We've officially entered the season of gluttony—that period of time that begins with Halloween, and ends sometime around New Year's (or perhaps Valentine's Day). Candy bowls line countertops, cocktail parties fill the calendar, cool weather calls for all kinds of baking, and exercise is pushed off our crazy to-do lists. Many people end up gaining weight around this time of year, and studies indicate that these extra pounds tend to stay put. This season, arm yourself with these 10 tips to avoid the holiday weight creep:
1. Pay attention to hunger cues. One of the biggest sources of extra calories during this time of year comes from mindless munching and overeating. You can solve both these issues with one simple technique: Eat when you are pleasantly hungry and stop when you are comfortably full.
2. Be a food snob. We're presented with so many food and beverage options, but not all of them are worth splurging on. Do you find yourself drinking eggnog just because it's that time of the year—even though you don't really like it? Ditch that habit and save the calories for something you really love.
3. Create "food-free" zones. Take stock of some of the hot spots in your life for mindless eating—maybe it's in your car, in front of the TV, or from the candy dish in your work conference room. Try to clean up that habit by declaring it a "food-free" zone.
4. Keep it out of sight. Studies suggest that people tend to eat more when treats are placed in plain view. Putting that Halloween candy away, rather than leaving it out on the countertop, can make a big difference in how much you actually eat.
5. Build non-food-related traditions. The holiday season is really about getting together with family and friends, but most of these get-togethers involve food. Crafts, family games, and volunteer activities can all take the place of making cookies or celebrating at a candy-laden party.
6. Make time for activity. Exercise gets pushed off many people's schedules during this time of year for one reason: It isn't scheduled! Penciling physical activity into your calendar can make a world of difference when it comes to actually getting some exercise.
7. Start with soup. One surprising technique that researchers at Penn State University found helped curb overeating: starting meals with a broth-based soup. The soup helped participants feel full faster at meals, and they stayed full for longer. Try to have a bowl of broth-based soup before you head out to that buffet party, or serve soup before meals at home.
8. Shave off some liquid calories. Without a doubt, the liquid calories really start flowing this time of year. Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram, which is almost double the number of calories we get with a gram of carbohydrate or protein—yet it does nothing to fill us up. Mind your alcohol intake by choosing lower-calorie cocktails and alternating with a glass of water.
9. Write it down. Keeping a food journal is an effective tool—it'll help control overeating and keep calories in check. If you don't want to tote around a pen and paper, investigate one of the many food journal smartphone apps.
10. Don't skip meals. It's not uncommon to skip meals in anticipation of a big one coming up. The problem with this is that once we get ravenously hungry, our willpower goes out the window. Eating regular meals allows us to stay in control of the volume of food eaten, and ultimately helps us eat less calories.
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Melinda Johnson, MS, RD, is the Director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics and lecturer for the Nutrition Program at Arizona State University, and a Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Follow her on Twitter @MelindaRD.