. The former ensures you'll burn less calories throughout the day, which isn't good in the long run, and the latter makes it so your body eats up all the food and stores it into fat, as it doesn't know when the next meal is going to come.
Go For Big Lunches, Not Dinner
Timing is everything when it comes to eating, something young folks who like to have a 3am meal before passing out don't really understand. It's pretty simple to wrap your head around though, as the earlier you eat, the more time your body has to burn off all that energy.
So, if you can, opt for having a big Christmas lunch rather than a gigantic dinner. That way, you have half of a day to work off all that food, instead of just going to bed in a food-induced coma like you would with an evening meal.
Set An Eating Deadline
Really, setting a time to stop eating is something you should be doing throughout the year, but is especially important during the holidays when tons of food is constantly at your disposal.
The rule of thumb to follow is not eating a few (ideally 3-4) hours before going to bed, a process that lends itself very well to the "big lunch" notion explained above. Of course, you may get hungry into the wee hours of the eve, but that's when you either need to employ some legit self control or eat low-calorie foods (e.g. raw veggies).
On the other hand, if you eat right before bed, that energy is definitely going to be stored as unwanted fat. A person's metabolic rate goes way down during sleep, and you're really just lying there, so you're not going to be burning much off.
Ideally, you should actually be a bit hungry going to bed, which will actually help you lose weight, as your body delves into some energy reserves to get through the night.
Go For Walks When You Can
Most of us (or at least me) are probably at our parent's house for the holidays, thus limiting any gym-access. Not that all the intense fam-jamming would afford any exercise time anyway. Hell, anytime I've ever tried to work out I usually just get reprimanded by my mom, as she pulls the "you're going to work out instead of spend time with me?" card.
The solution is simple, mask exercise with an enjoyable stroll outside. This winter's mild weather makes a solid walk outside entirely feasible, and instead of it being a solo form of exercise, you can invite any member of your family along.
Have A Pre-Game Snack/Salad
Eating before a big meal may be a big "no-no" ingrained into your mind ("You're going to spoil your appetite" and all that jazz) but having a light snack is a really good way of avoiding overeating.
I know that with certain family members around you may be forced into eating a fair bit even if you're not hungry (that's what grandmothers do) but if your belly is a bit full you'll be certain not to eat too much.
Your best bet is to have a very simple salad or raw veggies a bit before your rather large meal. Containing almost no calories, vegetables/a form of lettuce will fill you up without adding to your calorie count, all while giving you a nice nutritional boost.
Always Use A Plate, Even When Eating Appetizers
Portion control is incredibly important when monitoring your food intake, which is next to impossible when you're macking on finger foods and appetizers. The solution: use a plate, always.
While you may look a bit silly for scooping some dip and chips onto a small plate, it'll benefit you in the long run. In doing so, you can clearly see exactly how much you're ingesting, rather than the vague idea going plate-less affords.
Fill Your Plate Wisely
Both quantity and quality play a huge role when enjoying a meal, especially at Christmas time when certain dishes are much higher in calories and fat than others.
Since many holiday meals are a free-for-all buffet style, you need to do yourself a big favour and choose what you put on your plate carefully. Low calorie foods with a solid nutritional rating like salad can be piled on, as can lean proteins such as turkey, whereas fat-laden and energy rich dishes like mashed potatoes and stuffing should be kept at a minimum. By doing so, you'll ensure your stomach gets filled with the right kind of foods, while still enjoying the most delicious parts of the meal, too.
Say No To Alcohol
I know, I know, dealing with your extended (or even immediate) family may require some social lubrication, but keep this in mind: all forms of alcohol are essentially liquid calories.
Oh sure, red wine may be credited with some health benefits, but no matter what, every sip of an alcoholic drink is just another injection of empty calories. You mine as well be eating timbits.
Normally, your metabolism may be able to handle a few drinks, but with the double-whammy of intense Xmas eats and a bunch of alcohol, you might gain more weight than you'd like. It's best to keep your drinking to a minimum, or scratch it out altogether.
Or If You Can't, Drink A Bit BEFORE Your Meal
Okay, so maybe abstaining from alcohol entirely isn't all that feasible. Trust me, I know the struggle. So I've developed a little trick during the holidays, which is to limit all drinking before a big meal.
Typically I try to go for carbonated alcohol, like beer, and limit myself to one or two. Yes, beer is liquid bread, but all the bubbles are pretty filling, and that keeps you a bit more full, thus inhibiting overeating during the actual meal. The same can be done with any fizzy drinks too.
Besides, you really only need alcohol before the meal, when you don't have food to distract you or facilitate conversation. It's also worth noting that those who want to drink after a big meal will find it incredibly difficult to get even a little tipsy, since you have so much food in your belly, thus creating a vicious cycle or drinking more and taking in even more calories.
Load Up On Water
For the more healthy alternative to the above, go with a bunch of water before a big meal. Much like having a veggie-filled pre-dinner snack, the water will fill you up without adding in any unnecessary calories.
You should also make sure to keep your H2O intake up all throughout the holidays, and the year for that matter, as dehydration can often feel like hunger.
Enjoy Dessert, But Just Pick One
A legit dessert spread can be really tempting, and that's coming from a sweet-fiend like myself. And as much as you'd like to try one of everything, to stave off all the unwanted butter and sugar found in almost all Xmas desserts, you need to pick one and stick with it.
In a perfect world, you'd have the willpower to say no to dessert, but you're not made of stone. And if you really want to have a bit of variety, go in with a dessert partner in crime, where you two (or three) share a couple of desserts, allowing you to try more without adding more to your overall intake.
Avoid Eggnog Like The Plague
Seriously, as delicious as eggnog is, it's really just egg, sugar, cream, and alcohol if you're doing it properly. A single cup of eggnog (without rum or whiskey) clocks in at nearly 225 calories and 11 grams of fat, with no added nutritional benefit. Enjoy a rather large glass (or two) and you're at about 550 calories, about the same as a Big Mac.
Never Just "Give Up"
This is incredibly important, because not matter how bad your eating habits have been, you can't just say "fuck it" and throw every concern to the wind. Overeating at a single meal shouldn't discourage you. It happened, recognize that, and move on, keeping yourself convinced that you won't do the same again.
Giving up will simply ensure you just spiral into a holiday gorge-fest of weight gain. Stay positive and understand every day is a new beginning to eat well.
And Don't Fat Shame Yourself
Seriously. Your mind influences your body more than you think, and if you think of yourself as a complete fatty who is becoming obese after you downed a slice of pie, it's only going to make the exaggeration become true.
The holidays are meant to be a time of joy, not constant stress, so don't get too hard on yourself. Eat well, follow a few of these rules, and remember that you can always just start eating super well once the New Year starts. At least, that's what I say every single year.