Have you ever uttered these famous last words?
“I’ll lose that extra weight after the holidays.”
“My New Year’s Resolution will be to lose weight and eat healthier.”
“There is no way I can stick to my diet plan with all of these holiday parties.”
If you're like most people today, any of these sentiments could pertain to your holiday eating thought process.
Unfortunately, intention doesn't always result in action.
Listen in as Jennifer McDaniel, MS, RD, gives great strategies to navigate the holiday eating season with no weight gain.
Melanie Cole (Host): Do you find yourself saying one of the following, “I’ll lose that extra weight after the holidays,” or “My New Year’s resolution will be to lose weight and eat healthier”? We all say that all the time, but you’re not really sure what goes on at the holidays and how much weight actually does pack on with some of the food that we eat during the holidays. My guest is Jennifer McDaniel. She’s a registered dietitian/nutritionist and a certified specialist in sports dietetics. Welcome to the show, Jennifer. Let’s talk about, first of all, how much weight do people really gain over the holidays?
Jennifer McDaniel (Guest): Melanie, I think you might be surprised. Do you want to take a guess? I’ll give you a couple of options. I’ll give you one pound, three pounds, or five pounds. Over the course of the holiday, how much weight do you think on average an American gains?
Melanie: Five, for sure.
Jennifer: Okay. The good news that I have for you…
Melanie: Or more.
Jennifer: No. Actually, it’s only one pound.
Jennifer: This was studied by the New England Journal of Medicine. It was studied a couple of years ago, so maybe that number has changed slightly. But they came out with the average weight gain being only one pound over the course of the holidays. Now, the bad news that I have to share with you is that we don’t lose that pound. That’s a very short period of time that we’re talking about. We gain one pound of weight and we gain it every single year. That’s why we’re sharing some good strategies on healthy holiday weight and keeping a healthy holiday weight today.
Melanie: One of the things that I always hear is, “I’m going to be really good this holiday,” Jennifer, and “I am just absolutely going to keep on my diet and even try and lose.” Is that a ridiculous time to try and lose weight or to stick with your diet plan?
Jennifer: Well, I tell my clients that if they maintain their weight over the holiday season that we can claim that as success. Because yes, the holidays sort of work against us. Just this past week, we attended two holiday eating events. My kids brought in holiday cookies. We’re stressed. The to-do lists are longer. So it’s certainly a challenging time of the year to really focus on healthy eating and exercise. At the same time, when we do this and we take care of ourselves over the holidays, we will enjoy them in a healthier way as well.
Melanie: All those social events, and as you say, the cookies and things that come into the house, what do we do about that? Who has willpower that strong, Jennifer? Give us some tips and strategies for dealing with those tempting things that are in front of our face for three solid weeks.
Jennifer: Yes, I think you hit the nail on the head, Melanie. We want to take willpower out of the equation and we really want to set up a household and a kitchen in particular where it’s easy to make healthy decisions. For example, when my son brought those holiday cookies in, instead of putting them in the cupboard, where, when I open up the cupboard, the first thing that I see and my family sees are those cookies, is I mummified them. I wrapped them in aluminum foil and I put them on the top shelf where it’s hard to see. If we can make those tempting foods inconvenient and invisible, you are not going to be as tempted to eat them. On the flip side, one of the things that we have done in our own household to make healthy eating easier is I had actually taken a produce out of my produce bin, which I often call composting bin, and I prepped and taken a little extra time to, say, cut up the carrots, cut up some bell peppers, put fresh fruits and vegetables in clear containers front and center in my kitchen and in my refrigerator. When I open that up, that’s the first thing I see. We really want to make healthy foods front and center in our kitchens and we want to make those tempting treats more inconvenient and invisible, for sure.
Melanie: Let’s talk about how busy we are. I love that you used “mummify them.” That’s very cool. We’re all so busy. It’s a very stressful time of the year. And so some of us stress eat and just grab some of those things that maybe we didn’t sort of get out of our sightline. How does the being busy, the stress, maybe even a lack of sleep, affect the fact of our weight gain during the holidays?
