September 29th, 2023

6 Strategies to Avoid the Holiday Weight Gain


Beat the Holiday Weight Gain Woes

Holiday weight gain is dreaded by all.  No one likes feeling their pants get snugger.  While it does appear that holiday weight gain is common among Americans, research conflicts with exactly how much (likely 1-5 pounds).  However, it does appear to show that even if only 1 pound is gained, it isn’t lost in the spring and summer months, leading to a steady weight incline.  Those who are overweight or obese may have an even greater propensity for weight gain during the holidays according to some research.

The holidays are a season where we enjoy family, traditions, community, giving and celebrating life.  They don’t need to be a reminder of the dreaded holiday pounds.  But, weight gain is not a result of 1 big family meal, it accrues over weeks as small choices and little decisions add up.  

By creating a plan early in the season, you can decide how you want to respond, choices you will make, and strategies you will implement so that you don’t have any lingering pounds following you into the New Year.

These are 6 strategies that will help you avoid the holiday weight gain…

Decide What You Are Bringing to the Party

Celebrations, gatherings, parties, meetups, gift exchanges- the calendar fills up fast as the holiday season approaches.  One clever way to stay in control of your food choices and always have a healthy option available is to bring it.  

No one can make you bring the triple chocolate pie or the buttery rich potato casserole or the decadent cheese dip with bread.  You can always choose.  The key is to make the decision in advance before you are asked so that you have a response ready.  If invited to a party, it is likely you will be asked to bring 1 of 3 items: an appetizer, side dish, or dessert.  

ACTION STEP: BEFORE the holidays sneak up behind you, decide on a healthy, but delicious dish that will fit each category that you are willing to make.  Here are some ideas:


Broccoli Hummus Snack Bites

Cheesecake Dip with fruit

Side Dish

Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Pecans

Epic Kale Salad with Grapes, Blue Cheese & Walnuts

Cheesy Loaded Mashed Cauliflower


No-Bake Carrot Cake Snack Balls

Plan Out Exercise at the Beginning of the Week

…and seriously consider early morning workouts.  

Exercise tends to get neglected during the holidays because everyone is busier than ever. It feels difficult to squeeze it in, especially if you are an evening or after-work exerciser. Evening parties, shopping, and preparations suck up your time and energy.  Don’t discount your available time or effort.  If all you have is 15 minutes, then dedicate those minutes to a great, high-intensity workout.  Even if you are out of town, you can get creative with these ideas and don’t negate the power of a short walk.  Give what you have to give!  

ACTION STEP: At the beginning of each week, view your calendar and determine…

  • What days you will exercise
  • How long you will exercise on each day
  • Exactly what you are doing during your exercise session

Pray Before You Eat

The presence of God changes everything.  Many of us pray before we eat a family dinner as a ritual or routine.  It doesn’t mean we don’t mean what we say, but habits like these can often lose a little bit of their meaning.  

Consider how nourishing your body gives glory to God!  Think about how community meals, similar to the early church in Acts, are an act of worship.  Your Heavenly Father wants to be involved in every part of your life – invite Him and thank Him!  Ask Him for discernment, the spirit of self-control, and the ability to enjoy all the wonderful and diverse flavors of food!

ACTION STEP: Decide to pray before every eating experience.  If you are driving to the office holiday party, pray in the car.  If you are about to walk down the church hallway to the cookie exchange, pray.  Make an effort to pray over your food even when it is in a secular environment or not a part of the formal meal.  

Decide What to Do With Food Gifts

holiday weight gainGrowing up, my mom would receive dozens of treats – cookies, cakes, candies, pies, chocolates – during the holidays.  As a teacher, her kids would lavish her with food gifts. The kitchen bar would become the “treat counter.”  The heart behind the gifts was sweet and pure, but no one can or should attempt to eat all the treats that arrive on the doorstep every holiday season.  

The key is to decide now, what to do with all of it.  If you create your own method of disposal before the decadent treats arrive, it will be easier to handle them without feeling emotionally obligated to eat them.  The goal is to get them “out of sight” and even better, out of the house.

A few solutions:

  • Freeze a few treats and toss the rest.
  • Create a goodie bags and keep in the backseat of your car when you drive past those in need on the side of the road.
  • Move all treats to a difficult to reach place in the cabinet or pantry.

A few more thoughts… Consider what food gifts you intend on giving to others and accept that someone might toss your frosted cookies or family recipe fudge.  Instead, give a healthy food gift OR non-food gift to be respectful of other people’s health during the holidays.

ACTION STEP: Decide what is and is not acceptable in your home.  Create your plan now. How much will you allow in?  Are you okay with throwing food away?  If not, how will you dispose of it?

Make Half Your Plate Fruit and Veggies

weight gainThis strategy works.  It still leaves room for some higher calorie, rich or decadent foods, but sets a precedence and a focus.  No matter what party you’re attending, whether you meal-planned or not for the week or whether you are getting a quick bite to eat while you are out Christmas shopping, the goal is simple: half a plate of veggies and fruit.  

These foods are nutrient rich and have a great boost of fiber to help you get full and satisfied.  Of course, a healthy meal would ideally have some lean protein for satiety and possibly some whole grains or complex carbohydrate as well.  This also requires us to first scout out the food that is available so that we can find the veggies that aren’t covered in heavy toppings, breading and cream sauces.

ACTION STEP: Step up to the plate and make the decision that fruits and veggies are a priority during the holidays.  No matter where you are, aim to fill half your plate with colorful produce.

Keep Drinking Water

drinking waterAccording to the CDC, more than 50% of individuals drink at least 1 sugar-sweetened beverage per day, but during the holidays, I expect that number to increase.  Eggnog, apple cider, punch, coffee beverages and cocktails in addition to soda, sweet tea and juice are quite common at parties and gatherings and these numbers might surprise you.  But, it is also common to get busy and simply forget to drink during the day.

Dehydration can often be disguised as hunger.  This might encourage us to eat more or snack when our body really isn’t hungry but instead is thirsty.  Keeping a water beverage in your hand at a gathering may also help you eat less.  This strategy isn’t hard but does require intentionality.   

ACTION STEP: Set a daily water goal.  Keep a water bottle with you at all times.  Use an app or an alarm if you need a reminder to take a sip.  Try some of these hydrating beverages that are low in calories and big on flavor!  When at parties, intermingle water or sparkling water with “party” or high-calorie beverages.

So, what’s the play call?

Celebrate!  Have fun!  Enjoy the season!  There is no guilt or shame in enjoying some treats and pleasures throughout the holidays.  

Keep those dreaded holiday pounds away from your waistline by implementing 1 or 2 strategies that will help you stay focused on your health values through this hectic and fast-paced season.  That’s how you live with awe-inspiring joy and freedom.

Team, I am praying that all is well with you and that your body is as healthy as I know your soul is (3 John 1:2, TLB).

Jennifer Hunt, RDN, LD
Jennifer Hunt, RDN, LD is a nutrition communications dietitian whose joy and passion is to empower women to live healthy, balanced lives that are fulfilling and free of guilt and shame. She loves sharing real-life strategies to choosing nourishing foods, fitting in fitness and looking beyond the mirror. Jennifer enjoys encouraging women on her blog, Healthy Inspiration, taking walks with her daughter, cooking with her husband and trying out different kinds of physical activity.
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