Ask the Expert: Maintain, don't gain, over the holidays

I frequently see IU employees for nutrition counseling appointments to assist them in achieving their weight-loss goals. The holidays often come up as a topic of discussion, either as a cause of the weight gain or a barrier to weight loss. I usually suggest focusing on getting through the holidays without gaining weight, as maintaining your weight between Thanksgiving and New Year's is a commendable achievement in itself.

The average person gains 1 to 2 pounds every year from young adulthood through middle age, and in many cases, that weight gain can be traced back to the holidays. While eating less and exercising more can certainly help keep those pounds off, there are some other strategies to consider that can help you maintain and not gain this holiday season.

Eat more anti-Inflammatory foods

When you're trying to avoid holiday weight gain, it's important to consider not only the quantity of food you eat but the quality. Chronic, low-level inflammation is associated with weight gain and obesity, and some foods help reduce inflammation, while others cause inflammation.

Foods that help reduce inflammation include vegetables, fruits and nuts, while foods that promote inflammation include added sugars and refined grains. At your next holiday meal, consider filling half your plate with colorful vegetables, choosing fruit for dessert and having a handful of nuts as an appetizer.

Eat at the right times

When you eat might be as important as what you eat. Eating at the wrong times of the day can make it more difficult to avoid holiday weight gain. Eating breakfast and avoiding eating late at night are two important aspects of a healthy eating schedule.

Shortening the window of time in which you eat each day to only 10 to 12 hours may also help prevent weight gain. For example, you might start the day with some eggs and fruit for breakfast at 7 a.m. and then finish eating your holiday dinner by 7 p.m. to stay within a 12-hour window.

Get enough sleep

Sleep helps regulate your body's metabolism and can also affect your appetite. Not getting enough sleep can lower your metabolism, as well as cause increased hunger and cravings for unhealthy foods. In other words, getting enough sleep can help you have the willpower to make better choices at the holiday dessert table. Try to keep a consistent sleep schedule that allows you seven to nine hours of sleep every night.

Be active outdoors

Physical activity is a great way to burn calories and manage stress, and being active outdoors further enhances those benefits. Spending time in nature has profound effects on reducing your body's stress response.

Holiday stress is not something to ignore, as excessive levels of stress are another thing that can impair your metabolism. You can also use the cold weather around the holidays to your advantage, as moderate cold exposure increases your metabolism as your body burns calories to keep you warm.

Take a vacation from your smartphone

Now you know that stress, inflammation and lack of sleep can all impair you metabolism. What is something that can negatively affect all three of these factors? Your smartphone. All those text messages and notifications are not only contributing to your holiday stress load; using your phone at night can also cause poor sleep and inflammation.

The blue light emitted by your smartphone screen decreases production of the hormone melatonin. In addition to helping us sleep, melatonin plays important roles in reducing inflammation and regulating your metabolism. Keep holiday weight gain in check by turning off your phone at least an hour before going to bed.

Steven Lalevich is a registered dietitian for Healthy IU.