Holiday Tips for Curbing Cravings and Calories
When it comes to food, the holiday season seems to get longer every year. Somehow, Halloween candy appears by Labor Day and then merges into everything pumpkin – from pumpkin pie to pumpkin spice lattes. Then there are apple pies, mincemeat pies (do people still eat those?), Christmas cookies, eggnog, chocolate gelt, champagne, and Valentine’s Day candy without a break – and don’t forget chocolate Easter bunnies. Even with a pandemic that has slowed everyone’s social calendars, there are still events and celebrations punctuated with extra sweets and extra calories, often becoming shopping cart staples rather than occasional treats.
Although you might have heard that many people gain five pounds during the holidays, studies actually show the real number is far less – an average of just under one pound each year.1 While this appears to be good news on the surface, the data also shows the vast majority don’t lose this weight over the remainder of the year. This means that holiday weight gain tends to be cumulative in adults, making it a significant contributor to progressive weight gain as we age.
Because the best strategy always is prevention, here are some tips to help you navigate the temptations of the season.
1. Toss the Halloween candy now
Really. Just stop reading this for a minute and go throw it away. Those little mini candies are far too easy to snack on and their size tends to fool us into thinking they have few calories. Wrong! Those little minis tend to pack 60-80 calories each and 10 grams of sugar2…and you never eat just one. You can buy more to hand out next year because they always come back.
2. Plan your meals
We often get ourselves into altered eating patterns during the holidays, doing things like skipping meals in anticipation of larger ones later, snacking on extra sweets or desserts, and eating at irregular times. This is okay on occasion (say eating a very light lunch before Christmas dinner) but if you start doing it often, it can be a problem for maintaining stable blood sugar and controlling your appetite.
If you find you’re getting out of step with your regular eating patterns, then plan your meals ahead of time. There are a lot of great meal planning apps, although a simple spreadsheet or a written list on paper is fine. If you can get yourself on a regular schedule, then you should find that hunger and cravings at odd times will diminish.
3. Watch the liquid calories
Liquids can feel like free calories… but they aren’t. A small (5 ounce) glass of wine has around 130 calories.3 Mixed drinks can have 200-500 calories. A cup of eggnog? – 250-350 calories depending on the preparation. To put that into perspective: to burn off two glasses of wine or one mixed drink, you’ll need to run 2.5 miles or put in an hour of biking/walking to burn it off.
In addition, alcohol is metabolically hard on your body – it’s processed a lot like a sugar, but has calories closer to fat. So limiting your intake has many health benefits. Craving something sweet to drink? Consider a stevia-sweetened, low calorie beverage. A recent study showed that this might actually decrease your appetite and cravings without raising your blood sugar.4 Cheers to that!
4. Consider a protein shake
Another great option to help curb appetite and cravings during the holidays is a protein shake. Whey protein, in particular, has been shown in multiple studies to reduce appetite and increase satiety, although other proteins can have similar results.5 Consider timing a shake when you strategically want to reduce your hunger (such as before going to a holiday gathering or when you often find yourself reaching for a snack). You can even find some great recipes to turn your protein drink into a holiday treat.
5. Keep moving
The list of reasons why exercise is good for you is a long one. It regulates metabolism, body weight, energy levels, and mood, and benefits nearly every aspect of health from heart health to immune function. One important benefit of exercise is helping to maintain energy balance – exercise burns the calories you eat and drink. If you burn more calories than you eat and drink, you will usually lose weight. But if you simply use up the excess calories you take in, you basically keep your weight steady while getting all the other benefits of working out.
Added bonus: the muscle you build from exercise burns more calories than fat, so the more you exercise, the more benefits you have. You don’t have to put in hours at the gym (although you can) – instead take a brisk walk with the dog or with friends, spend some extra time in the garden, run up and down the stairs at your home or apartment, or check out fun workout offerings on YouTube or through your cable company. You can even turn your holiday shopping into exercise if you like multi-tasking!
6. Don’t skip your holiday favorites
Deprivation leads to compensation. Holiday foods and drinks are often associated with positive feelings of joy, comfort, family, community, tradition, and more. So you should enjoy them! If you stick with consuming your favorite pie, candy, or other treat as part of the intended event, then chances are it won’t have a negative impact on your health or weight.
Emotionally, denial of foods that bring us pleasure in the intended way often leads to negative feelings and unhealthy compensation. If you are generally keeping good habits, then indulging in your holiday favorites should be just fine.
Looking for something with a little holiday spice that might actually benefit metabolism? Try a vanilla cinnamon flavored MediBolic® shake. Check out the great shake recipes in Thorne’s Weight Management Program guide.
- Yanovski J, Yanovski S, Sovik K, et al. A prospective study of holiday weight gain. N Engl J Med 2000;342(12):861-867.
- Carb counts for Halloween candy. Diabetes forecast. http://www.diabetesforecast.org/2010/oct/carb-counts-for-halloween-candy.html [Accessed November 3, 2020.]
- Calorie count – alcoholic beverages: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000886.htm [Accessed November 5, 2020]
- Stamataki N, Scott C, Elliott R, et al. Stevia beverage consumption prior to lunch reduces appetite and total energy intake without affecting glycemia or attentional bias to food cues: a double-blind randomized controlled trial in healthy adults. J Nutr 2020;150(5):1126-1134.
- Kohanmoo A, Faghih S, Akhlaghi M. Effect of short- and long-term protein consumption on appetite and appetite-regulating gastrointestinal hormones, a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Physiol Behav 2020;226:113123. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2020.113123