How to Adjust Your Diet and Lose That Holiday Weight Gain

How to Adjust Your Diet and Lose That Holiday Weight Gain

Are you still trying to shed those holiday pounds you packed on? You’re not alone. Many folks tend to overindulge in holidays favorites only to realize in January that their clothes feel a little tighter. But there are small changes you can make to your diet to help you shed those extra pounds.

Where Does the Extra Weight Come From?

According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a healthy balance of food is 85% nutrient-dense foods from a variety of food groups like grains, fruits, vegetables, milk and dairy, protein, and oils. This leaves you room for the remaining 15% of your calories can come from saturated fat, added sugars, and alcohol. This means if you need 2,000 calories per day to maintain your calories, no more than 300 calories should come from saturated fat, added sugar, and/or alcohol. Going over your 15% of calories from non-nutrient dense foods means that you won’t be getting enough nutrients from those important food groups that contribute to your overall health.

So how much room does that really leave from non-nutrient dense foods?  Think about that 2,000 calorie diet, with 300 calories coming from non-nutrient dense foods. To get to about 300 calories, add 2 teaspoons of granulated sugar into your morning coffee, that’s 32 calories. Use 1 tablespoon of butter over your cooked vegetables and that’s 102 calories. Enjoy a 12-fluid ounce bottle of regular beer with dinner and that’s 150 calories.  That leaves no room for dessert or other forms of added sugar or saturated fat. During the holidays, think about how many cocktails with added sugar you drank or how many pieces of pie a la mode or other dessert you enjoyed. To gain those extra pounds, oftentimes it’s a combination of too large portions and excess calories coming from saturated fat, added sugars and alcohol.

What’s a safe rate of weight loss?

A slow and steady rate of weight loss is best. Health consequences that can result if you lose weight too quickly, plus many folks who lose weight quickly tend to regain it right back. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), a safe rate of weight loss is between 1 to 2 pounds a week. As the saying goes, “slow and steady wins the race,” plus making small sustainable changes allows you to create new, healthy habits that can last a lifelong.

Tips for Shedding Those Extra Pounds

There are certainly ways to shed those extra pounds, but as a registered dietitian I often recommend becoming aware of exactly what you’re eating and drinking throughout the day and the times you’re eating. Keeping a food journal or online app to track your food and beverages can help you identify where small changes can be made in your daily diet. I recommend keeping a food log for a minimum of 1 week. This way you can look at how you’re eating during the work week and also over the weekend. You can have a clear picture of foods you’re eating too much of, and which foods are lacking. You can also get insight on your meal times and when snacks may be needed. Here are some typical issues I use a food diary to identify:

  • Always hungry at a certain hour

You may notice that you are hungry at 3pm every day and grab anything nearby, even if it isn’t the healthiest. If you look at the times between your meals, if there is 5 hour gap (or longer!) this is a good time to plan for a healthy snack. Planning for these snacks are key so you can shop for healthy snacks and pack them for work.

  • Lack of vegetables

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH) only 1 in 10 American meet the daily recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. According to USDA’s women 19-50 years of age should eat 2 ½ cups of vegetables daily and 51 years and older should eat 2 cups of vegetables daily.  For men between the ages of 19-50 years of age, the daily recommendations are 3 cups of vegetables per day and for 51 years and older 2 cups of vegetables per day are recommended. Take the time to review your log and check if you are taking in vegetables during your meals and snacks. If you find that vegetables are missing, find a food that you can replace with vegetables you like. If you are eating high calorie snacks like fried food, cookies, candy or cake swap them with a better-for-you vegetable option.

  • Not enough fruit

Fruit is another food group that is under consumed by most Americans. According to the 2020-2025 dietary guidelines for Americans, 85% of the population does not meet the daily recommended amount of fruit. For men and women 19 years and older, that’s between 1 ½ to 2 cups per day. Check your log to see how many fruit you are getting daily. Do you eat any at breakfast? Can you include a fruit for “dessert” at lunch or as your afternoon snack? Just like with vegetables, find a place you can swap fruit for a higher calorie, less healthy food.


  • Inadequate fiber

Fiber has numerous benefits including keeping your gastrointestinal tract healthy, lowering blood cholesterol, helping keep your regular, and decreasing the risk of color cancer. Fiber also help keep you feeling full after a meal, which could mean you’re less hungry 30 minutes or 1 hour after your meal. The recommended daily amount of fiber is between 28 to 40 grams per day, with most Americans getting less than half that amount. Fiber is found in beans, peas, lentils, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains. According to the 2020-2025 dietary guidelines for Americans, half your daily grains should be whole—so do make simple swaps such as brown rice for white rice or experiment with new whole grains like amaranth, farro, or quinoa.

  • Too much saturated fat

You do want fat in your diet but the right kind. Saturated fat is the type of fat linked to heart disease and you want to minimize it to less than 10% of your total daily calories. According to the 2020-2025 dietary guidelines, the average American intake of saturated 11% of total calories with sandwiches and desserts being the top sources. Other sources of saturated fat include high fat meats and poultry, full fat milk and yogurt, ice cream, and butter. If you pinpoint sources of saturated fat, swap them for better-for-you fat choices. For example, instead of high fat meats and poultry opt for lower fat meats and poultry such as beef tenderloin and skinless chicken breast. You can also swap full fat milk and dairy for low and nonfat options.

Bottom Line: When losing weight—even a few pounds—you want to look at your everyday habits and tweak them in order to make them healthier. A food dairy can help pinpoint specific habits, but you can always seek the assistance of a registered.

Toby Amidor
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND is an nationally recognized nutrition expert and Wall Street Journal best selling author of seven cookbook including her latest The Best 3-Ingredient Cookbook: 100 Fast and Easy Recipes for Everyone. Toby has been quoted in thousands of articles and appears on national television and radio regularly. Through ongoing consulting and faculty positions, she has established herself as one of the top experts in culinary nutrition, food safety, and media communications.