Maintain, don’t gain: 5 simple steps to stop the holiday weight gain

holiday weight gainWhen it comes to cancer prevention, one of the most important lifestyle habits is to maintain a healthy weight, but during the holidays this can be a challenge. All the holiday gatherings with decadent meals and desserts can challenge even the most regimented healthy eater. Adding to that the hustle and bustle of shopping, decorating and holiday events leave little time for regular physical activity or preparation of healthy meals when you are home. But you can indulge without the holiday weight gain, as long as you follow some simple suggestions:

Practice controlled indulgence

Trying to avoid the holiday treats and goodies will only leave you wanting them more. Instead, indulge away, but practice portion control. Research has shown that the pleasure we receive from a food comes in the first few bites, so eat only small portions of your favorite foods to get the same satisfaction. Alternatively, you can practice the 80/20 rule: eat healthy 5-6 days a week and allow yourself one or two days to indulge more freely.

Set a budget

In this instance, not a financial budget, but a time budget. When it comes to all the trappings of the holidays, figure out what festivities and traditions are the most important to you and make these a priority. Make up excuses for all the others. This will allow you to limit the temptations but enjoy the events you do attend, as well as free up time to make simple, healthy meals and exercise.

Balancing act

Exercise can be just as beneficial in small bursts, so try using exercise to balance out your indulgences. After a holiday potluck, take a 10-minute walk to enjoy the holiday lights and decoration.  If you had to pick up fast food on your way to the mall, park in the farthest parking spot and hoof it. Make a commitment during the holidays to choose the stairs over the elevator anytime you can.

Be prepared

When attending a potluck, make sure your dish is low calorie and high fiber such as the Pear Salad below. Then plan a strategic, two-phase attack. On the first pass, load up your plate with vegetables, fruit and lean proteins. Save the more decadent entrees, sides and desserts for the second pass when your hunger has been sated. Also keep your office, car, purse and home stocked with on-the-go, healthy snacks such as to-go peanut butter with whole grain crackers, trail mix, dried fruit, nuts, or tuna salad kits. This will limit your need for emergency fast food or mall food court stops.

Drink wisely

Alcoholic beverages are calorie dense, from 120-150 calories for a serving of beer or wine, to 200 calories for a 4 ounce mixed drink. In addition, more than 1-2 drinks a day regularly can increase your cancer risk. Instead, choose calorie-free beverages such as mineral water, diet soda, unsweetened tea or coffee and save these calories for a more satisfying treat.

Holiday bonus! Try this delicious pear salad; it tastes wonderfully high-calorie, but it really isn’t!

Ripe Pear Salad with Boston Lettuce and Ricotta Cheese

Reprinted from The New American Plate Cookbook, © 2005 AICR

1 head Boston (“butter”) lettuce, washed and torn
2 ripe Bartlett pears, halved, cored and sliced
2 Tbsp. chopped toasted pistachio nuts
1/4 cup skim ricotta cheese


1/4 cup orange juice
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. honey
2 tsp. walnut or canola oil

Arrange lettuce equally on four plates. Top with equal amounts sliced pears. Sprinkle 1/2 tbsp. nuts over each salad. Dollop 1 tbsp. ricotta cheese in the center of each salad. Whisk together dressing ingredients. Drizzle over each salad and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 134 calories, 6 g. total fat (1 g. saturated fat), 19 g. carbohydrates, 4 g. protein, 3 g. dietary fiber, 23 mg. sodium.

For more recipes like this, visit our Recipes web page, part of Cancer Nutrition Services.

Learn more about healthy eating during the holidays and throughout the year:


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Registered dietitians who are specially trained in the field of oncology nutrition provide cancer nutrition services at the Comprehensive Cancer Center. They focus on assessing the individual dietary and nutrition needs of each patient and providing practical, scientifically sound assistance.


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