pumpkin pie with holiday trimmings

On average, Americans add just 1 to 2 pounds from around mid-November to mid-January, studies show (though people who are overweight or obese tend to gain more). It may not sound like much, but that weight gain could last.

Holiday weight gain is a major source of the weight creep that happens during adulthood, says Dale Schoeller, Ph.D., a professor emeritus in the department of nutritional sciences at the University of Wisconsin.

But avoiding holiday weight gain doesn't have to be difficult. In fact, small decisions can keep the scale steady. This day-by-day plan has you covered from Thanksgiving eve to New Year's Eve. Incorporate a tip a day and ring in 2020 with one less resolution to make.  

Nov. 27: Weigh yourself this morning. This will give you a benchmark at the start of the holiday season. And continue stepping on the scale daily (or at least weekly) throughout. A 2017 study in the International Journal of Obesity found that people who weighed themselves frequently—at least six days a week—consistently lost more weight over the year-long study period than those who stepped on the scale less often.

Nov. 28: Savor every bite. It will help you thoroughly enjoy the holiday meal and has the added benefit of forcing you to eat more slowly, which can help you better recognize when you're full. You don't have to get overstuffed—remember, there are always leftovers!

More on Healthy Holiday Eating

Nov. 29: Fuel up. Before you head out for Black Friday shopping, fill up on a healthy breakfast that has some fiber, protein, and healthy fat, such as oatmeal topped with chopped walnuts and apples. “You’ll feel full from the fiber and fat, and the urge to eat when you encounter all those holiday smells and treats will be reduced,” says Sandy Procter, Ph.D., R.D., an assistant professor of nutrition in the department of food, nutrition, dietetics and health at Kansas State University.

Nov. 30: Score a healthy diet. It’s a big football-watching weekend, which means snacks galore. If you’re hosting a party, make sure there are plenty of vegetables and fruit on hand, as well as water. Don't worry, it won't dampen the festive mood. “Other people care about their diet, too, so help them out by having healthy options around,” says Lisa Harnack, Dr.P.H., R.D., a professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota.  

Dec. 1: Travel light. Flying back home after Thanksgiving? Airports aren’t known for their abundance of healthy food choices. So bring your own, or if you have to grab fast food, opt for an egg sandwich on whole-grain bread, Procter suggests. “It fills you up with protein and not much fat,” she says.   

Dec. 2: Plan ahead. Now that the first big eating event of the season is over, spend some time today thinking about how you’ll navigate the next few weeks, especially if you were formerly overweight. The holidays may be more challenging for people who’ve dropped pounds and kept them off than for those who are and always have been a healthy weight, according to a study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Weight-loss alums can keep pounds at bay by staying aware of what they’re eating and how much they’re exercising. 

Go to Consumer Reports’ 2019 Holiday Gift Guide for updates on deals, expert product reviews, insider shopping tips, and much more.

Dec. 3: Recruit an accountability partner. Pick someone you spend time with on a regular basis—maybe a close friend, co-worker, or family member—and vow to help each other eat healthier and squeeze in more activity during the holidays, suggests Jamie Cooper, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of foods and nutrition at the University of Georgia. “There’s more research coming out that team/partner approaches to improving health can be more successful than trying to do it alone,” she says.

Dec. 4: Go meatless. Sticking with whole grains, beans, vegetables, nuts, and fruit can help offset some of the calories and fat if you did overindulge around Thanksgiving. Try to work in a few other meatless days over the next few weeks.

Dec. 5: Add meditation to your day. A 2010 study in the journal Appetite found that a seven-week mindfulness program significantly reduced food cravings. Set aside 15 to 20 minutes a day to get quiet and be present.

Dec. 6: Get festive with fruit. Indulge in the fruits of the season. Oranges, clementines, and grapefruit are at their best this time of year, and they’re naturally sweet, low in calories, and high in fiber and antioxidants. Or try poaching some pears in white or red wine and serve them decorated with a handful of antioxidant-packed pomegranate seeds. Roasted grapes are delicious (the roasting brings out their sweetness) and make a good topping for yogurt.

Dec. 7: Crack some nuts. Nuts are a part of many holiday celebrations, and they aren’t as bad for your waistline as you may think. Research has shown that people who nosh on nuts regularly tend to have healthier body weights. You can be satisfied with just an ounce or so; the fiber and protein can help keep you feeling full.

Dec. 8: Put the brakes on sodium. It lurks in foods common around the holidays, such as crackers, processed meat, bread, cheese, dips, and sauces. Cooper’s research showed that along with weight, blood pressure also increases over the holidays. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that you get less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day.

Dec. 9: Step on the scale. Even if you had a weekend of overeating, you might not have gained weight. That’s your body naturally defending its original weight, Schoeller says. Avoid running into another period of overeating. "When you start stacking those up, your body accepts those additional pounds,” he explains. Try to eat regularly this week, without splurges, to let your body reset.

Dec. 10: Rise and walk. If you’re having trouble squeezing in exercise, try to get up earlier and do it first thing. You’ll be less likely to skip it, plus you'll have built-in stress relief and may sleep better.

Dec. 11: Eat a holiday treat—within reason. You don’t want to let the season go by without treating yourself occasionally. Just be mindful when you eat it. Concentrate on savoring every bite, and it will feel more satisfying.

