We all know it: we gain weight over the holidays. Research shows that about half of an individual's yearly weight gain takes place during the holidays. Even with a continued push by health care professionals to increase messages to the public about healthy eating and regular physical activity, obesity is still on the rise. A 2008 research article published in Obesity estimated that by the year 2030, an estimated 86 percent of Americans will be overweight or obese.

Research shows on average, taking into account efforts all year to lose or maintain weight, individuals gain an estimated one to two pounds per year, with the five-day Christmas period responsible for approximately two pounds to upwards of nine pounds of weight gain. Those at highest risk for weight gain or re-gain are older and middle-aged adults over the age of 40 and those who are overweight or obese and have lost weight in the past.

For those who have been successful in the past with weight loss but experience holiday weight gain recovery from this weight gain makes future efforts more difficult. What does this mean? We are our own worst enemies. We can work hard all year to maintain or lose weight and set ourselves back entirely with the fall and winter holiday season.

Why are the holidays so problematic? Traditionally, weight gain or regain of lost weight over the holidays is attributed to: lack of portion control, sugar-sweetened beverage consumption, eating meals outside of the home, lack of physical activity, over consuming calories and stress, according to a 2009 study in the American Journal of Medicine and The Surgeon General's Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation 2010.

So, what can we do to prevent the holiday bulge? Now is the time to start thinking about a holiday weight management strategy. Below is a list of tips to help you navigate this potential diet-busting season:

Rebecca Lee's Top Ten Holiday Survival Tips:

  1. If you need to lose weight, get started now by visiting a registered dietitian to learn more about proper portion sizes, calories, label reading and lifestyle behavioral techniques for weight loss.
  2. Create a physical activity plan. Research shows the first thing to get left behind during the busy holiday season is regular physical activity. Set aside at least 30 to upwards of 60 minutes most days of the week for regular physical activity like walking, bike riding, indoor swimming, elliptical training, dance or aerobics classes, weight lifting, and circuit training. Physical activity has been proven to reduce stress, which is extremely important during the holidays. By increasing your activity, you can burn extra calories and decrease your stress level. Have a dog? Walk your dog for at least 20 minutes every day to burn an extra 50 to 100 calories. Not only will you burn extra calories, you will bond more with your furry friend, which decreases stress levels and potentially blood pressure as well.
  3. Utilize time spent shopping for gifts and at the grocery store for physical activity by following these simple steps: park the farthest away from the store; walk down all of the isles at the grocery store even if you don't need an item on that isle, all the while avoiding impulse buys; minimize use of drive-through services by walking into the store, coffee shop or pharmacy; when shopping at the mall park at the opposite end of the store you need to visit; and get to the mall 30 minutes to 1 hour before stores open and walk a few laps around the mall to get in more physical activity, scope out sales, and beat the rush of shoppers. Wear a pedometer to track your daily steps, aiming for at least 10,000 steps per day.
  4. Need something to motivate you to exercise during the holidays? Register for fall and winter run/walk 5K or 10K races to keep you focused on maintaining exercise goals and to help raise money for worthy charities and causes. Need social support? Get your friends, family and co-workers involved and registered for races as well, making the training and race-day experience more enjoyable and rewarding.
  5. Always find yourself pressed for time during the holidays? Get started now with holiday shopping and planning. Make this year the year when last minute rushing is not an issue. Start with a list of gift ideas for everyone you need to buy for and a list of events you will need to bring food for. You can use your extra time to fit in more physical activity and food journaling to keep your weight loss plans on track.
  6. Get others involved in your mission to maintain your weight over the holidays by organizing a neighborhood walking group and throwing healthy themed holiday parties. Even offer healthy Halloween treats for neighborhood trick-or-treaters such as: healthy trail mix, mini bags of popcorn, 100 calorie packs of cookies or crackers and mini boxes of raisins, or even offer non-food trinkets such as yo-yos, mini bottles of bubbles and sidewalk chalk.
  7. Monitor your weight daily through the calorie-densest days of the season to be aware of any weight gain so you can re-focus immediately on your weight maintenance goals.
  8. Focus on increasing your fruit and vegetable intake. Fruits and vegetables are nutrient dense low calorie ways to get your much-needed vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and belly-filling fiber. Make it your goal to consume at least 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables as many days of the week as possible during the holiday season.
  9. Over consuming alcohol during weekend tailgate parties, holiday parties and family get-togethers? Dial it down a notch by alternating one alcoholic beverage with one to two calorie-free, non-alcoholic beverages. You can also choose 55 and 64-calorie beers or low-calorie cocktails making their way to a few local restaurant and bar menus. Remember that 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of light beer, and 1.5 ounces of liquor all contain around 100 to 120 calories so choose wisely and avoid added calories from high sugar mixers, daiquiris and margaritas.
  10. Start logging your calories and keeping food journals. With multiple online web sites and phone apps aimed at calorie counting and food journaling, it is easier now than ever to keep track of what you are consuming. Make the commitment to yourself now to start logging, and by the time the holidays roll around, you will be fully committed to weight loss or maintenance success!

Maintaining your weight is one of the most important ways you can reduce your risk for developing chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Don't let the holidays get the best of you this year. Take care of yourself while still enjoying time spent with friends and family. And most importantly, get started with your holiday survival plan now.

If you are trying to shed some extra pounds before the holidays or want to come up with your own personalized holiday survival plan, make an appointment with a registered dietitian specializing in weight management.

Rebecca M. Lee, RD, LDN, is the registered and licensed dietitian / nutritionist at East Jefferson General Hospital's Wellness Center. Lee specializes in adult weight management, chronic disease prevention and sports nutrition. To schedule an appointment with Lee, call: (504) 849-6801, (504) 849-6868 or e-mail: rmlee@ejgh.com.