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Avoiding the Annual Holiday Gain


November 16, 2006  |  

It’s that time of year again -- yep, time to gain weight!

But according to Director of the Center for the Treatment of Obesity at UCSD Medical Center, Santiago Horgan, M.D., with a little planning and effort people can avoid this annual holiday tradition that destroys good eating habits and challenges well-toned physiques.

Horgan says the best way to control the holiday weight gain is to look at the holiday meal and change perspective.

“A meal is a meal but it is also a calorie machine,” Horgan says. “How can you make the meal work without taking in so many calories and have it still remain appetizing? By looking at the aspects that you don’t realize make you gain weight.”

Horgan offers the following suggestions for anyone who wants to avoid the annual holiday pounds splurge and panic dash to the gym in January.

“Follow the smart diet,” says Horgan. “Eat the calories you want but not the ones you don’t need. Avoid unhealthy snacking. Think ahead and choose where you are going to consume your calories. For example if you have a big holiday meal planned, decide ahead of time where you want to consume your calories.” Horgan suggests that if a person loves pumpkin pie, then eat it but limit consumption of potatoes, gravy and dressing or eliminate them altogether.

Horgan realizes people like to eat big holidays meals and has remedies for dealing with those scenarios.

“Eat a healthy snack before going to a holiday party,” Horgan suggests. “That way you won’t be hungry and head straight for the appetizers.”

He advises diners to think about portions. “People eat too much in an attempt to eat everything on their plate,” he says. “Control your portions by using a salad-sized plate for your entrée and side dishes, and eat your salad on an entrée-sized plate before the main part of the meal.”

Horgan further advises diners to be cognizant of when they’re full.

“You don’t have to clean your plate” he says. “It takes a good twenty minutes before your stomach signals your brain that it’s full, so eat slowly and the second you start feeling satisfied, stop eating.”

Another way to curtail calories at the holiday meal is to cut the fat in time-honored dishes. For example, instead of whipping butter into the mashed potatoes, use fat-free chicken broth or low-fat milk. When sautéing onions and celery for the stuffing skip the fat and use non-stick spray instead. Bake the stuffing in a separate casserole, not in the bird, so it does not absorb turkey grease in the cavity. Finally, skim the turkey drippings of the fat before using it to make the gravy.

Another calorie buster he recommends is that before eating the holiday meal, diners should drink a full glass of carbonated water and keep a bottle of the carbonated water on the holiday table to drink with the meal. Both the water and carbonation will help diners feel full and help avoid overeating. But Horgan realizes some people simply want to eat a lot.

“If you want to eat 1,000 calories at a special meal, that’s okay, just don’t consume 1,000 calories at the day’s other meals too. Think ahead of how many calories you want to consume for the day and incorporate the big meal into that amount. Preserve the bulk of the day’s calories for the holiday meal. Make the meal work for you without overeating.”

The number one mistake to avoid, Horgan cautions, is not eating all day before the holiday meal. “If you don’t eat all day you will get hungry, lose control and eat much more. Instead, eat smart throughout the day so you can eat reasonably at the holiday meal. Fill up on healthy foods like fruits and vegetables without dressing.”

Two key saboteurs, Horgan says, are bread and sauce. “We don’t tell people not to eat; we tell them to limit the bread, dressings and sauces. If you look at a salad what makes the salad heavy is not the salad ingredients but the salad dressing,” Horgan points out. “The meat by itself won’t cause you to gain weight, but the sauce on it will. What makes chicken a high calorie machine? It’s not the chicken but the sauce.”

Horgan advises that it is fine to drink alcohol with dinner; however he advises choosing an alcohol with fewer calories. For example, skip the high-calorie margarita in favor of red wine.

Ultimately the only thing that matters, says Horgan, are the calories. “What are the calories telling you? Nothing,” he says. “All that matters is how many calories you’re eating, nothing else. Fill yourself up with low-calorie foods that won’t make you gain weight.”

What about exercise? “We know people rarely have time to exercise during the holidays,” Horgan admits. “But there are many ways a person can fit in exercise during this busy time of year.”

He suggests people add to the exercise they already do, and streamline it. For example when shopping park the car at the far end of the mall and walk as much as you can. To get in some extra steps, walk the outside perimeter of the mall before you ever step foot in the stores. When you go somewhere on foot take the longest route, not the shortest one. Don’t ride elevators, always take the stairs. It may only be one floor, but it all adds up.  

Horgan says the basic rule for maintaining weight anytime of year is calories in equals calories out. “The calories from food should balance those burned during daily activities,” he advises. He knows most people eat more during the holidays, so he suggests finding ways to burn the extra calories such as extra housecleaning, raking up leaves, weeding and other physical chores.

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Media Contact:  Jeffree Itrich or Leslie Franz, 619-543-6163

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