Nonfat eggnog and and sugar-free cakes are gross. Don’t @me.
This holiday season, we're here to tell you to stop worrying about all the food you're going to eat — especially if you're trying to lose weight.
Yup, we really did just say that. But hear us out! If you're on track to lose weight right now, then we totally get that it can be daunting to think about all the food coming your way over the next couple of weeks. I mean, there are potlucks at work, potlucks with your friends, holiday parties, and of course, the actual food your family will probably cook — if you celebrate any of the actual holidays, at least. All of these can be hurdles to accomplishing your weight loss goals, and that's why we're here to tell you that there is a way to have your cake and lose weight, too. It just boils down to eating your favorite holiday foods in a more thoughtful way, and staying on track at other times.
To understand what that even means, BuzzFeed Health spoke to registered dietitians Albert Matheny, nutritional advisor for Promix Nutrition and co-founder of SoHo Strength Lab, Abby Langer, owner of Abby Langer Nutrition, and Lauren Ott, aka The Dessert Dietitian. Here's what they had to say about it.
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Forget about calories, carbs, or whatever else concerns you for just a couple of meals, and actually enjoy the food your mama made ya (or whoever it is that's cooking).
It could be a piece of pie or cake, or an entire plate's worth of all the food you grew up with. Either way, it's food that you really like — you might even crave it this time of the year — and you should definitely give yourself the pass to enjoy it stress-free, all three dietitians say. "I never tell anyone to not eat a certain food," Matheny tells BuzzFeed Health. "If there's a food you like to eat, it's all about enjoying it, but in moderation." You could apply this rule to what you eat any time of the year, but during the holidays, you should also consider that this food is meant to be enjoyed with friends and family — it's all part of embracing the joy of the holiday season. "It's nice that you're eating food that somebody actually prepared and cares about," says Matheny.
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Also, a holiday meal or two probably isn't going to add on as many pounds as you think.
You might've heard that the average person gains like 5 or 10 pounds during the holiday season, but Ott tells BuzzFeed Health that the amount might be closer to 1 pound, and there's even a small study (though not a very recent one) that supports this. The honest truth is there’s not enough evidence to give us a definite answer.
So why does it feel like you're several pounds heavier after eating all that food? It's water-weight, Langer says. "Hopping on the scale after you overindulge is irrelevant. What you're measuring is actually the volume of food that you've consumed, plus water or fluid that you're retaining, because generally when we eat a big meal — especially during the holidays — it tends to be high in sodium," she says. And then there are also all the carbs that tend to go into these meals. "Carbohydrates bind water, so you're going to retain water when you eat a lot of them," Langer says.
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Instead of continuing to try to lose weight during the holidays, focus instead on maintaining your weight and enjoying yourself.
It's too easy to eat a fuck ton of food for dinner (and maybe even leftovers the next day) and think, "Welp, there goes that. I tried. Let's try again once New Year's comes." But this way of thinking is really just counterproductive to all the hard work you've already put in. "If you overindulge, that’s normal, but getting back to your healthy eating habits in between those times of overindulgence — because everybody does during the holidays — will help you stay on track," Langer says.
So try not to feel guilty about it, and definitely don't be too hard on yourself, and look at your weight loss program as having ups and downs. It might be easier to focus on what Langer says your goal this time of year should actually be: keeping your weight where it's at. "I tell people, 'Don't expect to lose weight during the holidays.' If you maintain your weight and make the efforts to maintain it, that is amazing. And if you gain a few pounds, it's not a big deal. Don't have an all-or-nothing attitude — it sabotages your efforts 100%," she says. "One or two meals never wrecked a diet.”
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And rather than putting effort into restricting yourself, spend some time cultivating helpful food habits, like paying attention to portions and listening to when your body is full.
You might feel so damn satisfied after eating your holiday dinner, but fast forward like 30 minutes and it's FOOD COMA TIME. So try eating a smaller portion and seeing how you feel after that, Matheny says, because you might be satisfied enough to not want anymore. "It's better to have one piece of pie and get close to 100% of the enjoyment that you would get if you ate two, and then you felt sick after and were unhappy that you had an extra 1,000 calories that you didn't need."
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Eating breakfast and lunch — rather than saving your appetite — will keep you from becoming a ravenous monster, too.
Let's be honest, we've all done this, then piled on a literal mountain of food when dinner came around. It's called "saving your calories" and Langer says it's actually counterproductive. Why? Because when you skip meals to prep for a bigger meal later on, by the time that meal comes around, you're ready to devour every damn thing in sight — not to mention there's also the halo effect making you think you've been “good” all day, and now it's time to go hard AF, says Langer. "You undoubtedly will have less self-control and overeat, and eat faster than usual, if you’re just ravenous," Matheny says.
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With all that said, remember that you want to get to a point where you don't really have to think about every last calorie every time you eat.
If you're trying to lose weight and have actually adopted a balanced diet, rich in minimally-processed and whole foods, and made up of portions that correspond to your appetite and hunger cues, then you won't have to track everything because what you're eating is inherently healthy, Langer says.
"The best way to set it up in your head is to know that one day isn't going to define the rest of your month or even your week," Matheny adds. "I just think that healthy eating and living is bigger than that one actual meal that you have with your family. So keep that as a reference so that you're not blowing things out of proportion, and enjoy it."
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In conclusion: Enjoy the holidays and the delicious food they bring to us!
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