I am participating in a “Maintain Don’t Gain” program run by my gym. We get points for doing various activities, attending classes, and completing extra credit workouts. I love this because it is helping motivate me to watch my food intake and increase my energy expenditure during a season where I typically gain a little weight. The final weigh in is after New Year’s and those who maintain their weight get 3 points and those who lose get 5 points. I am hoping for the five points!

As a dietitian, I am frequently asked questions about avoiding holiday weight gain. We have read all of the suggestions about attending parties (“eat before you go”, “survey the buffet and take a small amount of what looks best to you and avoid seconds”, “avoid standing while eating”, “watch your cocktail calories) and planning for the holiday dinner (“exchange applesauce for oil when making desserts”, “make sure to serve a large salad with low fat dressing and provide plenty of crudités for snacking”, “limit the use of butter, gravy, and sauces to save calories”). But what we forget is that dinners and cocktail parties are just a part of why so many people gain weight over the holidays. Many people spend countless hours at the mall doing Christmas shopping, and with this sometimes comes eating on the run.

Most malls come equipped with a “food court”, an area with many restaurant selections. Many of these restaurants provide foods that are filled with excess calories, fat and sodium. The typical Asian cuisine entrée may contain 800-1000 calories! A few slices of pizza or a chicken tender meal may provide the same. So, I recommend a few ways to avoid this excess calorie consumption. First, think about eating a healthy meal before heading out to shop. Think about complex carbohydrates, healthy fat and protein at the meal. If it is breakfast consider an egg white omelet with 2% cheese and a few slices of whole grain toast. A lunch from home may be a whole wheat pita filled with mixed veggies, a cup of low fat cottage cheese and a piece of fruit. You may wish to pack a snack with you, to avoid having to buy food while shopping. Consider a protein or fiber bar, piece of fruit, string cheese or a baggie filled with almonds. If you are hungry and the food court is the only option, survey your choices. Aim for a veggie based dish (like a veggie sub with light mayo) or a single slice of veggie filled thin crust pizza. If Asian food is calling your name choose healthy options like steamed white rice, broccoli and steamed chicken, and ask for the sauce on the side. Many places will have a large veggie salad with grilled chicken and low fat dressing. If it is dessert you are craving, choose a small sized low fat yogurt for some real calorie saving!

Another reason why many people gain weight over the holidays revolves around exercise…and our lack of doing it! I hear many excuses such as: “I am too busy shopping and preparing dinners to exercise” and “it is far too cold outside to go for a run.” I remind my patients that exercise is just as important as eating well to help maintain weight this holiday season. So I suggest joining a gym for a few months during the holidays. Having spent your hard earned dollars on a membership will hopefully hold you accountable to get there and work out. Find a friend and motivate each other. Meet for long walks or go for a run and make sure you are checking in with each other to see how you active you are being. Finally, get your family involved. You could offer a points system like my gym does and offer points for various activities. Best part? You could offer points for activities such as vacuuming, shoveling snow, and walking the dog. All important things to keep your family active!

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