How to Indulge Over the Holidays without Gaining Weight

woman wearing red christmas socks with feet on coffee table

Holly Pinkham |

If you haven’t experienced it yourself, you’ve probably heard that most Americans gain around five pounds over the Holidays.

The good news? That’s not actually true for all people. The bad news? Most people do gain some weight between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

According to one study, the average adult puts on about one pound over the holidays, while those who are overweight or obese tend to gain more and are the mostly likely to gain five pounds in that timeframe.

Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, you probably don’t want to gain any amount of fat. But how do you prevent it and still enjoy the holidays?

woman wearing red christmas socks with feet on coffee table

It’s Not All About Restricting

You can easily find loads of tips out there for what not eat during the holidays, reminders not to skip the gym, and what not to drink at parties. In other words, if you want to know how to restrict yourself (and be miserable) during the holidays, all of the information you need is already at your fingertips.

If that’s how you like to spend the end of the year, then go ahead and stop reading this blog. However, if you’d like to still have room for indulgences like mashed potatoes and gingerbread cookies then keep reading!

One reason so many people gain weight, despite all the good advice out there, is because during the holidays we want to enjoy ourselves! We want to try some of the special foods we don’t eat any other time of the year, partake in social gatherings like normal people, and enjoy parties without constantly fighting the temptation of the food table.

Not only that, but the holidays tend to be stressful for most people, which makes it even tougher to keep a gym routine and say no to comforting foods full of fat and sugar. In fact, the high levels of stress cause your body to store more fat, even if your diet doesn’t change much.

Christmas cookies on baking pan

These desires to find comfort and let loose are what lead to the weight gain when not controlled. But saying no to everything can be harmful as well, causing guilt or panic over poor food choices, often leading to a binge later on.

How to Maintain Your Weight While Enjoying the Holidays

With a little planning and effort you can still enjoy the holidays without putting on weight. The keys are mindful eating, moderation, maximized workouts, and more sleep. Let’s take a look at how these four M's can allow you to stay in control and feel free at the same time, so your scale stays steady through the new year.


  1. Mindful Eating

Christmas celebration with glasses filled with champagne

  • Pick your poison

One of the biggest pitfalls with holiday gatherings is the endless array of snacks, desserts, and drinks. If you’re not careful, you’ll mindlessly eat it all because it’s there and justify it because it’s a special time of year. As if you’ll never see these foods again. Then you'll leave an event overly full and hurting from the crazy concoction of dairy, oil, sugar, and refined carbohydrates mixing in your stomach.

Instead, be mindful about the upcoming party and think it through in advance before the temptation hits you. What foods are really important to you and what foods can you skip? What foods do you absolutely love, and anticipate leading up to Thanksgiving or Christmas? If it’s turkey, pecan pie, latkes, spiced nuts, hot buttered rum or eggnog, then great. Give yourself permission to eat a serving or two of those foods and eschew the other finger foods, variations of pie, and cocktails.

Remind yourself that spinach artichoke dip, brownies, and cheese and crackers will always be there. You can get those anywhere, any time of year. Choose the more unique offerings and you can save yourself a lot of calories and mental struggle without feeling deprived.


  • Don’t skip meals

Many people make the mistake of planning for a huge meal by skipping breakfast or lunch – or nearly starving themselves in order to “leave room” for whatever event is coming up. Not only will this make you tired and cranky, but it will make you more likely to overeat - especially junk - when you do finally eat due to hunger and low blood sugar. Plus, big events are typically at night which means you won’t have much time left in the day to expend all of those calories for energy so more will get stored as fat.

Instead, simply think ahead and plan your meals accordingly. Eat a well-balanced, small meal every 3-5 hours to keep your energy steady and appetite at bay. Choose whole, healthy foods like lean protein, vegetables and carbs/starches like sweet potato or brown rice. Reduce the size of these meals so they’re just slightly less than you might normally eat, and drink LOTS of water all day.

This way, you’ll still be able to eat at whatever gathering you’re attending, but are likely to make better choices and eat less. Remember, just because it’s a special event doesn’t mean you should overindulge to the point of discomfort, pain, or regret.


  1. Moderation
  • Enjoy without excess

It may be the holidays, but calories are still calories. Sure, you can indulge in some unique treats, but “indulge” doesn’t mean three servings of heaping portions. If you decide you want pie, eat one piece and enjoy every bite without guilt. Then grab a cup of water, tea, or coffee to keep yourself full and occupied.

As we already said, you don’t need to overly restrict yourself, but you will gain weight if you go overboard. After all, does that third cookie really taste any better than the first? Does it satisfy you more?

