Food and the holiday season are not mutually exclusive. Yes, you can have a bounty of food without a holiday on the calendar (and, boy, do we know that), but the holidays are not without their bone-warming, sugar coma-inducing, mulled, baked, and, if we're being honest, guilt-ridden eats.
But come the New Year, there's a collective mindset change, and we shift from eating our weight in cookies to googling how to successfully go on a cleanse. It's a cyclical demon each year, really. But before you pledge to drop 10 pounds right away, Amy Shapiro, NYC-based registered dietitian and nutritionist, says to pump the breaks a bit. "After the holidays, everybody’s ready to be so drastic, but if we take small steps, it’ll probably lead to us being more consistent and being able to keep our goals," she suggests. As such, we've paired attainable diet and weight-loss tips from Shapiro and fellow dietitian Alissa Rumsey so you can undo some of the damage holiday eating does to your waistline. Their tips below.
1. Flush Away Bloat
"A lot of the weight gain that we put on throughout the holiday season—some of it's bloat because it takes a lot of calories to put on fat—so if we stay hydrated, we can easily flush some of the extra sodium and bloat from our body," says Shapiro. "Additionally, if we drink a lot of water, we don’t get those false hunger cues, and water is very important for our metabolism, which is important for weight loss." Drinking 500 milliliters (roughly 17 ounces) of water increases your metabolic rate by 30%. In case you hate drinking water, there are also great food options for staying hydrated.
2. Think Fresh
It's as simple as this: Every time you eat a meal, incorporate some fresh plants, too. "Start your day with veggies with your eggs or have a salad at lunch or at least one vegetable at dinner," says Shapiro. "It's important to have veggies throughout the day—they're really high in fiber, which will help keep you full, and they're really low in calories. They also have prebiotics, which is a fiber, to help you stay satiated and to help keep your gut flora going. I always say to fill half your plate with vegetables."
3. Nix Empty Calories and Simple Carbs
When choosing post-holiday foods, Shapiro says to stay away from items that have low nutritional value like simple carbs and empty calories. These types of foods include cookies, cakes, bagels, baked goods, breakfast cereal, syrups, and soda. Instead, Shapiro suggests focusing on complex carbs and "brown foods" like whole wheat, farro, quinoa, and brown rice.
4. Keep Your Drinks "Clean"
"Skip all of those festive holiday coffee drinks and cocktails," warns Shapiro. "Those all have hidden sugars in them. It’s cold out, so people are still looking for things that are going to warm them up or for comfort food, but those pumpkin spice lattes and all of those fancy coffee drinks are loaded with sugar." If you're itching for a drink that'll still give you that warm and fuzzy feeling, try naturally flavored teas or Starbucks' Gingerbread Tea Latte. Adds Shapiro, "Give yourself a break from drinking. Cutting alcohol is a really easy way to cut calories, and if you’re not ready to cut alcohol, then at least cut the mixers. Try and keep it clean."
5. Think Before Going Gluten-Free
Do you have celiac disease? Then yes, a gluten-free diet is important. However, if you're just looking to lose weight, gluten-free isn't necessarily going to help you. In fact, it could hinder your weight-loss goals. Says Shapiro, "Gluten-free is great if you don't know how to cut out the carbs that are in your life, but the tricky thing about that is there are a lot of gluten-free substitutes that are full of crap," she explains. "It's easy to say, 'Oh, I'm gluten-free but I'm going to eat these crackers,' and then you eat 15 crackers, but they're still carbs. Gluten-free items are usually made with potatoes, rice… more white, simple carbs a lot of the time, and a lot of fillers. So if you want to go gluten-free, kind of like the Whole 30, and cut out grains for a quick jump start to your diet, then that’s a different story than just saying you're gluten-free. Because today you can get a gluten-free muffin or bagel, so it's not always calorically beneficial to go gluten-free. It's also usually void of nutrients because it's still processed food. So if you want to go gluten-free, stick to quinoa and brown rice and beans and root vegetables. But the substitutes are where people go wrong."
6. Don't Forget Strength Training
Rumsey, who is also a personal trainer, says not to skip this crucial form of exercise. "Many people, women, in particular, neglect resistance exercise. Women tend to stick to aerobic machines or group exercise classes. Weight training is crucial for women in order to prevent muscle and bone loss that occurs with age. More muscle mass also helps women to better manage their weight, maintain joint flexibility, and improve endurance," she explains.
7. Snack Smarter
It's okay to snack. In fact, it's encouraged. Says Rumsey, "Snacking during the day can help keep blood sugar levels steady and energy up—if you do it properly. Skip the processed and packaged snack foods as these have a lot of sugar, salt, and additives. Instead, plan snacks ahead of time and choose fresh or dried fruit, cheese, cut-up raw vegetables, nuts or nut butter, hard-boiled eggs, whole grain crackers, and hummus."
Constantly checking email and refreshing our news feeds on a nonstop basis is technology overload. Says Rumsey, "We are now tuned into our electronics 24/7, and it's making us more stressed than ever. More and more research is linking this overload to increased risk for depression, burnout, and social anxiety. Aim to spend at least an hour or two during the day without your cell phone, Blackberry, iPad or computer." Being sedentary on our phones or laptops is also a recipe for weight gain and heart disease, so use your phone for bettering your body and mind instead.