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12 tips for avoiding weight gain during the holidays

Nutritionist and health expert Keri Glassman shares her top tips for avoiding weight gain during the holidays.
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

The holiday buzz is happening. It’s that time of year where lights, smells and sounds are in full holiday effect. In the name of being joyful this holiday season with wellness and fun in mind — and not letting all of those weight loss tips you stockpiled throughout the year go buh-bye — I want to set you up with a few healthy holiday habits.

The average weight gain during the four-week holiday period is actually closer to one pound than the seven to 10 pounds that many people believe it is. Sounds like good news, right? Don’t whip out your noise makers in cheer just yet. The downside is that people don’t usually lose this one pound once they’ve gained it. The average weight gain per year is two pounds which breaks down to approximately 20 pounds in a decade!

Why is this so bad?

Well, add 20 pounds in your 40’s, another 20 pounds in your 50’s and all of sudden you have a big increased risk for heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Holiday weight gain (if you gain that one pound and don’t lose it) could be blamed for half of this weight jump.

Not to be more of a grinch but it gets worse. Overweight people tend to gain more than this one pound. So if you are already trying to lose those extra pounds, then you’re even more at risk. One study showed that overweight people gain about 5 pounds during the holidays.

What is it about holiday lights, the smell of gingerbread cookies and Christmas music that packs on these pounds? It’s not necessarily one thing, but rather a combination of a whole bunch of factors including stress, alcohol, fried hors d'oeuvres, big celebratory meals, sweets and a reduction in exercise.

Let’s feel empowered this holiday season and not completely drained when we ring in the New Year. Here are 12 tips to pull in the reigns this holiday season:

1. Drink up wisely.

If you normally have drink seven drinks per week (moderate consumption for a woman) and then innocently turn that into 11 drinks for the holiday season, the extra 16 drinks (four drinks per four weeks of the holidays) equals about 1,600 calories.

Not so innocent anymore.

These extra drinks may also lead to poor sleep and a greater consumption of food. The calories may not sound so bad but they definitely contribute to that one pound weight gain. Instead, plan the nights that you will be indulging in alcohol and skip the nights that are not all that festive.

Do you really need that egg nog as you stop by your friend's holiday work party?

Also, match each glass of alcohol with one glass of water or seltzer. Avoid the eggnog and fancy coffee drinks — those calories take the worst revenge and can plump you up in no time.

RELATED: Is sorghum the new quinoa? Meet the trendy super grain you need to try

2. Go clean.

All those fried “picks” and “bites” add up faster than you can rip open any gift.

Four pieces of a spinach and cheese puff pastry will cost you about 260 calories and 17 grams fat. A “clean” serving of the beautiful crudite platter? It's only 15 to 20 calories!

You’ll save calories but also the fiber and water volume found in crudite or salad before a meal can lead to reduced hunger going into a meal. If you are the one planning the soiree, pair that crudite platter with a healthy dip. Make it a rule this year that you will skip all fried apps.

Wasn’t that easy?

3. Use hors d'oeuvres to your advantage.

Protein will help satisfy you and help you eat less, but you need to choose your protein starters as wisely as choose your tree ornaments. Four pieces of shrimp cocktail will pack a big protein punch for just 46 calories.

Chicken skewers and prosciutto wrapped asparagus are other good options.

Assess the situation before you dive into the pigs-in-a-blanket.

4. Plan your conscious indulgences.

A conscious indulgence is a planned treat that you add to your rockin’ lifestyle only because it’s delicious, makes you happy and is a part of being an empowered eater.

Your fave family get together with your Grandma’s famous chocolate cake? Plan an indulgence of a small slice. This will take out all the stress of “should I or shouldn’t I?” and the guilt feelings and overeating that may follow.

This holiday season, make sure you indulge this way and plan for no more than two each week during this season.

5. Have a safe comfort food.

You've gotten through the Xmas office doughnuts and a holiday lunch with homemade mac and cheese. But then the stress of gifts and your bonus kick in at 3 pm. The celery and peanut butter you planned on having for snack may not do the trick. Don’t get caught head first in that bowl of chocolates on your colleague's desk.

Have a safe comfort food snack ready-to-go:

  • 1 oz. of cheddar cheese and a small apple
  • 2 tsp. peanut butter with 1/2 oz. of dark chocolate
  • cheddar cheese and tomato grilled on whole grain bread may do the trick.

6. Freeze the leftovers right away!

People often over consume 3,000 calories at a big holiday meal and then again with leftovers the next day. Instead of keeping leftovers in the fridge, freeze them right away so it takes more effort to dig back in. You can also buy Tupperware in advance and gift away goodie bags to guests. Or, you can use them up in a yummy and healthy way: I heart a good ham frittata.

7. Keep your healthiest qualities in check.

Are you a breakfast eater? Do you always have a healthy afternoon snack? People often put their healthy behaviors aside during this time of year. Pinpoint and acknowledge two (we all have some!) of your very best habits and focus on keeping them consistent.

8. Wake up and get your exercise on.

Research shows that women who worked out in the morning not only moved more the rest of the day, but they also responded less to pictures of tempting food in comparison to the days that they have a morning workout. Also, research from the National Weight Control Registry shows that people who have lost weight — and kept it off — regularly exercise about one hour a day. Schedule it in! Don’t say, “I’ll get back to that in January.” How are you sweating today?

9. Fab your gorgeous self out.

Wear something formfitting that makes you feel AMAZING. The idea behind this is that if you’re wearing something tight that makes you feel good about yourself, you are more mindful about overindulging and stuffing yourself silly. Take a few minutes before your guests arrives or you head out to your holiday soiree to make sure you feel good about how you look.

10. Think about someone you admire who exudes health, confidence and positivity (with a little sex appeal thrown in) and take a little inspiration.

Why not feel amazing on the outside?! You’re amazing on the inside! Keeping your appearance on the forefront of your brain may help you make good food choices.

11. Out of sight, out of mind.

Research shows that when food is in our line-of-sighe, we’re much more likely to eat it. So, get out of the kitchen, away from the buffet and find a game to play with the family.

12. Feast on good company.

I always encourage my clients to make their guests the focus of the day, rather than the food.

For real this time, be in the moment. Laugh. Really listen to your cousin’s story about his recent trip. Ask your grandma about what the holidays were like 50 years ago.

Make eye contact, connect and engage with every person who is special to you in the room and make sure that you leave the event full of love, rather than cheese puffs.

You don’t have to treat each festive meal like your last supper to be satisfied, nourished and full of holiday joy. contributor Keri Glassman, R.D., New York, is the founder of Nutritious Life.