The holidays are an exciting time of year. But between the parties, stress and baked goods, it’s also a time when people tend to gain weight.
In fact, between mid-November and mid-January, adults gain an average of one pound, or half a kilogram (1).
This may not seem like a lot, but most people don’t lose the weight they gain over the holidays. For this reason, holiday weight gain is one of the biggest contributors to total yearly weight gain for many people.
The good news is that weight gain during the holidays is not inevitable.
Here are 20 tips to help you avoid weight gain during the holiday season.

1. Be Active With Family and Friends

Mom and Daughter Eating Christmas Cookies
Sedentary activities, such as sitting on the couch watching sports, are common holiday traditions for many families.
Inactivity may contribute to weight gain, especially when lounging around is accompanied by eating excessive amounts of food (23).
Doing some type of physical activity while on holiday with your family may prove to be beneficial for weight control.
An activity as simple as a family walk can provide benefits, as it will get your mind off food and allow you to bond with your loved ones.
You can also be active during the holidays by signing up for a workplace or community fitness competition or event. Running races are popular options.

2. Be Smart When Snacking

During the holiday season, unhealthy snacks like cookies and other goodies tend to be available for you to take as you please.
When treats are easy to access, unnecessary snacking or grazing is more likely to occur.
At home, this problem can be solved by keeping treats out of sight. However, that strategy is more difficult to avoid in situations that you cannot control, such as your workplace or a family dinner party.
You can overcome these situations by being mindful of your snacking habits. If you find yourself snacking just because there’s food available — and not because you’re hungry — then it’s best to avoid snacking altogether.
However, if you are hungry and need a snack, opt for real foods. Fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds are filling snacks that don’t contain added sugars or unhealthy fats, both of which can lead to weight gain.

3. Watch Your Portion Sizes

When the holidays arrive, it can be easy to overdo it on your portion sizes.
Those who eat larger-than-recommended portions tend to gain weight more easily than those who don’t (4).
The best way to overcome this is to weigh and measure your food, or eat off of smaller plates, which is discussed more below.
To determine an appropriate portion size, read food labels and the recommended serving sizes listed on recipes.
If you’re in a situation that leaves you unable to measure portions, use your best judgment to fill your plate with a reasonable amount of food.

4. Practice Mindful Eating

People are often rushed and on the go throughout the holiday season, which frequently leads to multitasking during meals.
Studies show that those who eat while they are distracted are more likely to overeat. This is because they are unable to pay attention to their body’s fullness signals (56).
To prevent this from happening, eat mindfully without distractions, including work and electronics.
Another way to eat mindfully is to eat slowly and chew your food thoroughly, which will allow you to better recognize your body’s signals of fullness and consume fewer calories (7).
It can also be helpful to take a few deep breaths before you start eating. This can induce relaxation and help you keep your full attention on your plate, rather than your to-do list.
Several studies show that those who engage in mindful eating practices are less likely to gain weight (89).

5. Get Plenty of Sleep

Sleep deprivation is quite common during the holidays, and it may cause weight gain.
This is because those who do not sleep enough tend to be hungrier, consume more calories and get less physical activity (10111213).
The reason behind this is that sleep restriction may increase your hunger hormone levels, ultimately leading to higher calorie intake.
Additionally, inadequate sleep has been linked to lower metabolism. This is believed to be due to alterations in your circadian rhythm, which is known as the biological clock that regulates many bodily functions (1014).

6. Control Your Stress Levels

Keeping up with the demands of the holidays can be stressful.
Those who are stressed commonly have high levels of cortisol, a hormone that’s released in response to stress. Chronically high cortisol levels may cause weight gain, as they have been linked to greater food intake (1516).
Additionally, a stressful lifestyle may cause more cravings for junk food (16).
For these reasons, it’s important to keep stress levels under control throughout the entire year, but especially during the holidays when you might be plagued with more tasks and surrounded by unhealthy foods.
There are plenty of things you can do during the holidays to reduce stress. Some options include exercise, meditation, yoga and deep breathing.

