Harley Pasternak: How To Fight Back Against Holiday Weight Gain

12/18/2013 at 11:58 AM ET

Jennifer Garner Buys Apples at Farmers Market
Courtesy Harley Pasternak

Harley Pasternak is a celebrity trainer and nutrition expert who has worked with stars from Halle Berry and Lady Gaga to Robert Pattinson and Robert Downey Jr. He’s also a New York Times best-selling author, with titles including The Body Reset Diet and The 5-Factor Diet. Tweet him @harleypasternak.

Festive fat. The “Santa 7.” Christmas belly.

No matter what you call holiday weight gain, the fact is, it happens to a lot of people. You may think those extra pounds are a result of attending more parties or snacking on all those treats around the office, but there are some less obvious reasons that are also at play. Let’s take a look and see what we may be missing and how we can fight back.

SOCIAL EVENTS

Between office parties, neighborhood get-togethers and family gatherings, many people tend to drink more alcohol during the holiday months. You’ve heard how mixed drinks, wine and beer can pile on extra calories—but alcohol can also lead to a loss of inhibitions, which may trigger overeating.

When you’ve had a cocktail or two, you may not think twice about having one more cookie or an extra helping of mashed potatoes. But let’s add it up: Two glasses of red wine plus a gingerbread man and a scoop of potatoes au gratin is almost 600 calories! And, honestly, you’ve barely eaten anything. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the “try everything” trap. Whether you’re being a polite guest or are simply curious about the dishes at a buffet, you may end up just shoveling it all in.

Fight Back!
1. Save the alcohol for after dinner (or once the food has been put away) so it’s not tempting you to eat more.

2. Put the healthy stuff, like salad and veggies, on your plate first so you have less room to fill up with heavier dishes. It’s okay to be selective! (Hint: Be the last one in the buffet line so no one will notice what you put on your plate. They’ll be too focused on their food to care!)

DROP IN TEMPERATURE

Unlike bears and groundhogs, humans are not supposed to hibernate for the winter—but many of us do just that. Shorter days, colder temperatures and winter conditions often lead to less physical activity and more eating activities.

Cold temperatures can also increase hunger and cravings for high-calorie, high carbohydrate foods—or “comfort foods”—like pancakes and mac ‘n’ cheese. (When the body gets cold, it craves carb-heavy foods because they create a burst of “heat.”) Unfortunately, these types of foods set off a blood-sugar roller coaster in our bodies, that actually ends up increasing our hunger and leading to winter diet sabotage.

Fight Back!
1. If going outside is out of the question, pop in workout DVD and break a sweat by yourself—or get the whole family into an active game on Xbox or Wii. My Hollywood Workout (available on both platforms) has a bonus: a tropical “view!”

2. Get a Netflix membership and “zone out” by watching one of your favorite shows as you workout at home.

3. Drive the the nearest indoor shopping mall and window shop ’till you drop.

4. Find a local community center or health club with an indoor pool and swim your winter blues away.

DECREASE IN DAYLIGHT

With the winter comes shorter days, which impact us in a myriad of ways. First, early sunsets often force us inside earlier and curtail many outdoor activities—so we’re not out and about burning calories. Second, for some, darkness can affect mood—and has shown to decrease serotonin, the “feel-good” hormone, especially in those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Fight Back! 
1. Get your serotonin fix by exercising! It will burn calories and improve your mood. If your neighborhood is too dark to safely walk around, try going to the local mall or community center where you can get tons of steps in while staying warm!

2. Getting good sleep is important, but avoid sleeping in on weekends and days off. Keeping your body clock on a schedule is important to stabilizing your mood, and you don’t want to miss any hours of sunlight.

3. Go for walks during daylight hours. This dose of sunlight is good for you mind and body—and is a great way to get your vitamin D in the winter.

THE “GET IT BEFORE IT’S GONE” TRAP

Egg nog, peppermint lattes, fruit cake, and countless other foods hit the shelves during the holidays because marketers know our gut reaction is to grab it while it lasts—and, boy, do we ever. Then there’s the nostalgia factor: We end up eating some holiday foods because they’re part of a tradition, not because we really want them.

Fight Back! 
Don’t be fooled by the limited-edition trick. Before indulging in a holiday treat, ask yourself: Do I really want this or  is it just because it’s reindeer shaped?

Do you have a favorite holiday treat? Tweet me @harleypasternak.

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