Christmas parties, cookie exchanges, and workplace potlucks – December is not kind to those of us who are watching our waistlines.
You may have worked hard to lose weight in 2016 and don’t want to see your results slip away. That’s why Global News reached out to weight-loss experts and real people who successfully lost weight and kept it off to ask for their tried and tested tips for how to navigate this tricky month of eating.
“Mindful eating is one of the hardest things to do at Christmas time. It’s your job to remind yourself of what Christmas is really about and shift your focus from food onto family time. It’s tricky for sure but I try to stay focused on what my goals are,” Christine Hopaluk told Global News.
For Hopaluk, 2016 marks the 12th Christmas since she lost 129 pounds and 14 dress sizes.
“Those who keep off weight are those who are consistent. It is hard getting through the season but I try to be as prepared as possible,” Nora Bock told Global News. She lost 130 pounds in about a year and a half.
Hopaluk and Bock joined Susan MacFarlane, an Ottawa-based registered dietitian specializing in weight management, to share their wisdom on surviving the holiday season without sabotaging weight loss efforts.
Hopaluk gets organized in December by filling out a calendar with dinner parties and potlucks but also puts in writing when she’ll have time to work out. She makes it detailed, too: she knows on which days she’ll do a full-body workout, when she’ll zero in on upper body exercise or when she’ll take on cardio. She can’t rely on going to the gym when she has “free time.” She makes it a planned date to stick to.
Hopaluk also enlists a buddy system to help her stay accountable. “You might skip out on the gym yourself, but you won’t let someone else down and not show up,” she said. Research suggests you get more out of a workout when you tag team it. Talking to a friend or someone hoping to maintain their weight too will keep you inspired during tempting times.
The hardest part of the holidays is losing control of your environment and routine, MacFarlane said. You visit your family home for a week, so you don’t have your kitchen for meal prep and your gym routine is sidelined, for example. But there are solutions: buy a day pass or week-long membership to the gym, queue up workout videos on YouTube or plan a ski trip with your siblings to get in your exercise. As for food, get involved in the meal prep by contributing a side dish or protein that you’re comfortable with eating.
Bock documents her calorie count for the day before she’s even eaten. “It’s an eye-opener what I would eat in a typical day,” she said. Doing this keeps her disciplined at parties – she knows how many calories she could be drinking away or nibbling on when hors d’oeuvres are presented to her. “If you know, you go in more prepared.”
Hopaluk urges against trying to shed pounds during such a tumultuous month of eating and drinking. “If I shift my focus to weight loss in December, it snowballs the other way. It creates hysteria, it’s just not doable because of all the events that come up,” she explained. Maintenance is much more feasible – keeping a healthy lifestyle and avoiding weight gain sets you up for a great start in January.
Hopaluk refuses to go to a party with a rumbling tummy. She whips up a smoothie with almond milk, protein powder, half a banana and a tablespoon of peanut butter if she’s in a rush before heading out. If she has time, she’ll prepare a plate with chicken breast with avocado, cottage cheese and plenty of vegetables. “If you go hungry, it’s a recipe for disaster. It’s really hard to shut off the train when you start to eat,” she said.
Pick a healthy protein first, and go for white meat over dark meat, the experts say. Then fill out your plate with fibre-rich options, such as leafy green vegetables, grains and beans. Hopaluk and Nora eat these parts of their plates first, filling them up so they aren’t overloading on the the mashed potatoes and garlic bread.
MacFarlane said people either go all in and try to give up on all the naughty fare in front of them or they forfeit their efforts altogether and let loose over the holidays. Don’t think so black and white, she said. Try to keep an even keel on your daily calorie intake so you aren’t starving one day and then binge eating the next.
Your calendar should have laid out dinner parties, office luncheons and other get-togethers so you’ll know when you have an indulgent meal headed your way. Use this as a reminder the next time you’re presented with temptations like Timbits in the office or cookies at home. “I can say not right now, rather than not forever,” Macfarlane said. You know you’re eating a hearty dinner and warm dessert hours later.
This doesn’t mean you should skip meals though – this will only backfire on you. “When we go into a meal excessively hungry, we eat more quickly taking in more calories per minute and we eat past the point of fullness,” Macfarlane said.
When Hopaluk turns down treats or offers for a second round of food, she hates saying it’s because she’s watching her weight. That response often incites criticism. Instead, she says she’s training for something she’s excited for, such as an upcoming marathon or a hiking trip. “They’ll accept that more. If I say I’m training, it changes the focus onto self-improvement,” she said. If you’re being offered seconds, simply say you’re full or taking a break.
If guests go home and you’re left with heaps of leftovers, chances are you’re going to pick away at the scraps for days. Your best bet is to invest in Tupperware so family members can load up on their favourite dishes. Fill up little baggies of white meat, roasted vegetables and other goodies that are healthy and store them in your freezer for an easy, healthy dinner when you’re hungry and out of time.
Hopaluk is sharing her wisdom with a trick she uses when she’s filling up her plate – if she loves stuffing, she chooses it and avoids a white bread roll. “I’ll look at the options and pick my favourite option and enjoy it. It’s self-negotiation,” she said.
If you’re throwing a party, keep the food on an island or kitchen counter instead of at the dinner table to prevent mindless eating and grazing. Once mealtime is done, put the food and snacks away, too. If you’re full and don’t want to keep picking at your plate, wipe your mouth and put your napkin over your plate. “That way you don’t have a visual reminder,” MacFarlane said. If you’re at a party, eat on smaller plates and don’t socialize near the snacks table.
Bock and Hopaluk throw out the rule book on Christmas Day. It’s one day where they get to spend time with family, eat their family’s favourite dishes and celebrate the end of the year. “I’m not going to have guilt over food that was lovingly prepared,” Hopaluk said.
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Hopaluk digs into all of her favourite dishes but reminds herself of the physical pain she’d be in if she overeats. “I put myself in that mindset before I even get there,” she said. And it works. Bock is a self-confessed “holiday fanatic” and that means obsessing over peppermint mocha and pumpkin spiced lattes once December rolls around. But she has one each on a holiday date and it’s enough to get into the holiday spirit.
© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.