Holiday eating is something many people fear, the indulgent treats, the tempting spreads, and the “inevitable” weight gain. “Studies indicate that we do tend to eat more during the winter months, with the average person gaining at least 1 to 2 pounds — and those who are already overweight likely to gain a lot more,” says Rallie McAllister, MD, author of Healthy Lunchbox: The Working Mom’s Guide to Keeping You and Your Kids Trim.
But the good news is you don’t have to. In fact, you can employ some of these tips and tricks for understanding and curbing your appetite during the holidays so you can get through unscathed:
How can exercise curb your appetite you ask? We eat during the holidays for a number of reasons. As a stress reliever, mindless munching because there are treats available, socially, etc. Exercise can help to reduce turning to food for things like stress relief.
Dr Amaris Noguera, Nutrition & Dietetics, advises: “If you find yourself stressed and mindlessly eating, take a walk or practice some meditative yoga to replace an unhealthy habit, with a stress-relieving one.”
Exercise may also help support healthy serotonin levels. In the winter people exercise less and eat more, which according to Dr. McAllister, “If we’re not exercising, our appetite increases, and ultimately that means we’re eating more and moving less — and that’s a disaster plan for weight gain.” So exercise to help curb appetite and keep the body burning those extra calories.
Not only does stress help relieve stress which can lead to overeating, but it has many other perks. Dr. Noguera says. “Exercising releases “feel-good” hormones which are essential in the midst of holiday stress. Scheduling your 30 minutes of exercise daily will also help you burn off calories from the holiday treats you’ll be nibbling on.”
2. Create Low-Calorie Comforts
During the holidays, the weather is often colder, and we find ourselves turning to food to warm up and to get comfort. Comfort foods are usually high fat, cheesy, and calorie laden. According to Barrie Wolf-Radbille, MS, RD, a nutritionist with the New York University Program for Surgical Weight Loss, “As soon as temperatures drop, our appetite goes up for high-calorie, high-carbohydrate foods — stews, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese — the dishes that make us feel warm and cozy.” So if you know you are going to crave these foods, look for ways to make them still comforting but low calorie, and better for you.
During the colder months our bodies crave carbohydrate rich foods because the sugars and starches in those foods heat us up. “Simply put, when outdoor temperatures drop, your body temperature drops, and that’s what sets up the longing for foods that will warm you quickly,” says Kristin Herlocker MS, RD, a nutrition expert with Diabetes Centers of America in Houston. She goes on to explain that when we eat those sugary, starchy foods, our blood sugar spikes and then falls, which leads to use wanting to eat again, and keeps our appetite triggered. “We get hungrier quicker, so we reach for more high-carbohydrate ‘fillers,’ and the vicious cycle is on,” says McAllister.
Curb your appetite for carb-rich foods by keeping warm, and by planning ahead with healthier versions of traditional comfort foods. For example, this pizza recipe has a whole wheat crust and a sauce that is loaded with veggies.
3. Get Some Sleep
Often our appetites are triggered by out of whack hormones. When we do not get enough sleep, hormone levels are affected, and can lead to over-eating. This is often done in an attempt to gain energy, when what we need is sleep. Sleep is often linked to weight gain and loss, for this reason.
Dr Amaris Noguera, Nutrition & Dietetics, advises patients to “Prioritize Sleep. Too little sleep affects our hormone levels- including hormones that control appetite.” She goes on to explain that lack of sleep with overeating makes the holidays particularly challenging, so individuals should, “aim for at least 7 hours of sleep nightly.”
4. Get Some Sun
Believe it or not, shorter days can lead to craving carbohydrates. Especially for those who suffer from Season Affective Disorder, or SAD. “People who are affected with SAD have lower blood levels of serotonin,” Wolfe-Radbille says. “Not surprisingly, those carbohydrate-rich foods give us a serotonin rush, so for many people, winter food cravings are a way of self-medicating.”
If you find your appetite grows during the holidays, consider spending some time outdoors in the sunlight each day, or consider light therapy as a way to increase serotonin.
According to McAllister, “Up to 6% of the population suffers from SAD — a type of depression caused by a lack of exposure to light.” But even those without SAD can find themselves over eating due to boredom and isolation, so find ways to keep yourself outdoors, active, and entertained and you will eat less.
5. Keep Healthy On Hand
Keep healthy foods on hand. During the holidays, conditions are ripe for over-indulging. It is cold, dark, and stressful, so cravings sky rocket and surge. As most people do not crave things like celery and whole wheat crackers it is important to make the healthy things easy, appealing, and available. And those unhealthy things harder to access. Otherwise all that boredom, stress, cold, and dark lead to face plants in double chocolate brownies.
6. Eat Smart
Mehmet Oz, MD, Cardiology, says to “Eat Breakfast” Eating breakfast will curb overeating later in the day and can save you far more calories than if you were to skip breakfast. He goes on to explain that you should eat and enjoy parties, but do it smart.
Go ahead and fill that plate, but do it with the low calorie, high nutrient foods like leafy greens, veggies, and lean proteins. Have a treat, but fill up on the good stuff first so when you go to eat your mashed potatoes, or pies, you only eat a small amount. These will keep you full for fewer calories, plus they have tons of powerful vitamins and nutrients that will keep you healthy.
He advises his patients to eat before the holiday party. Eating something high in fiber and low in calories before you head to a party, will help you control your snacking on high-calorie appetizers.
Stay hydrated. Keep a drink of water in your hands at all times. You will feel less hungry, and occupy your hands so there is less mindless munching.
Dehydration is often disguised and hunger. Next time you get a craving, ask yourself if you are really craving that, or if a big glass of water might help.
Last but not least, when you start to feel your holiday appetite overtaking your goals, don’t let yourself get down and stop trying to eat healthy. It is easy to say, “Why bother?” after you mess up, but one overindulgence should not derail your efforts, so start each day fresh and do your best to make healthier choices.
For further help to sip away your cravings, try Stixated, a delicious appetite control mix (featuring Garcinia cambogia and chromium picolinate) to water to help satisfy cravings between meals: http://www.naturessunshine.com/us/product/stixated-30-packets/6540/