How to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

PHOTO: Here are some tips on how to avoid unwanted holiday weight gain.PlayGetty Images
WATCH Healthy Holiday Eating

Waiting until Janurary 1 to set a weight-loss resolution is a fat man's mistake. If you hope to have a flat belly in 2013, then you need to buckle down now.

The average American gains about 1 pound between Thanksgiving and New Year's, according to a Tufts University study. And if you're overweight or obese, then that number can exceed 5 pounds.

Even worse, "people don't generally lose the weight they put on," says Betty Kovacs, M.S., R.D., codirector of the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center's weight-loss program. "Those pounds just accumulate over the years."

That means much of the weight you gain as the years pass can be blamed on holiday cocktails and candy bowls.

Don't be fooled by these 6 Healthy Sounding Foods That Aren't

Manage Your Carb Cravings

Halloween candy is the first wave in a season defined by its carbohydrate come-ons. For the next 2 months you'll be lured by cookies, pie, stuffing, dinner rolls, and gingerbread houses.

Resist by switching to a low-carb diet right now. In a recent Temple University study, obese people who cut back on carbohydrates found themselves less likely to crave sweets and other high-carb foods. Avoiding such fare can also make you feel less bothered or distracted by hunger, researchers found, so for the next couple of months, limit your bread and pasta to special occasions only.

Eat This: Tootsie Rolls (4 pieces = 93 cal, 2 g fat, 13 g sugars)

Not That: Brach's Milk Maid Caramels (4 pieces = 150 cal, 4 g fat, 15 g sugars)

Don't let candy cavities become your enemy. Avoid these 12 Foods Your Dentist Wouldn't Eat.

Boycott Kitschy-Sounding Food

Shortly after Halloween, you'll notice the first wave of holiday-themed foods: desserts drizzled with cinnamon glaze, candy wrappers decorated with snowmen, and special menus promoting limited-time foods. In the ensuing weeks, this will only become worse.

Case in point: Last holiday season, IHOP rolled out its Eggnog Pancakes, which, at 2,150 calories for four, were nearly twice as bad as the chain's second-worst pancake option. Similarly, at 760 calories, the holiday-themed Reese's Peanut Butter Snowman has more than 3 1/2 times the calories of a regular two-pack of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups; and at 630 calories, the Warm Cinnamon Swirl Muffin on the Dunkin' Donuts holiday menu has nearly a third more sugar than the average year-round muffin. You can find less fattening ways to celebrate.

Drink This: Starbucks Cappuccino with 2 pumps of peppermint syrup (16 oz with 2% milk = 160 cal, 4 g fat, 20 g sugars)

Not That: Starbucks Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha (16 oz with 2% milk and whipped cream = 520 cal, 18 g fat, 75 g sugars)

The holidays don't have to wreck your waistline. Know The Best and Worst Holiday Foods.


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How to Stay Thin This Holiday Season

Crank Your Metabolism

Even if you take small portions of everything on the table, you'll still end up with a hefty dinner. Don't deprive yourself—instead, wake up early on Thanksgiving for a quick workout.

A study from Appalachian State University found that cycling vigorously for 45 minutes may elevate your metabolism for as long as 14 hours afterward. And working out close to mealtime is even better: A 2009 study published in the journal Appetite found that feelings of hunger are diminished for 1 hour after exercise. (Get more must-have nutrition tips every week when you sign up for our FREE Belly Off! newsletter.)

Eat This: Green bean casserole (1 cup = 200 cal, 12 g fat, 600 mg sodium)

Not That: Creamed spinach (1 cup = 440 cal, 28 g fat, 880 mg sodium)

Have a Mind-Fueling Snack

Food-court fries may seem like a blissful respite from holiday shopping, but they'll only slow you down. Researchers in Switzerland found that meals consisting of mostly carbohydrates can inhibit cognitive performance and stretch out decision times.

You could waste hours wandering the mall looking for presents and still end up handing out gift cards. Plus, Kovacs says, "if you eat mostly carbs, you'll never feel full."

One reason for this: Carbohydrates are relatively ineffective at suppressing the hunger-promoting hormone ghrelin, especially when compared with protein, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Do yourself a favor: Find a high-protein, low-carb snack that comes in under 400 calories, and you'll escape the mall faster. (What mall trip during December doesn't leave you pulling your hair out? Find out the 12 Best Ways to Slash Holiday Stress.)

Eat This: Auntie Anne's Cheese Pretzel Dog (370 cal, 20 g fat, 33 g carbs, 5 g sugars, 12 g protein)

Not That: Cinnabon Classic Roll (880 cal, 36 g fat, 127 g carbs, 59 g sugars, 13 g protein)

Eat a Pregame Meal

You are what you eat? A study in the journal Appetite found that unhealthy, high-fat food is viewed as more masculine, which may explain why men tend to eat poorly at parties. We also tend to eat more in situations we've defined as special occasions.

So do this: Before you leave your house, eat something to dull those urges. Kovacs recommends Greek yogurt. The protein fills your belly, and the fat can help your body handle alcohol. If you do plan to eat, be civilized about it.

"Plate your food, sit down, and pay attention," says Kovacs; otherwise you won't realize how much you're eating.

Eat This: Shrimp cocktail (6 jumbo shrimp with 2 Tbsp cocktail sauce = 60 cal, <1 g fat, 470 mg sodium)

Not That: Pigs in a blanket (3 pieces = 400 cal, 25 g fat, 850 mg sodium)

Still getting that all-you-can-eat craving? Here are 6 Ways to Beat The Buffet.


More from Men's Health:

125 Best Foods For Men

The 2012 Men's Health Holiday Gift Guide

11 Ways to Ease a Nasty Hangover

How to Stay Thin This Holiday Season

Offset the Libations

Alcohol calories are no more fattening than food calories, says trainer Christian Finn, M.S., but that doesn't mean you can simply drink your dinner. Booze can lower inhibitions and stimulate appetite, making it hard for you to resist greasy food trays and late-night delivery calls.

If you're set on drinking, just work in one calorie-free beverage for every alcoholic drink. "Alternate the alcohol with something like sparkling water," says Finn.

The best option: club soda with a wedge of lime. It feels like a cocktail in your hand, cuts the evening's caloric damage by half, and saves the pizza guy a post-midnight run to your house. Plus, it'll help keep you hydrated so you won't spend New Year's Day curled up with a hangover and a bottle of aspirin. (Drink too much last night? Here's your remedy: 11 Ways to Ease a Nasty Hangover.)

Drink This: Champagne (5 oz = 127 cal, 8 g carbs)

Not That: Gin & Tonic (8 oz = 240 cal, 16 g carbs)


More from Men's Health:

125 Best Foods For Men

The 2012 Men's Health Holiday Gift Guide

11 Ways to Ease a Nasty Hangover

How to Stay Thin This Holiday Season