7. Keep Meals Balanced With Protein

Holiday meals are typically rich in carbs but lack protein.
However, it’s important to include some protein with every meal, as it promotes fullness and may be useful for weight maintenance (171819).
In fact, eating protein with meals may automatically reduce calorie intake by reducing hunger and appetite (20).
Protein is also beneficial for weight control because it increases your metabolism and levels of appetite-reducing hormones (17).
For these weight-management benefits, you should include at least 25–30 grams of protein in each meal (17).
Good sources of protein include meat, poultry, fish and some plant foods like beans and quinoa. Ensure your holiday meals include a serving or two of these foods to reduce the likelihood of overindulgence.

8. Focus on Fiber

Fiber is another important nutrient that induces fullness.
Some studies show that increased dietary fiber can reduce total calorie intake, which may be a method to prevent weight gain over the holidays (2122).
Unfortunately, many common holiday foods lack adequate amounts of fiber. Do your best to incorporate fiber-rich foods, such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, into your meals.

9. Cut Back on Taste Testing

Many people spend a lot of time cooking and baking during the holiday season.
Surprisingly, this can lead to weight gain. That’s because along with the cooking and baking comes taste testing, and even small bites of baked goods and holiday dishes can add up in calories.
Tasting your dishes can be important, especially if you are cooking for others, but a small bite of less than a teaspoon is probably more than enough.
You should also make sure that you aren’t hungry while cooking, as it’s much easier to go overboard on taste testing when your stomach is growling.

10. Bring a Healthy Dish to Share

Holiday parties can be a common setback in the battle against holiday weight gain. In these instances, you often have no control over the food that’s served.
The good news is that you can have control. Simply bring your own healthy dish for yourself and to share with others.
This way, you can be sure you’ll have something to eat that aligns with your weight goals.

11. Choose Desserts Wisely and Savor Them

Dessert is everywhere during the holiday season. This often leads to excessive sugar consumption, a common cause of weight gain (23).
Instead of eating every treat in sight, it can be helpful to focus on your favorites. Eat the ones you really want and ditch the rest.
Another trick is to savor the desserts you do indulge in, which may leave you feeling more satisfied and less likely to overdo dessert.
To savor desserts, eat them slowly and mindfully so you can really taste and enjoy them.

12. Limit Liquid Calories

The holidays are a time of year when alcoholsoda and other sweetened beverages seem to be unlimited.
These beverages can contribute a significant amount of sugar and empty calories to your diet, which can cause weight gain (24).
Additionally, alcohol consumption is often linked to increased appetite and is a risk factor for weight gain (25).
If you’re trying to control your weight, it is best to limit liquid calories during the holidays — and all year long, for that matter.

13. Use a Smaller Plate

Dinner parties and potlucks are common occasions during the holiday season.
While people often think of these as diet disasters, they don’t have to be if you eat from a smaller plate.
This is based on the fact that people tend to consume larger portions off of large plates, which may lead to overeating (262728).
By using the simple trick of choosing a smaller plate, you can control portions and therefore reduce the likelihood of holiday weight gain.

14. Reduce Calories in Recipes

Excessive calorie intake is a primary cause of weight gain during the holidays.
However, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are plenty of things you can do to lower the calorie contents of recipes. Here are some ideas on how to reduce calories in baking, cooking and beverages:

Baking

  • Replace butter with applesauce, mashed banana or pumpkin puree.
  • Instead of sugar, use a lower-calorie substitute such as stevia, erythritol or xylitol.
  • Add dried fruit instead of chocolate chips or candies.
  • Flavor recipes with extracts like vanilla, almond and peppermint instead of butter and sugar.

Cooking

  • Flavor dishes with herbs and spices instead of butter.
  • Use cooking methods such as baking, steaming or grilling instead of frying.
  • Substitute low-fat or skim milk for heavy cream.
  • Replace cream cheese, sour cream and mayo with Greek yogurt.

Beverages

  • Use club soda or sparkling water in place of sweetened beverages.
  • Flavor drinks with freshly squeezed lemon or lime rather than sugar. Cinnamon can also add flavor to holiday-themed beverages.
  • In dairy-based drinks, use low-fat or skim milk in place of heavy cream.

