Whether you overindulged during a big meal or you ditched your diet over the holidays, don't fret. These healthy tips and simple steps show you how to get back on track.
Carolyn Williams, Ph.D., R.D.
April 02, 2018
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Holiday Bounce-Back Plan
From Thanksgiving to Christmas to Easter, holidays can really weigh you down, particularly for those trying to lose weight and stick to a diet. You likely fought a good fight, but gave in and ate not one, but multiple servings of that creamy casserole, the basket of biscuits, a bucket of candy, or dozens of sugar cookies.
Post-holidays, the absolute worst thing you can do right now is cut calories, skip meals, or go on a very low calorie fast or detox plan in an attempt to undo damage. Extreme diet “fixes” only set you up to slip up again. If you need help bouncing back from too decadent treats, check out our Holiday Bounce Back Plan guaranteed to have you back on track and losing again.
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1. Get over the guilt.
Whether you took down three, 10, or 30 Reese’s peanut butter cups, the damage is done. Acknowledge and accept that you got off track, then, let go of it and move on. Wallowing in guilt will only delay your weight-loss efforts—and may actually lead to more slipups.
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2. Go grocery shopping.
Planning meals, making a list, and grocery shopping for items needed this week (or at least for the next five days) is crucial, because it leaves you no excuse for neglecting your diet. Menus and recipes should focus on whole, unprocessed foods emphasizing vegetables (including starchy ones), fruits, legumes, lean protein, and healthy fat sources such as olive oil, avocado or nuts. Aim for 1200 to 1500 calories per day depending on activity and size.
Don't be deterred by the number on the scale after a weekend of heavy meals. Due to bloating and water retention following a slipup, the number on the scale is usually inaccurate and a poor reflection of your body weight. In addition to this, avoid weighing yourself for a few days due to emotional stress that the scale number may cause for some.
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4. Get rid of triggers.
What really tempts you? What do you feel like you have no control over eating in a stressful or hungry moment? These are your trigger foods, and they need to be removed from your environment. This can be hard if you’ve got kids in the house, but try using it as a healthy lifestyle lesson.
Besides, no one—even those not trying to lose weight—needs candy, so encourage kids to pick out favorites to keep, then donate the rest. Senior centers like extra treats on hand, and churches often need candy for Christmas shoebox ministries. Some gyms and local businesses even buy candy after Halloween to send to the military overseas and to help fight childhood obesity.
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5. Track it.
One of the best ways to hold yourself accountable is to keep a food and exercise log on your phone or in a journal. Tedious, yes, but research confirms it works when it comes to weight loss and sticking with a plan. And, it’s only for four more days.
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6. Pack your lunch.
The best-laid plans require a little thinking ahead. If you work outside the home, get up a few minutes early so you can plan your lunch and snacks for the day. Store premade lunches or leftovers in individual portioned containers for faster packing. If you work from home, it’s still a good idea to portion out snacks in the morning when willpower is usually highest.
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7. Go to bed.
The quickest way to get off track with weight-loss efforts is lack of sleep. The average adult needs 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night; less sleep than that affects concentration, memory, energy levels and stress levels. Lack of sleep also puts you in constant search of caffeine or sugar pick-me-ups, which add extra unnecessary calories.
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8. Snack smart.
Don’t skip snacks to avoid calories. Healthy snacking promotes weight loss by managing hunger, stabilizing blood sugar, and preventing overeating or binges. Choose low-calorie snacks (100 to 200 calories) with fiber and protein for satiety.
Snack ideas with 200 calories or less are apple slices with a tablespoon of nut butter, ¼ cup of almonds, baby carrots and 3 tablespoons of hummus, 5 whole grain crackers and 1 ounce of cheese, or ½ cup Greek yogurt with a sprinkle of berries and nuts.
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9. Don’t overdo exercise.
Many people’s gut response to burn extra calories is to do a killer workout. But, this isn’t the best route choose since it can lead to burnout, injury, and a false sense that you don’t have to worry about your slipup anymore. The most effective method is to jump right back into your normal exercise routine, focusing on upping the intensity or time slightly.
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10. Hydrate, and then hydrate some more.
Hydration is key to warding off feelings of hunger and getting rid of post-holiday bloat, not to mention your body’s overall health. While the common rule of thumb is eight (8-ounce) cups of water daily, many may need a little more than that—closer to nine cups for women and 13 for men, according to the Institute of Medicine. The easiest way to stay hydrated for most: carry a water bottle and have a cup of water before each meal. Here are additional tips and info on staying hydrated and how to infuse flavor in water.
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11. Shake up your workout.
Changing up your workout prevents boredom and also challenges your body. The body adapts to activity over time, so getting out of your normal routine challenges your body and may burn more calories. If you’re a walker or runner, try incorporating intervals by changing up speed and inclines, or try a new sport or fitness class—anything to get you out of your workout comfort zone.
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12. Avoid sugar traps.
Since you’re back to following the Cooking Light Diet or other eating plan, you should be eating three meals with snacks in between. Eating at regular intervals is key to avoiding hunger and keeping blood sugar from getting too low.
Additionally, avoid foods with added sugars such as soda and candy and even low-calorie treats such as yogurt-covered pretzels, almonds, and diet sodas with artificial sweeteners. Eating too many added sugar as well as artificial sweeteners can cause your blood sugar to take a dip.
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13. Talk about it.
While your holiday slipup may not be something you to talk about, your success in getting back on track for four days is worth sharing. Tell a co-worker, a friend, your hairdresser, or friends on social media about how good you feel and how tracking your food intake has helped. Maybe you want to share a new recipe or workout you tried. The act of telling someone you’re focusing on your health solidifies you commitment and will likely spur them to follow up on your success later.
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14. Get in touch with your emotions.
Emotions are often the root of poor food choices, so realizing how feelings such as stress, excitement, and loneliness impact your eating is key to preventing future holiday overeating. While snacking on a bag of candy may feel good at the time, it doesn’t solve the real issue and it derails your diet.
Be aware of what’s going on and what you’re feeling the next time you make an unhealthy food choice. Then come up with a plan. Cook and portion meals in advance of a hectic week if you eat more when stressed. Keep Sudoku puzzles, crossword puzzles, or knitting close by to keep your hands and mind active if boredom triggers you.
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15. Challenge yourself.
Signing up for a physical challenge that pushes you a little outside your comfort zone is a great way to get fit and stay motivated when exercising. Depending on your fitness level, look for 5K, 10K or half-marathons in your area. Or, plan a destination 5K with girlfriends. Not into races? Try a new sport or class such as paddle boarding, spinning, pilates, or barre. Don't be discouraged if it takes several tries to master a new exercise—remember, practice makes perfect.
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16. Cook it up.
Variety is the spice of life, and this is definitely true when it comes to eating and diets. Try new recipes and foods regularly so you never get bored. Pull from Cooking Light’s free database of recipes, or check out the Cooking Light Diet that includes recipes from the magazine as well as ones just for Diet subscribers. You’ll slowly build a collection of delicious, healthy recipes to pull from and won’t ever eat bland diet food.