9 Ways to Prepare for the Holidays if You Have Obesity

From Thanksgiving all the way through to New Year’s, the holidays seem to bring with them an obstacle course of potential calorie bombs and less-than-ideal food choices. You know the routine: sitting and eating, sitting and eating. More sitting. More eating. Repeat.

This can be especially disheartening and hard to deal with if you have obesity; you may even find yourself dreading the holidays because of it. Here are some tips for breaking the cycle.

1
Keep the Sugar out of the House

Sweets of fresh pastry that is made
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Don’t bring it home, and, if you’re hosting, let guests know ahead of time that you would rather they didn’t bring desserts over.

The consumption of added sugars has been identified as one of the leading causes of the obesity epidemic.

According to the American Heart Association, major sources of added sugars in our diets are soft drinks, candy, cakes, cookies, pies, fruit drinks, dairy desserts and milk products (such as ice cream and sweetened yogurt), and cereals. Most sweetened beverages and fruit drinks contain so much added sugar, in fact, that they have been referred to as “liquid sugar” by some experts.

Looking at that list, you’ll probably notice how many holiday desserts and treats fall into this category. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the holiday buffet; just keep in mind when making your selections that you’ll generally be better off with savory than with sweet.

2

Multi-generation family eating in kitchen
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It’s a good idea to eat a healthy snack, or even a small, healthy meal, prior to heading out to a holiday party, dinner, or buffet. That way you’ll be less tempted to indulge in empty calories, and will eat less of them if you do, simply because you won’t be too hungry when you arrive.

But more than that, see if you can’t shift the majority of your calorie intake to earlier in the day. Research suggests that, when it comes to preventing weight gain, it really does matter what time of day you eat the majority of your calories.

Studies have found that eating earlier in the day is associated with losing more weight, and doing so faster, than eating the majority of calories in the evening or late at night.

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3

Getting ready for training
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Not only will keeping to a regular routine help fend off stress and make what can be an unpredictable time less hectic, but keeping up your regular exercise will help hold weight gain at bay, too.

Try to get in your regular workout even when traveling or on holidays, and be sure to stand up and walk around after larger meals in particular. Staying in motion is key. And research has shown that walking for just 15 minutes after eating a meal can significantly improve blood sugar levels.

So grab a friend or family member and go for a walk after that holiday dinner. At the very least, help out with the dishes and the cleanup instead of heading straight for the couch to watch television!

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4

Family Preparing Salad in Garden
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Study after study has shown that the more whole fruits and vegetables you eat, the lower your risk for many chronic diseases, including cancer, obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease—including heart disease and stroke.

Fruits and vegetables constitute low-calorie foods. A report by the World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that there is convincing evidence that eating fruits and vegetables decreases the risk for obesity. Compared to high-calorie foods such as processed foods that are high in sugar and fat, fruits and vegetables are less likely to contribute to obesity or overweight.

And, because they contain higher amounts of dietary fiber and other nutrients, they are associated with a lower risk for diabetes and insulin resistance. For the same reasons, they also make people feel full with fewer calories, thus helping to prevent weight gain.

So, when you’re trying to make healthy food choices this holiday season, you can’t go wrong with vegetables and fruits. Just make sure they aren’t in a pie or casserole—that would, of course, defeat the purpose.

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5

Woman out walking two dogs in a forest
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Not only does this mean more quality and bonding time for you and your pooch, but research shows that your pet can, indeed, help you lose weight and prevent you from gaining more.

Most studies have shown that people who care for pets tend to be more physically active, and, of all pets (horses and other equines not included here), dogs seem to encourage the greatest amount of physical activity.

Walking your dog often means you’ll take a longer walk than you would if you were on your own. One Canadian study found that dog caretakers walked an average of 300 minutes per week, compared with 168 minutes per week for those without a dog, and the dog caretakers noted the obligation to care for their dogs as being a key motivator driving this difference.

Research has also found that dog walkers actually walk faster than those walking alone without a dog. Brisk walking, in turn, offers even greater health benefits than walking slowly or just strolling along. Due to the greater physical effort required, walking faster will burn more calories than walking slower for the same period of time.

Walking your dog can also be a source of joy and a healthy way to find stress relief from the hectic whirlwind of the holidays.

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6

Man weighing self in bathroom, low side view
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Preferably first thing in the morning, every morning. You might think that this could be counterproductive, because it may cause you to despair if you discover that that heavy meal the night before did, indeed, pack on the pounds. But on the contrary, weighing yourself daily can improve your long-term weight-loss progress, and there is plenty of research to back this up.

Weighing yourself daily enables you to catch a couple of pounds of weight gain before it becomes 10 or 20 pounds. It is all about awareness and empowerment—and knowing your numbers is the first step.

As mentioned above, several research studies have found that those who weigh themselves daily lose significantly more weight than those who weigh themselves less frequently than every day.

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7
Start a New Tradition

Three kids running in winter forest
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Most families have some sort of holiday tradition. See if you can’t make yours a healthy one. For instance, I know of many families who have a New Year’s Day Hike or a Thanksgiving walk/run for charity.

If your family doesn’t already do this, think of a fun way that you can incorporate physical activity from which all will benefit. This is so important for children, too, particularly as childhood obesity continues to pose a major public health problem. Children learn by example, and you can help ensure that yours is an example that puts a priority on promoting and maintaining good health.

8
Keep it Simple

Taking a walk on the winter side
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If you don’t already have a regular exercise routine (see number 3 above), you can still be active during the holidays. It is as simple as putting on your shoes and going for a walk. Better yet, see if you can get one or more family members or friends to go with you, thus working in some quality face-to-face time while you burn calories and stay in motion.

An overwhelming amount of research has upheld the many health benefits of taking a daily walk. In fact, brisk walking is often cited as the best form of exercise for preventing weight gain. Walking is a simple and easy form of exercise that can help you lose weight, help you keep it off, and prevent you from gaining more.

For instance, researchers who analyzed data from the annual English Health Surveys from 1999 to 2012 concluded that a simple, brisk, 30-minute walk five days per week was better for keeping off the pounds than similar time spent at the gym.

Daily walking will also improve your overall mobility, helping with arthritis and keeping you more flexible and mobile overall. Staying active with brisk walking improves cardiovascular fitness, bone density, lung function, and even brain function--all of which translate into better quality of life over the long run as well as increased longevity. What better gift to give yourself this holiday season?

9
Be Kind to Yourself

Group of female friends enjoying New Years Eve party
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While being kind and generous to others this holiday season, be sure to do the same for yourself, too. Don’t beat yourself up if you “blow” your diet one day or if you go overboard on dessert at a party, or even if you turn to emotional eating during a particularly stressful time. What is important is to look to the future, remember that all is not lost, and simply pick up where you left off, eating healthfully next time and as many times after that as you can muster. It is the overall trend that matters in the long run.

Sources:

Brown SG, Rhodes RE. Relationships among dog ownership and leisure-time walking in Western Canadian adults. Am J Prev Med 2006;30:131-36.

Johnson R et al. Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation 2009.

Lordan G, Pakrashi D. Do all activities “weigh” equally? How different physical activities differ as predictors of weight. Risk Anal 2015 May 20.

Steinberg DM, Bennett GG, Askew S, Tate DF. Weighing every day matters: daily weighing improves weight loss and adoption of weight control behaviors. J Acad Nutr Diet 2015;11:511-8.

World Health Organization. Information sheet: promoting fruit and vegetable consumption around the world.

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