15. Weigh Yourself Regularly

Stepping on the scale regularly during the holidays may help prevent weight gain.
In some studies, individuals who weigh themselves regularly are able to maintain or lose weight better than those who do not weigh themselves (2930).
Do what works best for you when it comes to weighing yourself. Some find it beneficial to check their weight daily, while others are successful weighing themselves once or twice a week.

16. Use the Buddy System

Many people report success with their weight goals when they have a partner to pursue them with.
Finding a health buddy who has similar weight goals may be useful over the holidays, as this person can keep you motivated and accountable.
Reach out to friends, family and co-workers to find someone willing to partner with you in your effort to prevent weight gain.

17. Avoid Processed Foods

The hectic holiday season has led to the increased availability of processed holiday convenience foods, such as boxed mashed potatoes and stuffing.
While these may be quick and easy, they often contain excess sugar and unhealthy fats that are not good for weight control.
To prevent weight gain, opt for whole foods this holiday season. Focus on making meals and baked goods from scratch instead of a box.
That way, you can control what goes in your food and stay on top of your weight.

18. Plan Ahead

All of the suggestions in this article come down to planning ahead if you are watching your weight over the holidays.
If you have events that involve food on the calendar, take matters into your own hands. Find out what types of foods will be served and if you need to, bring your own dish. Decide what and how much you will eat ahead of time.
It can also be helpful to gather a list of healthy holiday recipes, so you always have a go-to when you need to bring something to a party.

19. Skip Seconds

Often times, holiday meals are served in a buffet style, with several options to choose from in unlimited amounts.
This leads people to serve themselves seconds — and maybe even thirds.
The calories from double helpings can add up and contribute to weight gain.
To overcome this, assess your hunger when you finish your first plate. If you’re still hungry, have a little more food. If you’re not, then you’ve probably had enough and can move on to enjoy other aspects of the gathering.

20. Draw the Line

During the holiday season, many people have an “I’ll start tomorrow” mentality, which can end up being a vicious cycle of unhealthy habits.
If you are serious about controlling your weight over the holidays, it may be helpful to draw the line, set limits for yourself and stick to your goals regarding food intake.
Decide which foods are worth it to you and which ones are not. Know that it’s okay to say no to certain foods and habits that don’t align with your goals.
It’s also important to be aware that you might have a slip-up or two.
Often times, people abandon their goals after this happens. However, there is no need for this. Simply move on and make a healthier choice the next time you eat.

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There are around 40 trillion bacteria in your body, most of which are in your intestines.
Collectively, they are known as your gut microbiota, and they are hugely important for your health. However, certain types of bacteria in your intestines can also contribute to many diseases.
Interestingly, the food that you eat greatly affects the types of bacteria that live inside you. Here are 10 science-based ways to improve your gut bacteria.

1. Eat a Diverse Range of Foods

There are hundreds of species of bacteria in your intestines. Each species plays a different role in your health and requires different nutrients for growth.
Generally speaking, a diverse microbiota is considered to be a healthy one. This is because the more species of bacteria you have, the greater number of health benefits they may be able to contribute to (1234).
A diet consisting of different food types can lead to a diverse microbiota (567).
Unfortunately, the Western diet is not very diverse and is rich in fat and sugar. In fact, it is estimated that 75% of the world’s food is produced from only 12 plant and 5 animal species (5).
However, diets in certain rural regions are more diverse and rich in different plant sources.
A few studies have shown that gut microbiota diversity is much greater in people from rural regions of Africa and South America than those from Europe or the US (89).
Bottom Line: Eating a diverse diet rich in whole foods can lead to a diverse microbiota, which is beneficial for your health.

2. Eat Lots of Vegetables, Legumes, Beans and Fruit

Shopping Basket Full of Fruit and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are the best sources of nutrients for a healthy microbiota.
They are high in fiber, which can’t be digested by your body. However, fiber can be digested by certain bacteria in your gut, which stimulates their growth.
Beans and legumes also contain very high fiber contents.
Some high-fiber foods that are good for your gut bacteria include:
  • Raspberries
  • Artichokes
  • Green peas
  • Broccoli
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Beans (kidney, pinto and white)
  • Whole grains
One study found that following a diet high in fruits and vegetables prevented the growth of some disease-causing bacteria (10).
Apples, artichokes, blueberries, almonds and pistachios have all been shown to increase Bifidobacteria in humans (11121314).
Bifidobacteria are considered beneficial bacteria, as they can help prevent intestinal inflammation and enhance gut health (15).
Bottom Line: Many fruits and vegetables are high in fiber. Fiber promotes the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, including Bifidobacteria.

