‘Tis the season — and your stomach knows it. After all, in the last day, you’ve stuffed it with about 5,000 calories, thanks to holiday parties, cookie swaps, and oversized glasses of eggnog.
But in the grand scheme of things, one epic day of holiday feasting and drinking might not be all that bad. After all, one day — even if it’s jam-packed with sugar, salt and trans fats — won’t make or break your healthy eating efforts over the long-term, says nutritionist Vandana Sheth, R.D.N., C.D.E, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. However, what you choose to do immediately after your binge can either get you back on track — or cause your little slip-up to snowball into an entire season of overindulging. “I often tell my clients that each meal and each day is a fresh start,” Sheth says. “Rather than feeling guilty, focus on positive steps you can take.”
Once you set down your fork and declare yourself done for the day, follow this game plan to get back to feeling good again.
Your 24-Hour Plan to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain
Button your pants back up, put on your sneaks and go for a walk. “It will help you feel less full and allow you to better metabolize your food,” Sheth says. Research from George Washington University shows that walking for just 15 minutes after food-fests can help prevent your blood sugar from spiking and then dropping to cause fatigue, cravings, and more overeating.
Then, before bed, make sure you’ve had plenty of water to drink (especially if you’ve knocked back any alcoholic beverages through the day) to prevent dehydration, bloating and generally gross feelings, says Mike Fenster, M.D., author of The Fallacy of the Calorie. (Hint: Your pee should be light, not dark, yellow.) A cup of decaf ginger tea can also be great before bed for both hydrating and soothing upset stomachs, he says. If you’re prone to heartburn or are just still feeling stuffed when you turn in for the night, try propping your head up on a pillow. It’ll help reduce the likelihood that you’ll wake up in the morning breathing fire.
The Next Morning…
Let yourself sleep in — at least a little bit. While you don’t want to hibernate all day and throw off your sleep patterns, the goal is to get a solid seven to nine hours of sleep. “Without adequate rest, you will no doubt feel all the worse,” Fenster says. “And insufficient rest results in cravings for energy-dense — and usually nutritionally deplete — foods.” After missing out on just 80 minutes of sleep participants went on to eat an extra 550 calories throughout the day. Once you finally do roll out of bed, eat a balanced breakfast of protein, whole carbs and healthy fats. If your stomach is feeling less than solid, you can fit all of those nutrients into a healthy, hydrating smoothie, he says. (Try one of these smoothie recipes!) Just take it easy on the sugar.
The Next Afternoon…
Eat a healthy lunch filled with lean protein, vegetables and complex carbohydrates to help keep you feeling full, satisfied and primed with energy, says Alexandra Sowa, M.D., a clinical instructor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. (We’ve got seven healthy lunch ideas your friends will want to steal here.)
And no, you shouldn’t try to cut calories in an effort to “offset” yesterday’s caloric splurges. The goal is to get you back to sustainable healthy eating, not a diet that’s going to make you feel deprived and under-nourish your body. If, by now, you’re feeling more or less back on track, squeeze in a workout. “It’ll promote digestion and can help you feel like your normal self,” Sowa says. Just remember that if you choose to hit it hard, you may require more fluid replacement than you normally would, Fenster says. So don’t forget that water bottle.
The Next Evening…
Wrap up your dinner — again, with plenty of lean protein, antioxidant-packed veggies and complex carbs — earlier as opposed to later. Research from Northwestern University suggests that calories consumed late at night are more likely to be stored as fat compared to calories eaten earlier in the evening. Then, congratulate yourself on not letting yesterday’s food blowout get you off track, call it a night, and get ready for more healthy days ahead!
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Originally published December 2015. Updated December 2017.