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10 Best Ways to Avoid Holiday Belly Fat

You can enjoy still your favorite foods without worrying about the dreaded holiday weight gain.

Weight gain during the holiday season is normal, especially as temperatures drop and your plates are suddenly filled with the warm foods you just can't seem to resist. They do only make an appearance once a year, so it's no wonder over-indulging is rather common. While you shouldn't fear a slight weight gain—again, it's fairly common and can happen!—there are ways to maintain or reduce belly fat, even during the months filled with decadent dinners and plentiful desserts.

In fact, you can still find ways to enjoy everything this season has to offer, including the food, without detracting from any of your health or fitness goals.

So if you're determined to stay on course, here are the best ways to reduce, or altogether avoid holiday weight gain, especially that dreaded belly fat. And while you're making healthy changes, be sure to try out these 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time.

Get enough sleep


It's important to get those seven to eight hours of sleep each night, even during the holidays. According to the Mayo Clinic, research has shown a link between lack of sleep and weight gain. This could be because the amount of sleep you get impacts your hormone levels and can lead to increased appetite and less energy for physical activity.

What's more, Harvard Health explains that by losing weight and decreasing belly fat, you can, in turn, improve your sleep quality, bringing it all full-circle.

Reduce stress

reading a book

Stress is an often overlooked cause of belly fat. Studies have shown a link between increased stress, cortisol, and belly fat, and the danger is that, according to the American Institute of Stress, "stress-induced abdominal fat secretes large amounts of inflammatory molecules that contribute to diabetes, insulin resistance, and heart attacks."

So try to focus on the joys of the season and find healthy ways to reduce stress. Do some yoga or other forms of movement, painting, or do some reading. Whatever it is that helps you relax, be sure to make time for it.

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Eat the rainbow

rainbow salad

In-between all those cookies and pies you might find yourself flocking to, you'll want to make sure you're eating the rainbow, too. This refers to filling up your plate with fresh fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors to help ensure you get an array of vitamins and minerals from your foods. Plants are made up of phytochemicals, which offer health benefits and are responsible for the taste, color, and smell of plant-based foods. By eating foods of various colors, you'll benefit from more of the nutrients available across different types of fresh produce.

For example, enjoying red foods, like tomatoes, means you're eating lycopene, which boosts heart health. Meanwhile, blue and purple foods, like blueberries, improve memory, and reduce blood pressure.

Practice food favoritism

A high angle close up shot of a brown plate containing a bountiful thanksgiving turkey dinner. Shot on a grungy old wooden table
iStock Photos

You shouldn't feel bad if you don't want to eat everything on the holiday dinner menu. If you don't like certain side dishes, leave them off your plate to make more room for the foods you love. This way, you're less likely to overeat since you won't be eating the foods you don't want along with larger portions of the foods you like the most. Instead, you'll just fill up on your favorites.

Make time for movement

Cheerful female cyclist enjoying a bike ride

Staying huddled under the covers all winter long sounds nice, but your body needs movement! You don't have to go for a 6 a.m. run each day— unless that is something you love to do—but you'll want to make space in your day to get in some exercise. Go for a walk, dance with loved ones to your favorite holiday tunes, or join a virtual yoga class with a friend. Find physical activities that you love doing, and it'll be far from a chore to get moving daily.

Try to get up and move regularly throughout the day, too, as studies have discovered that prolonged sitting is a high-risk factor for cardiometabolic disease. Big yikes.

Don't skip meals


It's tempting to skip breakfast in favor of waiting to indulge in the larger holiday dinner you know is coming later in the day, but this just means you're more likely to overeat.

Instead, Harvard Health advises that you "have a healthy breakfast and satisfying lunch, with a light snack before the event to avoid overindulging later."

Limit alcohol  consumption

Friends eating a pasta dinner at a restaurant

The holidays are a time for celebration, and that often means booze, booze, and more booze. But it doesn't have to be that way! You can still join the toast with a refreshing glass of sparkling water. It's no secret that alcohol consumption comes with a lot of long-term health risks, but even in the short-term, you'll find that limiting the beer, wine, and cocktails can help you reduce weight gain. How so you may be wondering? Well, skipping the drinks allows you to sleep more soundly, reduce mindless munching, and reserve energy for movement you enjoy—all things on this list that further limit and even reduce belly fat during the holidays.

Be mindful

eating mindfully

Mindful eating has been gaining popularity in the health world in recent years and for good reason. While it can sound impossible at first, it is possible to be healthy just by fulfilling what your body wants when it wants. Won't you just eat brownies and cookies all day long, then? Surprisingly, no!

Once you start tuning in to what your body wants, you'll notice that yes, sometimes you want a gingerbread cookie, but other times, you'd love a serving of carrots and almonds. Plus, you'll be more aware of portions and fullness rather than overriding your hunger and fullness cues.

The benefit? Mindful eating will help you feel balanced from the inside out, while the opposite is true if you indulge mindlessly this season.

Try sneaky swaps

Grating cauliflower into cauliflower rice

It's surprisingly simple to make ingredient swaps in your favorite holiday dishes to make them more nutritious without sacrificing flavor. An example? Swap some of the creams, butter, or cheeses in hearty dishes like mashed potatoes, casseroles, or macaroni and cheese with vegetable purees, such as cauliflower or butternut squash.

In baked goods, you can swap in items such as applesauce and bananas for less nutritious options like sugar and oil.

Gather around the table


As mentioned above in relation to mindful eating, you can pay better attention to your fullness cues and enjoy your meal more by eating at the table with your loved ones rather than dining in front of the TV or scrolling on your phone. While chatting over dinner, you're likely to spend more time eating and savoring each bite, rather than eating bite after bite without focusing on what you are doing. Your body will have more time to let you know when you really are full, which prevents overeating.

Paige Bennett
Paige is a Los Angeles-based editor and freelance writer. In addition to writing for Eat This, Not That!, she works as the content editor for Inhabitat. Read more about Paige
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