*You can enjoy foods like my pumpkin spice bars without gaining weight over the holidays, if you follow these techniques.*
The holidays can be scary.
Unlimited amounts of delicious food can be downright terrifying if you’re trying to get lean.
You love food, but you’re also afraid that you’re going to gain fat over the holidays.
You could deprive yourself and ignore the food, but that’s not fun, smart, or healthy. Instead, here are 4 tips you can use to enjoy your favorite foods this holiday season while minimizing or avoiding fat gain.
1. Be more mindful when you eat.
When you’re distracted, you tend to eat faster, eat more, and don’t realize how much you’ve eaten.1-6
In contrast, when you focus on your food, you tend to eat less and enjoy your food more.
It’s tempting to watch a movie over dinner or play with your phone, but you won’t get as much enjoyment from your meal. Or in other words, you’ll need to eat more calories to get the same amount of pleasure.
Even if you knowingly eat more than you need, paying attention to your food will still help you enjoy it more, which is one of the main points of eating.
2. Eat fewer, larger meals.
It’s easy to snack on several thousand calories of cookies and candy during the holidays in addition to your normal meals.
If you want to eat large meals during the holidays, limit your snacking and eat more calories in fewer sittings. Some studies also indicate that a lower meal frequency (3 meals) is better at keeping people full than a higher meal frequency (6 meals),7 though that’s obviously something you’ll have to decide for yourself.
If you like snacking throughout the day, that’s fine too, but you may also need to cut back more at other meals.
3. Cut calories (slightly) after days when you overeat.
If you overeat a few days, you’ll gain a little body fat.
However, it won’t be enough to make a significant impact on your appearance or weight unless you continue to overeat. If you slightly reduce your calorie intake between the days you overeat, you’ll be able to limit fat gain substantially.
If you keep your food intake mostly under control during the holidays, you’ll also be able to lose it faster afterwards.
Your first urge is probably to fast after the holidays and exercise until the treadmill breaks. That can work, but it’s not the smartest way to offset fat gain.
This strategy doesn’t generally encourage a healthy long-term relationship with food. For many people, it can also trigger non-purging bulimia nervosa and other eating disorder symptoms.8-10
Your best plan is usually to cut back on calories with a moderate deficit to lose the fat you’ve gained during the holidays over a few weeks, rather than days. Keep exercising, but don’t kill yourself.
4. Stop worrying about it.
Unless you go absolutely nuts, you aren’t going to gain much, or any, fat during the holidays.
Even normal people who aren’t worried about staying super lean year round generally don’t gain more than about one pound of fat, if any, between Thanksgiving and New Years.11-15 These people also estimate they’ve gained about 3-4 pounds more than they really have.11
Some people will definitely have to be more careful than others. In most studies, about 10-15% of the subjects will gain over 5-6 pounds during this time.12-14,16 These people also tend to be overweight beforehand.12,13,15,16 However, you can avoid that problem with the other tips in this article, and ones like this, this, and this.
You’re strict about your diet all year. You can enjoy high calorie, tasty foods for five weeks, in moderation, without getting fat.
It’s the holidays. Give yourself a break.
Interested in learning more about how to enjoy your favorite foods while losing fat? Read these:
> Did you enjoy this article? [Click here to check out my book, *Flexible Dieting](https://evidencemag.com/flexible-dieting-book)*. Want an even more in-depth education on how to lose weight, build muscle, and get stronger and healthier? [Join Evidence Mag Elite](https://evidencemag.com/elite) and get member’s-only reports and interviews.
1. Wansink B. From mindless eating to mindlessly eating better. Physiol Behav. 2010;100(5):454–463. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2010.05.003.
2. Temple JL, Giacomelli AM, Kent KM, Roemmich JN, Epstein LH. Television watching increases motivated responding for food and energy intake in children. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;85(2):355–361. Available at: https://www.ajcn.org/cgi/pmidlookup?view=long&pmid=17284729.
3. Higgs S, Woodward M. Television watching during lunch increases afternoon snack intake of young women. Appetite. 2009;52(1):39–43. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2008.07.007.
4. Hetherington MM, Anderson AS, Norton GNM, Newson L. Situational effects on meal intake: A comparison of eating alone and eating with others. Physiol Behav. 2006;88(4-5):498–505. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2006.04.025.
5. Oldham-Cooper RE, Hardman CA, Nicoll CE, Rogers PJ, Brunstrom JM. Playing a computer game during lunch affects fullness, memory for lunch, and later snack intake. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;93(2):308–313. doi:10.3945/ajcn.110.004580.
6. Cohen D, Farley TA. Eating as an automatic behavior. Prev Chronic Dis. 2008;5(1):A23. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/pmid/18082012/.
7. Leidy HJ, Campbell WW. The effect of eating frequency on appetite control and food intake: brief synopsis of controlled feeding studies. J Nutr. 2011;141(1):154–157. doi:10.3945/jn.109.114389.
8. Kontic O, Vasiljevic N, Trisovic M, Jorga J, Lakic A, Gasic MJ. Eating disorders. Srp Arh Celok Lek. 2012;140(9-10):673–678.
9. Mond JM, Calogero RM. Excessive exercise in eating disorder patients and in healthy women. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2009;43(3):227–234. doi:10.1080/00048670802653323.
10. Kontic O, Vasiljevic N, Jorga J, Jasovic-Gasic M, Lakic A, Arsic A. Presence of different forms of compensatory behaviours among eating disordered patients. Srp Arh Celok Lek. 2010;138(5-6):328–332.
11. Wagner DR, Larson JN, Wengreen H. Weight and body composition change over a six-week holiday period. Eat Weight Disord. 2012;17(1):e54–6.
12. Hull HR, Hester CN, Fields DA. The effect of the holiday season on body weight and composition in college students. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2006;3:44. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-3-44.
13. Phelan S, Wing RR, Raynor HA, Dibello J, Nedeau K, Peng W. Holiday weight management by successful weight losers and normal weight individuals. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2008;76(3):442–448. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.76.3.442.
14. Yanovski JA, Yanovski SZ, Sovik KN, Nguyen TT, O’Neil PM, Sebring NG. A prospective study of holiday weight gain. N Engl J Med. 2000;342(12):861–867. doi:10.1056/NEJM200003233421206.
15. Hull HR, Radley D, Dinger MK, Fields DA. The effect of the Thanksgiving holiday on weight gain. Nutr J. 2006;5:29. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-5-29.
16. Andersson I, Rossner S. The Christmas factor in obesity therapy. International Journal of Obesity (2005). 1992;16(12):1013–1015.