If there’s ever a time of year that just automatically makes it harder to stick to our diets, it has to be those autumn months. The holidays start coming at us, one after another, and along with them come parties, food, and generally relaxed, jovial attitudes.
There are lots of reasons that the fall and winter make it more difficult to diet. Chances are, you’re one of those people who have experienced a diet failure in the fall and winter. This is usually followed by a panicked New Years Resolution once you notice those few extra pounds.
It IS possible, however, to avoid gaining weight around the holidays! The key is to be aware of the reasons we gain weight, so that we can avoid them. Let’s look at these common weight traps, and explore some ways to avoid them.
Cold, cold weather.
I mean, let’s be serious – who really wants to go for a run when it’s 15 degrees Fahrenheit outside? No one!
When the snow starts piling up, our outdoor activities are seriously limited. Even though of us who aren’t incredibly active end up taking fewer steps and getting overall less physical activity. Sometimes it’s as seemingly insignificant as driving to the grocery store instead of walking, but those steps – or lack of – add up.
It can also be harder for those of us with kids. We spend less time together outdoors, and more time indoors on our devices. Kids’ sports tend to be indoor sports – basketball, volleyball, and so on. And the outdoor sports? Well, when you’re stuck outside at 7 pm on a winter evening, the smell of hot chocolate from the football concession stand sure does smell good…
Combine that significant decrease in calories burned with the other weight traps on our list, and it’s easy to see how they can result in serious weight gain.
Holiday celebrations are perhaps one of the most significant reasons for weight gain. And this time of year, there are plenty of holidays. Halloween is all about candy, and the candy doesn’t disappear on November 1, either. Most of us end up with Halloween stashes well into the new year.
Thanksgiving is literally a celebration of the harvest. It can’t get more food-centric than that. Christmas usually consists of feasts, with large spreads at family gatherings. If you’re trying to avoid candy, Christmas isn’t the easiest time – in some homes, candy canes literally hang on the Christmas tree. Even New Years Eve can lead to disaster – we tend to celebrate the holiday with alcohol, which isn’t always low calorie. And what better day is there to use the excuse “I’ll start my diet tomorrow?”
Holidays tend to revolve around the family. For some of us, it’s the only time of the year that we get to visit extended family members. Of course, family time is great, but it often leads to pot lucks and smorgasbord type of meals, where we aren’t completely in control of what we’re eating. In addition, there’s always someone who is skeptical of your weight loss plan. Whether it’s your grandma trying to fatten you up (grandparents love feeding people) or judge-y Aunt Karen, always questioning every decision you make, chances are, there’ll be pressure to eat. Sometimes the stress alone is enough inducement to overeat.
As summer comes to an end, we can’t ignore the fact that the sun goes down earlier, often resulting in dark skies as early at 5:00 pm. When it’s cold and dark outside, it’s tempting to stay indoors, cozy up with warm blankets, and eat. Cold weather and dark nights somehow make us crave comfort food. My mom is famous in our family for saying, “it’s going to be cold this weekend, so I’m making chili.” Sometimes, cold weather just demands warm food!
More often than not, too, those comfort foods are full of carbs. We hunker down and eat macaroni and cheese, chili, soup, potatoes… foods that fill us up and keep our bellies warm. Those carbs make us sleepy, and we’re content to stay home, cozy up, and indulge in more comfort foods, keeping the cycle going. Nobody says it’s not enjoyable, but it’s not good for our diets.
Fewer fresh fruits and vegetables.
Peak growing season for most fresh fruits and vegetables is obviously spring and summer, and it’s much more difficult in many parts of the country to get fresh fruits and vegetables when those fall and winter months set in. Not to mention that with all that comfort food around, who wants a salad? This lack of fresh food makes it easy to resort to less-healthy go to side dishes that are either easy to find year round, like potatoes, or that come in a box.
Hiding in winter clothes.
Fall and winter tend to see us wearing big, bulky sweaters, sweatpants, leggings, and boots. Warm, cozy, and big, right? When it’s freezing outside but everywhere you go indoors is nice and toasty, layering is important.
But all those sweaters, coats, and scarves add bulk. It’s more about comfort than appearance, and we don’t always notice the cues that usually clue us in, telling us, “hey, you’re toting around an extra few pounds, so maybe you should put that third doughnut away.” Cues like jeans that are a little tighter than usual, or a shirt that doesn’t quite fit the way it used to. When we’re wearing loose, baggy, and bulky clothing, we don’t always notice the few pounds that creep on here and there, and those pounds tend to add up before we realize it.
Don’t give up – it’s possible to keep the weight off during the holidays
It seems like we’re doomed to put on weight during the holidays, just like bears fattening themselves up for winter. It’s so hard to avoid foods we shouldn’t eat, and temptation is everywhere.
But it’s not hopeless! With some strategic planning, determination, and a little bit of willpower, you can maintain your weight – or even lose weight, if that’s your goal – during the holidays. Let’s go through these common pitfalls and I’ll explain exactly how you can make them work for you.
After all, this is a lifelong journey, and it’s important, year-round!
Cold, cold weather? Work up a sweat anyway.
Yes, it’s harder to force yourself outside to exercise when it’s cold out there! But you’re starting with an advantage. You know that you’re likely to be less active during the fall and winter months, so around September, start setting some good habits that allow you to get a bit more exercise indoors.
