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Lose Weight Over the Holidays!

20 Tips to Eat, Drink--and Still Shrink!

-- By Nicole Nichols, Fitness Instructor & Health Educator

For weeks, you have tracked your food and exercised regularly to improve your health and alter the shape of your body. More than a "diet" or a fitness fad, you've created real lifestyle changes and built the confidence that you can stick with it for the long haul. So why is the winter holiday season so intimidating—even scary—for so many?

The answer is complex. Sure, there's the food. Unlike other food-centric holidays like Valentine's Day or Halloween, the winter holiday season lasts for weeks. There are more parties, more potlucks, more food gifts, more cookies and well, just more everything! And these temptations won't be going away any time soon. Then there's the stress. Buying gifts, volunteering, decorating, cooking and party hopping often take the place of cooking healthy meals at home or hitting the gym. Like an infant sitting on Santa's lap for the first time, it's no wonder we're scared of the holidays and the infamous weight gain they encourage. How can we keep up with a healthy diet and fitness program—let alone lose weight—with all of this going on around us, day after day?

That answer is simple: Stick with your plan. You've overcome temptations and slip-ups before. Every day poses challenges, yet you remain strong and continue to make progress toward your goals. Why should the holidays be any different? If you want to lose weight this month, you can. You just have to choose to stay in control, one day at a time. Here are 20 tips that will help you keep holiday weight gain at bay and lose a few pounds by new year. <pagebreak>

1. Track your food. That means all of it, from the spoonful of cookie batter you ate while baking to the free sample of ham at the grocery store. These "hidden" calories are easy to gloss over but can really add up. Plus you know from experience how it helps you to lose weight and eat better. If you do nothing else during the holidays, track your food diligently every day.

2. Plan your holiday meals. A continuation of tip #1, plan your meals and snacks in advance so you can enjoy your favorites and still stay on track. Before you head to another party or sit down for a holiday dinner, pre-track your food for the day. Find places to cut back on calories in order to splurge a little more on your holiday meal, for example. Decide which foods you'll have (and how much) and use your Nutrition Tracker to stay within your calorie range.

3. Look up calories before you bite. Use SparkRecipes.com to calculate the nutrition information in your favorite holiday foods so you can add them to your tracker. If you really want to eat a cookie from a co-worker, open your Nutrition Tracker first and decide whether it fits in with your plan (see #2 above).

4. Make fitness a priority. I like to remind people that food is only one part of the equation that determines whether you'll lose or gain weight. Fitness is just as important. Don't let your workouts go by the wayside. If anything, you should be trying to work out more than before to curb weight gain and extra eating. Just remember this: Burn it (exercise) to earn it (extra holiday calories).

5. Schedule your workout like an appointment. You wouldn't miss work, a doctor's appointment or an important meeting to bake cookies or do some holiday shopping, would you? Add your workouts to your calendar so that other obligations don't get in the way of your gym time. Tell your friend that you'd love to bring some cookies to her party but that you won't arrive until after Pilates class lets out. <pagebreak>

6. Bring your own food. This is a great tip if you're heading to a party and don't know what's in the food (or how it was prepared). Pick a healthy, low-cal recipe that you can bring. And no matter what kind of food is there, you'll have at least one dish you can eat with confidence.

7. Limit alcohol. It lowers inhibitions, making it more likely that you'll forget about your nutrition plan and overindulge. Plus, alcohol alone is pretty high in calories. If you can party hop without drinking at all, you'll be better off. If you must drink, nurse your glass slowly, choose diet-friendly drinks, and limit the number of servings. Oh and yes, alcohol does contain calories, so add every drink to your Nutrition Tracker.

8. Re-gift treats and food. Of course, your loved ones mean well when they give you delicious food and candy gifts. But just because they give them does not mean you have to eat them! There are plenty of opportunities to re-gift food gifts over the holidays: bring them to parties, potlucks, and other get-togethers. Or, donate store-bought foods to a local food pantry or hospital to spread the holiday spirit to others. Take home-baked goods to a homeless shelter.

9. Bring your food to work. If you feel guilty about re-gifting, do as the SparkPeople employees do. This time of year, our kitchen fills with all sorts of candy, sweets and other food gifts that people simply don't want or would rather not eat. Share it in a communal space like the office café for others to partake of as they choose.

10. Don't make mountains out of molehills. It's easy to go over your calories one day and feel like a failure. But remember that it takes much more than one day of overeating to thwart your progress. Accept your slip-ups, learn from them and move on. Here are 25 ways to get back on track today. <pagebreak>

11. Add 10 extra minutes of cardio to your days. Some experts say that adding just 10 minutes of vigorous exercise to your usual workout routine can counter the effects of a little extra holiday eating. You can spare an extra 10 minutes, right? Even if you can't fit it in all at once, try to do small amounts throughout the day. High-intensity moves like jumping jacks, high-knee running in place, or jumping rope all work. Or you can try our 10-mintue cardio videos to torch those extra calories in one shot.

12. Maintain your active lifestyle. Remember that "running" errands isn't the same as running—or exercising. But the more activity you can add to your days (in addition to planned fitness) the better off you'll be. Try the best activities of the season, like sledding, snowboarding, ice skating, hiking, snowshoeing, and more.

13. Keep an emergency snack on hand. Stashing some healthy and portable foods in your car, purse, and desk drawer can help satisfy your cravings and prevent you from going overboard on all the wrong foods. This is a good idea when you're hungry at work and cookies sound tempting, or when you're shopping late at the mall and hear the food court calling.
 
14. Watch your portions. There's nothing wrong with enjoying some once-a-year favorites if you keep your portions in check. Sometimes just a little taste is all you need. Use this handy portion guide to estimate portion sizes when eating at parties and holiday dinners.

15. Focus on people. Isn't that what the holidays are all about? At parties and gatherings, enjoy the good conversation and activities instead of hovering around the food table. Create lasting memories that don't revolve around eating, and you won't feel like you're missing out.

16. Drink your water. Recent studies found that when people drink more water throughout the day, they end up eating fewer total calories. Water and water-rich foods can help fill you up longer. Keep a cup of water in hand at parties, sip water between bites, and meet your daily quota to help prevent overeating.

17. Wake up with exercise. People who exercise first thing in the morning are more likely to exercise regularly than those who exercise later in the day. Even if you're not a morning exerciser now, a.m. workouts might be the best way to squeeze fitness into your days before other things come up. Plus, when you exercise first, you're less likely to overindulge with food later.

18. Don't act as if it's your only chance to eat. With every food that crosses your path, remind yourself that you'll have plenty of chances later to eat. Forgo the "last supper" mentality. Honor your true feelings of hunger and fullness, and if you're not hungry or in the mood for a certain food, don't feel obligated to eat it. Be a (polite) food snob. Don't waste calories on a treat you don't really like or that isn't very delicious. If you accept a co-worker's cookie or Aunt Mary's bacon salad, but it's not very tasty, stop eating it. No one will fault you for saying you want to just have a taste.

19. Slow down. Savor your food and the experience of eating. You'll eat less, feel more satisfied, and recognize feelings of hunger before it's too late.

20. Keep your eye on the prize. Before you take a bite or hit snooze instead of hitting the gym, remember your goals. It's going to take work to get there and survive the holiday season. Before you act, ask yourself, "Will this help me get where I want to go?" If not, make another decision. And remember that YOU are in control during the holidays, not the other way around.

Here's to staying fit, looking great, and reaching your goals all month long!

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