You're lost in the woods. You're tired, you're scared for your life, and your stomach is howling like a dying wolf. But then, through a gap between distant trees, you see a cozy cottage with smoke billowing from the chimney. As you draw near, you realize something fantastic: The cottage is made entirely of cake! You begin immediately pulling off chunks of siding to fill your empty belly, until an innocent-looking old woman appears in the doorway and beckons you inside…
All right, so you know how it ends. But Hansel and Gretel is more than just a creepy story—it's a cautionary tale. This is the hyperbolic reality we live in during the holiday season. Everywhere we look, there are gingerbread houses in the form of sugary drinks and cookies, candy-filled punch bowls, fat- and sugar-loaded comfort foods, and—um—actual gingerbread houses. Your risk of being cooked alive is slight, but your risk of being plumped up with holiday weight is high. A study from the New England Journal of Medicine found that Americans typically pack on about a pound every holiday season. What's worse, this is weight that tends to stick with us and accumulate over the years, making it a driving force in age-related weight gain.
But before you get all Grinch-y or Scrooge-y about your holiday diet, know this—staying slim through the holidays doesn't have to be difficult. Below, we arm you with the truths and strategies that can keep you jolly, not jiggly, during the holiday season. Because, let's be honest, a belly that shakes like a bowlful of jelly is charming on Mr. C., but the rest of us look and feel better when we leave the weight in the candy bowl.
Truth #1: You eat more during the holidays.
You know you overeat at the holiday table, and while delicious food might be part of the reason, a study in the International Food Research Journal indicates that your perception of the meal plays a bigger role. According to the study, people are more likely to make poor nutritional choices when they define a meal as a "special occasion." Problem is the holiday season is a special occasion that stretches on for two months, giving you one uninterrupted excuse to pad your belly with sugar and high-calorie meals. The goal needn't be to deprive yourself, but you do want to counter the "special-occasion effect" with smart nutritional choices. Check out the 7 Best Holiday Foods to learn how to indulge smartly—and avoid developing the rounded silhouette of a snowman.
Weight-Loss Strategy: Take a stroll.
A pre- or post-meal walk does more than just burn calories. According to preliminary Mayo Clinic research, engaging in light exercise after a meal may lower your blood sugar and, in turn, prevent your body from storing extra fat. Also, walking before your holiday dinner may help suppress your appetite for tempting treats. A 2009 study published in Appetite found that people who walked for 15 minutes on a treadmill were significantly less likely to cave to the temptation of a chocolate bar after the walk. Not a fan of walking? Try one of these six creative workouts to keep you trim over the holidays.