For example, if you work on the second or third floor of your office building, start making it a habit to take the stairs. Sitting at a computer everyday doesn’t allow for much exercise, but if you grab five minutes each hour for a quick walk around your building, you’re adding in tons of steps without really even working very hard at it.
If you’re financially able, this is also a perfect time to get a gym membership. If you go to a gym that offers classes, you can try out new indoor exercises, like spin class or Pilates. Lots of gyms have discounts, especially during the winter months, and you can often sign up for as little as $10 per month.
Check out my article on exercising on keto for some great bodyweight routines that can be performed indoors.
And finally, even though it’s not formal exercise or a sport, we all know that running around the backyard with your kids is a fantastic workout. They’re tired of being cooped up, too; get outside and run around with them for fifteen minutes!
Are holidays problematic for you? Remember that it’s about the holiday, not the food.
I’ve been there.
I’ve been the one who, in a moment of defensiveness surrounding my bad choices, declared, “Come on, it’s the only time that I get to eat stuffing all year long, okay?”
Do you know how many times I crave stuffing the rest of the year? Never.
It’s only food.
We tend to put a lot of emphasis on rituals, and when those rituals include food, we seem to forget about what’s actually important. Halloween – well, that’s just about the candy. But when it comes to holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, we’re usually gathering with family to celebrate and be thankful. When we let ourselves get wrapped up in what we can’t have, we forget about the important things.
Try to remember why you’re there – it’s probably not actually about the food at all. Your life isn’t going to end because you don’t get to eat the stuffing.
Nevertheless, if you still struggle with turning down the foods you shouldn’t have, there are some strategies you can implement to help you stay away.
- Eat ahead of time – If you’re going to a family gathering, eat a small meal before you go so that you’re not tempted to overindulge.
- Take something that you can eat – As a ketogenic dieter, family gatherings typically don’t feature lots of food that I can eat. I always make it a point to bring a side dish that I can definitely eat, so that I know there’ll be at least a few things that I can enjoy, too.
- Bring snacks – If there isn’t much for you to eat, having snacks on hand will keep you full until you’re back home and can eat however you wish. Nuts are a great snack; they’re convenient, filling, and don’t need to be refrigerated.
- Enjoy what you like in moderation – It may just be too hard to say no to some things, and that’s okay. Try choosing one treat, and enjoy it. (One treat – you don’t need the pumpkin pie, and the ice cream, and the cupcake.)
Family Pressure? Tell Aunt Ethel to back off.
Just kidding, obviously!
Of course, only you fully understand your family dynamics (and even you might not understand them). But trust me, it’s possible to make this work, no matter which family member is being pushy:
- The skeptical relative – “How many diets are you going to go on?” The best way to deal with this one is to just not engage. Your decisions, your life.
- The “I made this just for you!” relative – These relatives love you to death, and they’re going to show it with food. Sometimes you have to just eat the pumpkin pie, for Grandma’s sake.
- The “Honey, you don’t need to lose weight. You’re just big boned like the rest of us!” relative – Appreciate the support (and it is support, even though it might not seem like it) and stick to your plan. One look at the heaping plates of your relatives might clue you in as to why they’re “big boned.”
Ultimately, just remember your goals and try your best to stick with it.
Any other types of relatives that encourage you to overeat? Let me know in the comments!
Cozy evenings? Enjoy them – the right way.
Just because cold weather and fireplaces make us want comfort food, it doesn’t mean we have to give in. It’s easy to create new “cozy night” habits. Cuddle up under a blanket and watch a movie, sure, but replace the hot chocolate with decaffeinated coffee.
It’s also easy to replace lots of comfort foods with healthier versions. My ketogenic diet allows me to eat chili any time I want, because it’s really a great high fat, low carb meal – I just leave out the kidney beans, and make an almond flour cornbread instead of the box mix.
Similarly, macaroni and cheese – well, macaroni and cheese can never really be replaced, can it? But there are tons of recipes out there for cheesy baked cauliflower, which is a great replacement for the good old blue box.
Fewer fresh fruits and vegetables? Explore new options!
Just because you can’t get all of your favorite fruits and vegetables doesn’t mean that you can’t have some great options. Winter is a perfect time to explore fruits and vegetables that you may not have tried before. Greatist has a fantastic article on some of the best winter fruits and veggies.
It’s also important to remember the variety of frozen vegetables, too. Oftentimes frozen vegetables are cheaper than fresh ones. They’re also treated and frozen just hours after being picked. This means that they often retain nutrients better than their fresh counterparts. Check out Men’s Health Magazine for 11 of the healthiest frozen fruits and vegetables.
Is hiding in winter clothes hiding your weight gain? Be aware of what you’re doing.
This one is really simple – just pay attention.
I don’t necessarily recommend weighing yourself daily (torture!). Still, it’s a good idea to weigh yourself weekly, especially during a time of year that people tend to overindulge. Pay attention to how your clothes fit. Let that be a sign of whether or not you should modify what you’re doing daily.
If you’re following these tips and managing your behaviors daily, it should be fairly easy to be aware of any additional weight gain, and now you know how to keep it in check.
Most importantly, enjoy the holidays!