April 29, 2009

You're interested in healthy weight loss over the holiday season. Here's the math: To lose 5 pounds, you need to shave 17,500 calories (or 3,500 per pound).

Break that down over November and December and it works out to only 300 calories a day. You're losing at a very healthy, controlled rate less than a pound a week which makes you more likely to stick to your weight-loss efforts and keep the weight off post-Jan. 1. Here are the holiday diet tips you need:

1. Wondering how to cut calories? The answer is – modestly.

Resist the temptation to make major cuts in your diet. There are just too many fabulous things around to eat this time of year. Instead, here's how to cut calories successfully: aim to reduce your intake by just 100 calories every day, while bumping up the frequency and intensity of your workouts. To offset the calorie increases at the holidays, focus on exercise that way you won't feel deprived.

Cutting calories is easy if you know where to look. If you give up one slice of bread, you're saving 100 calories. And if you choose lean fish or grilled, skinless chicken breast over red meat, you can also very easily save 100-200 calories.

The trick to translating this to weight loss is two fold: Don't make up the calorie loss with holiday treats (you'll need to budget for those) and stay consistent in burning the other 200 calories with exercise to hit a daily 300-calorie deficit. On days you exercise less or not at all, make up the difference by cutting more calories from your food intake. When you do a longer, more vigorous workout, you may want to have a small treat or bank those calories expended.

[header = Holiday diet tips: ideas for calorie-burning workout routines & healthy meals.]

To lose weight during the holidays, you'll want to do more than just cut calories. Here are tips for your workout routines, healthy meals and more.

2. Use your free time to fit in calorie-burning workout routines and to prepare delicious healthy meals.

True, there is more to get done this time of year. But most of us get at least a few days off too. Use that time to fit in a number of good workout routines that burn some serious calories and fat (a 50-minute run burns nearly 600 calories, or two days worth of calories toward your 5-pound goal). Carve out more time for workouts by doing your holiday shopping online.

Do make time for regular, healthy meals. You never want to miss a meal, or change the timing of your meals. When you eat is key for weight loss, especially during the busy time of the holidays. Make sure you eat a small meal or snack every three to four hours to prevent overeating. If you're going holiday shopping all day, bring something to keep you going, like a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich and a piece of fruit.

3. Holiday diet tips aren't all about depriving yourself: eat what you love.

If you're too rigid during the holiday season, it normally backfires on you. Instead, she says, focus on having a small amount sometimes just a bite of what you really love several days a week, or even every day. If you have a little bit of your favorite food every day, it takes away your anxiety and the feeling of eating something forbidden.

The exception: If you know that one bite will lead to another (and another), you'll probably need to keep the verboten foods out of the house altogether. Avoid the panic of missing out on foods you only get to enjoy once a year by putting a few goodies in a Ziploc bag and freezing them. Knowing that you can have a bite of Christmas fudge in February may take the edge off and keep you from overindulging now.

[header = Holiday diet tips: healthy weight loss tips for attending holiday parties.]

This final set of holiday diet tips focuses on ways you can mentally prepare yourself for healthy weight loss – even during the holidays.

4. Reframe the holidays

Heard a news report warning that you'll put on 5 or 10 pounds from Halloween to New Years? Not true. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the average person gains just over a pound during the holidays. So don't dust off the elastic-waist pants just yet: Instead, take a hard look at what really pushes your buttons to overeat now is it parties, difficult relatives or the endless bowls of candy at work? Look at each party as a separate event; tell yourself, I'm going to enjoy myself tonight, but when the party's over, I go back to healthy eating and exercise.

5. Prepare for holiday parties

Whether you bring your own healthful dish to a potluck or resolve to alternate seltzers-and-lime with lower-cal alcoholic drinks (or forgo cocktails altogether), you're setting yourself up to succeed. When you do head down the buffet line, think strategically. Fill half your plate with vegetables, one-quarter with lean protein like shrimp or chicken breast, and the rest with grains. If holiday parties are held at the end of the day and you have already exercised, save some calories by passing up the grains altogether.