Dec. 12: Stick to the perimeter of your office holiday party. This will minimize unnecessary noshing. “You’re more likely to overeat in a social setting,” says Schoeller. Talk to your co-workers to take your mind off all the food on display.

Dec. 13: Push yourself. Work out a little harder and/or longer today than you usually do to try to compensate for extra calories you may be eating. “If you don’t want to tack on extra time to your regular exercise session, sneak in 5- to 10-minute activity breaks during the day,” advises Schoeller. “These little things really do add up.”

Dec. 14: Prioritize sleep. Compared with those who sleep better, people who are sleep deprived tend to overeat more and gain more weight, possibly due to dysregulated appetite hormones.

Dec. 15: Pack a snack. When you’re out gift shopping, be prepared for the munchies. “I carry one of those snack-size packs of almonds with me when I go shopping, so I don’t get stuck being hungry and surrounded by all those aromas and other cues that make me want to eat,” Procter says.

Dec. 16: Plan your Christmas menu. Slim down holiday staples, such as sweet potato casserole. Skip the marshmallows, butter, and brown sugar, and roast them with some olive oil and herbs instead. And instead of adding heavy cream and fried onions to make a traditional green bean casserole, roast your beans or try them almondine, with just a little butter, slivered almonds, and lemon juice.

Dec. 17: Step on the scale. If you notice your weight creeping up, consider intermittent fasting (aka time-restricted eating). For instance, you can limit your eating to 8 hours during the day, such as between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. A small 2018 study in the journal Nutrition and Healthy Aging found that obese people who restricted their eating to an 8-hour period each day for 12 weeks lost more weight than those who ate when they wanted. (They also reduced their systolic blood pressure.)

Dec. 18: Have a healthy snack before you do your holiday baking so that you’re not hungry, and minimize grazing on the slightly burnt or misshapen cookies you're not planning to serve. One frosted sugar cookie has about 150 calories, Cooper says.

Dec. 19: Be picky at parties. Prioritize vegetables and fruit, shrimp cocktail, and nuts, says Harnack. They tend to be lower in calories and sodium than other party fare, and more filling. “It’s really about the amount you eat than anything else, though,” she says, so exercise portion control.

Dec. 20: Skip the coffee break while shopping. A standard 16-ounce Starbuck’s eggnog latte has 450 calories, 18 grams of fat, and 52 grams of sugars (about 13 teaspoons). At Dunkin' even a small Winter White Chocolate Swirl Frozen Coffee made with skim milk has 490 calories and 98 grams of sugars, but just 4.5 grams of fat.

Dec. 21: Downsize Sunday brunch at home. Slice bagels and muffins in half, making it easy for guests to exercise portion control, says Harnack. “Keep a pitcher of water and a fruit and vegetable tray handy as well.”

Dec. 22: Lighten the load. It’s the first night of Hanukkah and the menu can be heavy, including brisket, potato latkes, kugel, and rugelach. “Families have special foods that they like to serve on these special occasions and it’s just one day, so don’t get too obsessed about it,” says Harnack. She recommends exercising portion control and having some healthy options on the table, like green salads or other vegetables. Good news: Starting with the salad and matzoh ball soup—easy on the matzoh—can help fill you up. 

Dec. 23: Find an outlet for stress. The relatives are arriving and that often raises anxiety levels. Stress can be a trigger for overeating and drinking, says Procter. Try exercise, meditation, or time away so that stress doesn’t torpedo your diet.

Dec. 24: Incorporate intervals into your exercise. Alternating periods of higher and lower intensity during your workout can boost calorie burn, which can be particularly beneficial after or before a period of overeating, Schoeller says.

Dec. 25: Take a 30-minute walk. Walking after your holiday meal can reduce blood sugar and triglyceride levels.

Dec. 26: Be leftover savvy. Instead of replicating your holiday plate, add extra helpings of vegetables to every meal. They should take up at least half of your plate.

Dec. 27: Don’t eat other people’s leftovers. Post-Christmas can be a dining gauntlet in the office break room, so avoid it if you can. Keep satisfying snacks on hand (nuts, whole-grain crackers, almond butter, and apples) to stave off hunger and avoid trolling the treat table, Harnack says.

Dec. 28: Front-load your calories. Eat your biggest meal in the morning and go light at dinner. A study in the Journal of Nutrition found that people who ate this way reduced their body mass index (BMI) more than those who ate heavier at night.

Dec. 29: Try not to pile on temptation. Shopping, lunch out with friends, dinner with family, and a party after that can drain your resolve and good intentions. Research has shown that willpower is like a muscle; the more you use it, the more tired it gets. On these busy days, limit your "splurging" to one meal (including cocktails).

Dec. 30: Keep up the exercise. Wearing a fitness tracker that counts your steps, calories, and/or active time during the day may be able to help you bump up your mileage. Try to take 1,000 more steps today than yesterday—that’s about 10 minutes of additional activity.

Dec. 31: Do something different. Instead of celebrating with the typical festive night out, consider signing up for a New Year’s Eve run at midnight to kick off the year on a healthy note.  

Top Fitness Trackers From CR's Tests

Fitness trackers can help you prioritize exercise during this busy holiday season and beyond. They also make a great holiday gift. Here are some of the top-scoring trackers from CR's tests.

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Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro

Price: $150

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Garmin Forerunner 35

Price: $100

Unlock Fitness Tracker Ratings
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Fitbit Charge 3

Price: $100

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