3. Eat Fermented Foods

Yogurt With Blueberries
Fermented foods are foods altered by microbes.
The process of fermenting usually involves bacteria or yeasts converting the sugars in food to organic acids or alcohol. Examples of fermented foods include:
  • Yogurt
  • Kimchi
  • Saurkraut
  • Kefir
  • Kombucha
  • Tempeh
Many of these foods are rich in lactobacilli, a type of bacteria that can benefit your health.
People who eat a lot of yogurt appear to have more lactobacilli in their intestines. These people also have fewer Enterobacteriaceae, a bacteria associated with inflammation and a number of chronic diseases (16).
Similarly, a number of studies have shown that yogurt consumption can beneficially modify intestinal bacteria and improve symptoms of lactose intolerance in both infants and adults (171819).
Certain yogurt products may also reduce the abundance of certain disease-causing bacteria in people with irritable bowel syndrome.
Two studies showed that yogurt also enhanced the function and composition of the microbiota (20).
However, it is important to note that many yogurts, especially flavored yogurts, contain high levels of sugar.
Therefore, the best yogurt to consume is plain, natural yogurt. This kind of yogurt is made only of milk and bacteria mixtures, which are sometimes referred to as “starter cultures.”
Furthermore, fermented soybean milk may promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, such as Bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, while decreasing quantities of some other disease-causing bacteria. Kimchi may also benefit the gut flora (2122).
Bottom Line: Fermented foods, particularly plain, natural yogurt, can benefit the microbiota by enhancing its function and reducing the abundance of disease-causing bacteria in the intestines.

4. Don’t Eat Too Many Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are widely used as replacements for sugar. However, some studies have shown that they can negatively affect the gut microbiota.
One study in rats showed that aspartame, an artificial sweetener, reduced weight gain, but it also increased blood sugar and impaired insulin response (23).
The rats fed aspartame also had higher Clostridium and Enterobacteriaceae in their intestines, both of which are associated with disease when present in very high numbers.
Another study found similar results in mice and humans. It showed changes in the microbiota made artificial sweeteners have negative effects on blood sugar levels (24).
Bottom Line: Artificial sweeteners may negatively affect blood sugar levels due to their effects on the gut microbiota.

5. Eat Prebiotic Foods

Bowl of Oatmeal with Bananas and Blueberries
Prebiotics are foods that promote the growth of beneficial microbes in the gut.
They are mainly fiber or complex carbs that can’t be digested by human cells. Instead, certain species of bacteria break them down and use them for fuel.
Many fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain prebiotics, but they can also be found on their own.
Resistant starch can also be prebiotic. This type of starch is not absorbed in the small intestine. Rather, it passes into the large intestine where it is broken down by the microbiota.
Many studies have shown that prebiotics can promote the growth of many healthy bacteria, including Bifidobacteria.
Many of these studies were conducted in healthy people, but some studies have shown that prebiotics can be beneficial for those with certain diseases.
For example, certain prebiotics can reduce insulin, triglycerides and cholesterol levels in people who are obese (25262728293031).
These results suggest that prebiotics may reduce the risk factors for many diseases associated with obesity, including heart disease and diabetes.
Bottom Line: Prebiotics promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, especially Bifidobacteria. This may help reduce symptoms of metabolic syndrome in obese people.

6. Breastfeed for at Least Six Months

A baby’s microbiota begins to properly develop at birth. However, some recent studies suggest that babies may be exposed to some bacteria before birth (32).
During the first two years of life, an infant’s microbiota is continuously developing and rich in beneficial Bifidobacteria, which can digest the sugars in breast milk (33).
Many studies have shown that infants who are formula fed have an altered microbiota that has fewer Bifidobacteria than infants who are breastfed (333435).
Breastfeeding is also associated with lower rates of allergies, obesity and other diseases that may be due to differences in the gut microbiota (36).
Bottom Line: Breastfeeding helps an infant develop a healthy microbiota, which may help protect against certain diseases in later life.

