Celebrate the holidays while staying true to your diet with a little help from top nutrition experts. They've seen it all and are here to share their tips for holiday success so you can upset the status quo and emerge from the holidays with your waistline intact.
1. Food in surprising places
Holiday treats can appear without warning: on coworkers' desks, by the office printer, in the break room, at the makeup counter, in the doctor's waiting room, even the gym — no place is off limits for a gingerbread cookie during the holidays.
Expert solution: Have a plan of attack
"BYOS" — or, bring your own snack — is the way to go according to New York-based nutritionist Bonnie Taub-Dix.
Taub-Dix tells her clients to be prepared for unexpected challenges by "[carrying] your own snack with you to prevent spontaneously spending more calories than you planned on." She recommends packing a snack bag with unsalted nuts and dried fruit. Try in-shell pistachios and unsulfured no-sugar-added dried apricots. She's also a fan of almond butter on whole grain crackers to squash cravings and avoid less healthy choices.
It's easy to give yourself a pass to indulge during the holidays, but don't "succumb to the six-week buffet of treats," says dietician Marisa Moore.
Remember that the holidays stretch over several weeks, so treat it more like a marathon than a sprint. "Those extra calories add up," says nutrition expert Sharon Palmer. "Studies show that people really do gain weight over the holidays," and it's not lost during the spring and summer, making it a big part of annual weight gain for adults.
Expert solution: Pace yourself
You won't gain 10 pounds from one party, but you just might if you overindulge night after night.
Flip the trend and make smarter choices day after day (extra pounds won't disappear overnight either). Moore ascribes to the old saying, out of sight, out of mind: "Don't take treats home with you and limit your time in the break room if you're going to be tempted." Palmer's top tip for her clients is to "plan around your holiday events; if you have a dinner, then make sure the rest of your day's meal choices are stellar."
At parties, Palmer recommends to start by filling most of your plate with fruits and veggies that will "fill you up and allow you to have a small portion of the more indulgent offerings." Also be sure to make your calories count. If something is short of delicious, don't finish it. "No need to waste good calories on bad food," Moore says.
3. Mindless eating
"I think the biggest challenge and mistake people can make over the holidays is by not paying attention to all those little tiny tastes," says Shari Steinbach, a Meijer Healthy Living manager.
Expert solution: Mindful eating
Steinbach says that in order to prevent holiday weight gain, "first be aware of all the temptations around you ... Awareness and planning are vital!" She recommends planning regular healthy meals and snacks, and scheduling exercise even when time is tight.
Choosing foods that will help you help yourself are also a good bet. In-shell pistachios, mandarin oranges, satsumas, strawberries, tail-on shrimp, unpitted olives, skewered foods and individually-wrapped candies will all leave tell-tale signs behind about portions, making it easier to literally see when you've had enough. (Hint: the super healthy foods are listed first!)
4. Stress eating
Moore notes that travel, work demands and a full social calendar can wreak havoc on your body: "Stress and a lack of sleep create a recipe for weight gain."
Expert solution: Sleep it off
"Never underestimate the power of a good night's rest," Moore advises. She recommends aiming for seven to nine hours of shut-eye each night.
5. Well-meaning cookie pushers
It can be hard for clients to say no to a well-meaning offer of holiday treats says Kara Landau, dietitian and nutritionist. It's especially true when the treats are homemade or a specialty item, and it's important to be gracious.
Expert solution: Graciously decline
If you're at a party, keep your hands full, leaving no room to accept extra food from friends, relatives or waiters. Landau suggests making a small plate of the healthier items from the buffet table and grabbing a drink. That way you can just "smile and show them that you are already taken care of."
6. Going on a diet
You don't want to gain weight during the holidays, but it's also probably not the best time to try to lose weight either, according to nutritionist and exercise physiologist Felicia D. Stoler. Tactics like "saving up" for holiday parties by skipping meals will only make you more likely to give into unhealthy foods that are often offered at gatherings like these.
Expert solution: Indulge a little
Make sure to emphasis "a little" here. "Let's face it: there are so many holiday gatherings and we usually cannot control the foods that are available at parties," Solter says, Her advice is to forget filling up before a party only to watch people indulge at a party.
Instead, she recommends prioritizing fruits and veggies earlier in the day so there's room for grains, dairy and even protein at the party without too much worry. For your sweet tooth, dietitian and nutrition consultant Christy Wilson says, "Get a bird's eye view of your options and pick your favorite or consider sharing a few treats with a coworker. In reality, the few bites taste the very best, anyway!"
The bottom line? Enjoy the holidays and time with friends and family. Remember that food brings us together and isn't the enemy. Just remember to look for a balance between indulging when it's worth it and treating yourself to wellness when it's not.