Here’s the thing about the holidays: The actual meal (e.g. Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner) doesn’t pack on the pounds. It’s actually all of the things we do before and after the treat-yourself-palooza that keep us in a steady weight-gaining zone straight through to spring break. That’s because most of us start out by viewing a holiday meal — or let’s be honest, a full day of holiday meals — as an eating free-for-all.
But what takes us from the traditional holiday indulgence to the season-long, all-you-can-eat buffet is lack of preparation for what you’ll eat the next day — and the days and weeks after that. Where to start? This super simple, streamlined to-do list will help you spring back from any indulgent day of eating and drinking in no time.
1. Start by making a post-holiday game plan.
When you’re shopping for the feast, grab a few extra essentials that will really matter when you’re through the leftovers: eggs, fresh or frozen veggies (for omelets), Greek yogurt, pre-cut veggies, fruit, hummus or nut-butter (for smoothies and snacking) and canned salmon or tuna (for adding protein to salads) can help you automate the get-back-to-business eating habits. If you’re traveling or back to work, pack snacks. Toss part-skim cheese, 1 ounce of nuts or nut butter, fruit and whole food-based snack bars in your bag and taken with you to-go.
2. Eat more, not less.
It may sound counterintuitive, but the first step to getting back on track after holiday food coma is to actually eat! Why? Going long periods of time without food does double-duty harm on our healthy-eating efforts by both slowing down your metabolism, and priming you for another binge later in the day. (Think: You’ve skipped breakfast and lunch, so you’re ready to takedown a whole turkey by dinner!) Make it your mission to eat three meals and two snacks every day, and don’t wait longer than 3 to 4 hours without eating. Set a “snack alarm” on your phone if needed.
3. Snack, don’t graze.
If you’re still hangry after a big bag of potato chips, that’s because you’re missing the two key components of a satisfying snack: protein and fiber! Aim to make all of your snacks about 150 to 250 calories and combo of a fiber-packed carb (e.g. whole-grains, fruit, veggies) with lean protein (like eggs, legumes, nuts, part-skim dairy). Translation: That’s about a slice of 100% whole grain bread, an apple and a tablespoon of peanut butter, 1 slice of cheese and small pear, 2 tablespoons of hummus with chopped veggies and about 13 whole- grain crackers … you get the point. The combo of these nutrients helps keep you satisfied — not just full. Protein- and fiber-rich snacks will help stave off cravings, and keep you energized for longer.
4. Start tracking.
Loads of research demonstrates people who log everything they eat — especially those who log while they’re eating — are more likely to lose weight AND keep it off for the long haul. Start tracking on an app like MyFitnessPal, when the pounds start sneaking up on you. It’ll help you stay accountable for what you’ve eaten. Plus, you can easily identify some other areas of your daily eats that could use a little improvement when it’s written out in front of you.
5. Skip the “extras.”
Key sneaky calorie culprits: sugar-sweetened beverages like juice, sweetened coffee and tea, dressings, gravies and sauces, sweetened dried fruit, and condiments like mayo on sandwiches and cooking oil in stir fries can rack up calories quickly. Your best bet for expediting weight loss: Stick with unsweetened beverages only. Making some calculated, empowered choices when it comes to your diet can help you figure out the things you know you can do without without feeling deprived.
6. Be kind to yourself.
The number one way to nip any potential diet-derailing damage in the bud is to not kick yourself for indulging. Yes, we are all humans who sometimes celebrate a little too hard, eat pie for a few meals in a row and bathe in mashed potatoes for a little longer than we “should.” And yes, we all have a knack for beating ourselves up when things don’t go exactly as planned. Resist the urge to throw yourself a pity-party because that’s the key to improving your health and staying on track for the long-term.