7. Eat Whole Grains

Bag of Brown Rice
Whole grains contain lots of fiber and non-digestible carbs, such as beta-glucan.
These carbs are not absorbed in the small intestine and instead make their way to the large intestine.
In the large intestine, they are broken down by the microbiota and promote the growth of certain beneficial bacteria.
Whole grains can promote the growth of Bifidobacterialactobacilli and Bacteroidetes in humans (3738394041).
In these studies, whole grains also reduced inflammation and heart disease risk factors, as well as increased feelings of fullness.
Bottom Line: Whole grains contain non-digestible carbs that can promote the growth of beneficial bacteria within the gut microbiota. These changes to the gut flora may improve certain aspects of metabolic health.

8. Eat a Plant-Based Diet

Diets containing animal-based foods lead to different types of intestinal bacteria than plant-based diets do (4243).
A number of studies have shown that vegetarian diets may benefit the gut microbiota. This may be due to their higher fiber contents.
One small study found that a vegetarian diet led to reduced levels of disease-causing bacteria in obese people, as well as reduced weight, inflammation and cholesterol levels (44).
Another study found that a vegetarian diet significantly decreased disease-causing bacteria, such as E. coli (45).
However, it is unclear if the benefits of a vegetarian diet on the gut microbiota are simply due to a lack of meat intake. Also, vegetarians tend to lead healthier lifestyles than omnivores.
Bottom Line: Vegetarian and vegan diets may improve the microbiota. However, it is unclear if the positive effects associated with these diets can be attributed to a lack of meat intake.

9. Eat Foods Rich in Polyphenols

Bunch of Purple Grapes
Polyphenols are plant compounds that have many health benefits, including reductions in blood pressure, inflammation, cholesterol levels and oxidative stress (46).
Polyphenols can’t always be digested by human cells. Given that they aren’t absorbed efficiently, most make their way to the colon, where they can be digested by gut bacteria (4748).
Good sources of polyphenols include:
  • Cocoa and dark chocolate
  • Red wine
  • Grape skins
  • Green tea
  • Almonds
  • Onions
  • Blueberries
  • Broccoli
Polyphenols from cocoa can increase the quantity of Bifidobacteria and lactobacilli in humans, as well as reduce the quantity of Clostridia.
Furthermore, these changes in the microbiota are associated with lower levels of triglycerides and C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation (49).
Similar results are also found for the polyphenols in red wine (50).
Bottom Line: Polyphenols can’t be digested efficiently by human cells, but they are efficiently broken down by the gut microbiota. They may improve health outcomes related to heart disease and inflammation.

10. Take a Probiotic Supplement

Pill Bottle with White Capsules
Probiotics are live microorganisms, usually bacteria, which exert a specific health benefit when consumed.
Probiotics don’t permanently colonize the intestines in most cases. However, they may benefit your health by changing the overall composition of the microbiota and supporting your metabolism (51).
A review of seven studies found that probiotics have little effect on the gut microbiota composition of healthy people. However, there is some evidence to suggest that probiotics may improve the gut microbiota in certain diseases (52).
A review of 63 studies found mixed evidence regarding the efficacy of probiotics in altering the microbiota. However, their strongest effects appeared to be restoring the microbiota to a healthy state after being compromised (53).
Some other studies have also shown that probiotics don’t have a big effect on the overall balance of bacteria in the intestines of healthy people.
Nevertheless, some studies have shown that probiotics can improve how certain gut bacteria function, as well as the types of chemicals they produce (54).
Bottom Line: Probiotics do not significantly alter the composition of the microbiota in healthy people. However, after certain diseases, they may improve microbiota function and help restore the microbiota to good health.

Take Home Message

Your gut bacteria are extremely important for many aspects of health.
Many studies have now shown that a disrupted microbiota can lead to numerous chronic diseases.
The best way to maintain a healthy microbiota is to eat a range of fresh, whole foods, mainly from plant sources like fruits, veggies, legumes, beans and whole grains.