Six mental tricks to avoid holiday weight gain

A personal trainer shares her best tips for how to enjoy the holiday season without going overboard.
Image: Child taking a traditional German Christmas cookie off a plate on a table
Before you grab another cookie, make a bargain with yourself: One cookie equals 20 squats, 500 steps or a 5-minute walk around the kitchen. Elva Etienne / Getty Images
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By Brianna Steinhilber

We enter the holidays with the best of intentions: eating a healthy meal before heading to holiday parties; squeezing in a workout a few times a week; and doing our best to stick to just one cookie.

But as much as we set ourselves up for success, a monthlong cycle of open bars and dessert tables will undoubtedly test our willpower. Eating healthy and staying committed to your workouts is much easier said than done this season. Especially in those moments when you’re standing in front of mom’s famous mac and cheese, walk in to find a huge cookie tray in the office kitchen or get a last-minute invite for a fun night out with friends (when you had intended to hit the gym).

And all of those opportunities to indulge can begin to show up on your waistline. “There’s differing statistics on how much the average weight gain is over the holidays, but one thing that’s for sure is that when people do gain weight it takes them on average five months to lose it after the holidays. You don’t have to deprive yourself, but it is something to be mindful of,” says Stephanie Mansour, personal trainer and CEO of Step It Up with Steph.

Since many of Mansour's clients are worried about maintaining their hard-earned weight loss over the holidays, she has developed some tactics they can use to make decisions that will keep them feeling good all month long, while still being able to enjoy everything the season to offer (yes, even the cookies and cocktails).

Keep these tips in your back pocket for the next time you’re tempted to skip a workout and indulge in a treat.

Do a palate cleanse

Next time you're going into the fridge for an extra piece of pie or reaching for another cookie, stop yourself in your tracks and change your taste buds.

“My mom makes these thumbprint cookies and I could eat ten of them. In order to stop myself from doing that — since I’m a recovered sweet-a holic — I change my taste buds,” says Mansour. “I go to the fridge and get a piece of broccoli, which is kind of bitter, or a piece of a pepper to rewire [my] craving. I tell this to my clients all the time, if you find that you’re craving chips or cookies or another piece of pizza, put a vegetable in your mouth, chew it, swallow it, and change your taste buds. Nine times out of ten, you’re not going to want whatever it was that you were craving.”

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Put your workout clothes on and just stretch

Next time you think about skipping your workout and are feeling unmotivated, make a deal with yourself that you'll just stretch.

“Instead of just standing up in your work clothes or sitting on the couch and doing some stretches, I want you to take this a step further and actually go put on your workout clothes and [sneakers] and do your stretches in your gear,” says Mansour. “If you’re in your gear and you feel how good it feels to stretch your body and move around, you’re probably going to want to do more stretches and you may even want to do the actual workout you had planned.”

Make a bargain with yourself

If sweets are your kryptonite, Mansour has a trick to prevent the mindless munching: Make a deal with yourself.

“Make a bargain with yourself. Say ‘Sure, I can have that if I want, but I’m committing to doing something positive for my body first,’ she says. “If you walk around your house or apartment five times, you can have another one. If you walk for 500 steps, you can have another one. If you do 20 squats, you can have another one. Bargain with yourself to get moving before you're allotted another round of sweets.”

Have a one-word mantra for the month

Creating positive affirmation mantras is something that Mansour does with her weight-loss clients. She has them write down what they see themselves doing and how they see themselves feeling once they reach their goal.

“For the holidays, some of us don’t have time for that. So I want you to pick one word and any time you’re thinking about making an unhealthy decision, whether it’s food or skipping a workout or not taking care of yourself, I want you to think of that one word that means something to you,” she says. “This word can be anything from ‘strong’ to ‘determined’ — even ‘skinny’ if that resonates with you. For me, ‘control’ resonates because I want to feel in control of my choices. So when I’m thinking of having something that I know is going to make me feel bloated or lethargic, I think of the word ‘control.’"

Reschedule every workout you skip

It’s not uncommon for plans to pop up last minute this time of year. And you don’t have to say no to things you really want to do just because you have a workout on the calendar. But when a fun alternative pops up, Mansour says to immediately reschedule for another time to prevent the workout from falling off your calendar altogether.

“Let’s say you signed up for a spin class, and you’re skipping out on it to go to a happy hour or dinner with a friend who’s in town, then you need to stop right then and there, go into your calendar and reschedule that exact workout,” she says. “If it was a spin class, you’re going or schedule it for tomorrow or the next day, whatever works. But sign up for that class and put it in your calendar and then you can feel good about skipping that workout and doing the other thing that came up.”

Mansour says these tactics should enable you to find some middle ground — and be able to actually enjoy the season, but still hold yourself accountable.

“I never want anyone to feel guilty — life happens. We’re not trying to be perfect, we’re just trying to feel at peace with ourselves and our decisions,” she says. “Enjoy this time. Enjoy the food you only get a few times a year, enjoy your friends, enjoy your family and still feel in control or strong or determined, without feeling guilty about it.”

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