How to stop the number on the scales going north this silly season

Christmas and weight gain seem to go together like Santa and reindeer — but they don’t have to, writes nutrition and exercise scientist Kathleen Alleaume for Coach.

The festive season is the most glorious time of the year. But between the extra eggnog, mince pie and stress, it’s easy to see how holiday weight gain happens. Have your pudding and eat it too with these sensible ways to avoid festive inflation.

Fill up first

If your portions are rising and your nutrition is diving, make sure your tummy is prepped beforehand. Hitting the social scene with an empty belly increases the likelihood you’ll reach for whatever’s available.

Instead, eat something nourishing and filling before you make your grand entrance, such as fresh fruit and a yoghurt-based smoothie. Likewise, employ some sound buffet tactics, like eating off a smaller plater and chewing slowly.

Eating fast is a risky habit, as you can subconsciously stuff yourself silly. On the flip side, munching mindfully allows those full cues to kick in before you go back for seconds.

RELATED: Buffet survival guide: Three simple ways to avoid overeating

Keep your cool

The festive season can be plain full on. Long days, jam-packed calendar and Christmas shopping. Before long, you can find yourself staring at a mile-long to-do list while suffocating a stress ball.

Prolonged tension hits the accelerator on stress hormone, cortisol. Not only does it disrupt your sleep, but it also speeds up production of insulin, which makes your blood sugar crash. Chances are you seek to rectify this energy slump with sugary, fatty foods.

To keep your hormones in check (and your cravings under control) focus on your mental state. Take a time out; say no to the odd gathering; or delegate gift-giving to ease the pressure. A happy mind is a healthy waistline.

Adjust your activity

We’re all guilty of letting gym sessions slip amongst all the festivities.

To ensure you’re still working muscles and burning calories, get in early. Exercising in the morning works for two reasons: you set good behaviour for the rest of the day (that is, eating a nourishing breaky and hydrating with H2O); and any last-minute invitations won’t derail your good intentions.

Can’t bring yourself to crawl out of bed in the A.M? Make physical activity a group one. Grab your friends and go for a bike ride, walk around the park or host a game of beach volleyball.

Practice the art of balance

A lot of people think diets rely on “willpower”. However, some psychologist believe our bodies resist restriction – that is, “I’ll only have one dessert off the buffet”, “no touching the nibbles platter” or “no bread with lunch”.

Furthermore, research shows that the neural activity in our brains fights weight loss, too. Food has a greater reward value and the part of the brain that regulates food restraint becomes less active — meaning you may eat more to fill full.

So, is exercising willpower possible? Well, sort of. Willpower is kind of like a muscle – the more you work it, the stronger it gets. The key is to avoid getting stuck in an “all or nothing” attitude. Instead, strive for a healthy balance. Let yourself have a controlled tasty treat, then pile the rest of your plate with fresh fruit, salads and seafood.

Limit liquid calories

Come party season, many people find themselves throwing down alcohol (or sweetened beverages) every night of the week, but the calories can quickly add up. Booze wakes up your appetite and lowers your inhibitions — a dangerous combination that leaves you ordering a third cosmopolitan (and a side of fries) with next to no hesitation.

RELATED: Reminder: Hitting the booze hard will not help your weight

While it can be hard to write off alcohol all together, try to limit your consumption or choose wiser options, like vodka with soda or wine spritzers – and make a habit to have a glass of water between rounds to keep hydrated and avoid next-day diet damage.

Kathleen Alleaume is a nutrition and exercise scientist and founder of The Right Balance.

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