 Pumpkin Pie with christmas decor

  • Two-Bite Tastes

Another trick to try, especially at a dinner event is this: If you want to try various foods, go ahead. Serve yourself a two-bite portion of the foods you want to taste. Then eat mindfully, asking yourself, “Was that food worth it? Do I really want more?” If it was amazing, then maybe you can go back for more later if you’re still truly hungry after you’ve tried everything.

This can be a great way to taste and enjoy new foods without the temptation to eat it all when it’s on your plate. It makes you consider what foods are worth the calories and prevents you from tomorrow’s “Why did I eat all of that?” regret.

Note: Do consider your tendencies. If you’re the type of person that can’t stop after one bite and will go overboard regardless, then don’t try certain foods at all. Know what you can and can’t say no to.


  1. Maximize Your Workouts

Yes, this is probably the busiest time of the year for you, but it’s not the time to stop working out! If you know you’ll be consuming some extra calories or sugary treats, then get in a workout to make up for it.

woman jumping on box workout

Here’s the trick to working out when you’re pressed for time: high intensity, shorter duration. Set aside those hour (or longer) workouts for now. Who has time for that when there are presents to buy and parties to plan?

Instead, go for maximum intensity during this season. Keep your workouts at 20-40 minutes but train like you mean it. This isn’t the time for moderately-paced walks or texting for three minutes between each weight lifting set.

When you get to the gym, have a plan in mind and knock out your workout with as much effort as you can with as little rest as you can manage.

Workout Example:

  • Warm-up: Do a dynamic warm-up for 5 minutes (ex: high knees, windmills, jumping jacks, bodyweight squats, push-ups).
  • Circuit: For the next 30 minutes pick 4-5 exercises and perform them in a circuit (ex: kettlebell swings, squat thrusters, walking lunges with a bicep curl, stability ball crunches, pull-ups).
  • Repeat: Once you’ve done them all, then rest for about a minute and start all over.
  • Cool down: Walk on the treadmill or do a gentle yoga flow for 5 minutes.

The key is doing high intensity exercises that involve multiple muscle groups at a high level of effort. You should be pretty breathless through the entire workout. This type of training will burn the same amount of calories as if you’d done a slow pace for an hour or more, and will boost your metabolism for hours afterwards.

Just doing cardio? Great. Ditch the steady-state stuff and do sprints on a treadmill. 1 min walk, 30 seconds sprint. Repeat that sequence for 20 minutes. That’s it!

Know what’s even better? Research has shown that high intensity exercise actually reduces hunger while low-intensity exercise increases it. So you’re likely to eat less after these types of workouts. It’s a win-win-win! More muscle, more calorie burn, more time saved.

Burn 200 calories* by

  1. Jumping rope for 10-15 minutes
  2. Jogging for 25 minutes
  3. Burpees for 2.5 minutes (you can break these up into 20-30 second chunks)
  4. Shoveling snow for 30 minutes
  5. 10-minute kettlebell workout: swings, Turkish get-ups, goblet squats, cleans

Burn 400 calories* by

  1. Riding a bike for 30 minutes at a fast pace
  2. Playing tennis for 30 minutes
  3. Circuit training with weights for 45-50 minutes
  4. Step aerobics for 30 minutes
  5. Vigorously cleaning your house for 60 minutes

*Exact calorie expenditure will depend on each individual’s weight, athletic ability and body fat percentage.


  1. More Sleep

Didn’t we tell you this blog wasn’t about restriction? Yep, we’re telling you to sleep more! That may sound crazy at this time of year, but you’ll go crazy if you don’t sleep enough. Even worse? You’re more likely to gain weight.

woman laying on bed under covers

When you sleep, a chemical called leptin increases, tells your brain that you don’t need as much energy and haults hunger signals to your body. But if don’t get enough sleep, essentially what happens is that your brain tells your body to eat even when you don’t need it, and then works to preserve that as fat for the next time you need it.

Sleep also helps to reduce stress during this busy season. Stress triggers the release of cortisol, which makes you hungry, especially for fatty and sugary foods. 

Whatever you have to do, rearrange your schedule and prioritize sleep for an extra 30-60 minutes each night. Your brain and belly will thank you. 

Now let’s recap to make sure you’re ready to start and end this holiday season in great shape and enjoy it at the same time! Follow these tips:

  • Decide which foods you will indulge in and skip the ones that don’t bring you joy
  • Don’t skip meals before an event or big dinner gathering
  • Try small bites of foods and only indulge (in moderation) in the ones you truly love
  • Shorten your workout time but increase the intensity and give it your best effort
  • Get more sleep!





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