Jennifer: Yes. Certainly, when we are sleep-deprived, our hunger hormones do not work for us. They work against us. We find that our cravings are more intense. And what we have seen actually in one study is that if we got 96 more minutes of sleep, that that cut our junk food craving by 62 percent. Sleep really plays a role in terms of how we respond to certain foods. And also, when we’re awake for longer amounts of time over the course of the day, we try to sort of overcompensate for that and eat more because we’re awake for longer hours of the day. Sleep certainly plays a role. In my household, we really try to make sleep a priority. I think it’s important to remember that we are going to be so much more efficient in those job tasks if we do them in a well-rested state. In terms of stress, I think that this is certainly a time of the year, the holidays, in which we don’t forego exercise. Yes, it’s cold. It’s darker and it’s not as nice outside, but I know that if I strap on these tennis shoes and I go for even a brisk 15 to 20-minute walk, I come back refreshed, I come back less stressed, and it’s much easier to make healthier decisions. This time of the year, this is when I really implore my clients to maintain that exercise schedule to help them deal both with stress and also to sleep better.
Melanie: Are you a fan of eating before you go to a party, Jennifer?
Jennifer: Totally. I think that even if it’s a dinner party, just taking in 100 calories of a gratifying, satisfying snack can help you eat hundreds of calories less at that party, maybe…
Melanie: Can it really, or does it make it so you double up? Because you eat anyway or you feel like, “Well, I should eat because this person is serving all these things.” Does it double up the calories, or does it really curb your appetite so maybe you just don’t eat as much?
Jennifer: I would say for most of my clients and in my own personal experience, if I have something like a big apple before I head into a party, I can much easily turn down those appetizers. There’s a lot of things that it makes it easier for me to do if I don’t go in there hungry, but if I enter into an eating event or social eating event in a hungry state, my resolve is going to be much lower, especially if you pair alcohol with that as well.
Melanie: With New Year’s Day right around the corner—and we only have about a minute and a half left—if we were to set resolutions -- and are you a fan of setting resolutions where healthy eating and exercise come in, what would those be?
Jennifer: I think that this is a time of the year to assess where we are and where we want to go. There’s nothing wrong with setting some goals. But I think that those goals need to be ones that are sustainable goals and realistic goals and things that are going to make healthy eating easier for you. Things that I personally am going to be setting for 2015 is I’m going to try to keep an organized kitchen where healthy eating decisions are on autopilot. When I bring groceries home, instead of just putting them away, I’m going to take a little additional time when I have it to cut up that produce and put it in the clear containers that I mentioned earlier. Keeping an organized kitchen is something that I think can help all of us. The other thing that I feel is really important for people to do is to keep a monitoring system of their progress. Whether that’s something like just stepping on the scale every single morning to see how weight is progressing and looking at trends of weight over time, that allows us to be aware of small changes in our health over time versus realizing, “Oh, I can’t fit into that size of jeans anymore.” That’s going to be a much larger change. So really setting up a monitoring system, whether it be weighing yourself daily or keeping a food journal. Some of my clients will keep a food journal when they hit a certain number on the scale two days in a row and like, oh, it’s time to pick up that food journal again. It’s really going to help me with my awareness and my accountability. We know that when people keep a food journal, they lose two times more weight than those who don’t. The monitoring systems are important, and that will help you stick to goals throughout 2015.
Melanie: Then give us your last bit of best advice for getting through the holidays, with only that one pound you talked about as opposed to the five that I thought it was.
Jennifer: I think really the most important thing is to really try to stay on your schedule as much as possible. Eating every three to four hours. Not going for long periods of time because you forgot to bring a snack with you during that grocery or that mall shopping trip. Really kind of sticking to your eating schedule so you don’t find yourself in a hungry state, and then also really prioritizing that time for yourself, time to exercise and time to hit the sleep button when it’s time to go to sleep. Making sure that you’re rested so you can really handle these holidays in a healthy-minded state.
Melanie: Thank you so much. You’re listening to Eat Right Radio with our good friends from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For more information, you can go to eatright.org. That’s eatright.org. This is Melanie Cole. Thanks for listening and stay well.