Research suggests that contrary to popular belief, people do not gain 5 to 10 pounds over the holidays. They gain, on average, only one, according to scientists at the National Institutes of Health, who followed 200 people through a Thanksgiving-to-New Year's stretch.
Granted, many of the people in their study never lost the extra holiday pound they gained, meaning that 20 Christmases can add up to 20 extra pounds. But what happens with your weight over the holidays is absolutely in your control―indulgence or not. The researchers reported that those in the study who were most active from late November through December later reported the greatest weight loss and were in fact unlikely to gain any weight to begin with.
People who are most successful at preventing holiday food blowouts use a variety of strategies to keep from going overboard. Here are four of the most common―and most successful.
Be discriminating. Don't eat everything willy-nilly―to go for foods that are specific to the holidays and worth the indulgence. For example, suggests Daniel Kirschenbaum, author of The 9 Truths About Weight Loss (Holt), say yes to "a dish that you can only get one time a year, or one that nobody but your grandmother makes, and it's totally unique, something really special."
Scope out the scene. Give the buffet a once-over before digging in, suggests Anne Fletcher, a Minnesota dietitian who has counseled hundreds of people. "Set your sights on a few things that you'd really, really like to have," says the author of Thin for Life.
Watch your portions. "A big amount isn't going to taste better than a small amount," says Fay Reiter, a certified social worker based near Princeton, New Jersey. In fact, eating too much and not feeling good afterward defeats the purpose. "Why ruin something that could be enjoyable? Eat a small amount that tastes good and walk away feeling good, too."
Stay active. Keeping up physical activity is important as well―and not just because it burns calories. "When you exercise," Reiter says, "you're making time for yourself."