For most people, the end of year holidays are times filled with social gatherings, recycled holiday movies and last minute shopping. Unfortunately, for the majority of Americans, the holidays are also a time for unwanted weight gain. Between Thanksgiving and the New Year, Americans typically gain 3 to 10 pounds! Some might contend that a pound or two is not a big deal, but that is simply not true.

A study has found that adults who maintain their weight over time, even if they are overweight, have fewer risk factors for heart disease and are less likely to develop other chronic diseases than those who gain weight. Another reason holiday weight gain is so damaging is the weight tends to stay with a person, leading to continual weight gain.

To prevent weight gain, it is important to understand why it happens in the first place. Holiday weight gain is not caused by eating too much on one day; it is the accumulation of family affairs, office parties, gift baskets and more, all full of high calorie foods. It is also the lack of activity and structured exercise. The combination of busy schedules and cold nights cause many people to stop exercising. The best defense against putting on extra weight is to be prepared. Below is a list of tips that can help anyone to keep from falling in to the pit of holiday weight gain.

  1. Don’t starve ahead: By eating normal amounts of healthy foods before going to a party, you are less hungry and less likely to eat large amounts of unhealthy foods.
  2. Talk more at parties: When you talk more, you eat less. If you are hosting a party, plan activities like games or singing (don’t make food your focus).
  3. Bring healthy foods to parties: Bring something light (fruit or vegetable platters).
  4. Brush your teeth or chew gum at parties: Sneak off to the bathroom and freshen our teeth. You are less likely to eat when your breath tastes like mint.
  5. Avoid leftovers: If you are having a party, give away unhealthy food that might tempt you later. If you are at a party, don’t bring sweets and treats home.
  6. Choose paper over plastic: Grab a napkin to put your food on, instead of filling a big plate.
  7. Learn to say NO! Here are some suggestions: “No, thank you.” “I appreciate all of your efforts and have enjoyed every bite.” “I’m full.”
  8. Work out with Charlie Brown: When you watch your favorite holiday shows, ride your stationary bike, lift weights, or walk in place. Avoid eating “special treats.”
  9. Keep your date with the gym: Make an effort to maintain (or start) your exercise routine. Many studies have found that exercise is the most effective way to prevent weight gain.

Dr. Patrick Friedli is medical director of the Healthy Weight Program at Munson Medical Center, Traverse City.