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How not to gain weight on Valentine's Day — or any other holiday

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Celebrate & lose weight

Are you looking forward to this Valentine's Day for the romantic date, late-night loving and cuddly morning after?
Couple taking a walk

What you probably aren't anticipating is the extra five pounds that result from the office candy dish, the big box of chocolate and the sumptuous four-course wine-and-dine rendezvous. The end of the year holidays aren't the only weight-gain culprits. Here are expert tips to avoid putting on the pounds this Valentine's Day - or any other holiday.

Why is Valentine's Day a diet nightmare?

The Day of Love, like most holidays, is centered on food, food and more food. According to family lifestyle therapist Amy Hendel, author of Fat Families, Thin Families, women tend to gain weight because they are in the kitchen more, tasting and preparing yummy treats, and the mindless, casual munching all day equals significant unaccounted-for calories. Hendel adds, "Holidays can be stressful, so women tend to turn to food for stressful eating and comfort."

Add the easy accessibility to food, from special cakes to constantly filled candy bowls, and you've got a recipe for diet disaster. To make things worse, stress can raise a woman's cortisol levels, which makes her more susceptible to overeating. And if there are a lot of planning and preparations to be done for the big day, women often ignore the best of health-conscious intentions. "Women will abandon even their entrenched routine exercising," says Hendel, "because [things] need to get done." As if the ubiquitous Valentine's Day goodies aren't enough, the February holiday is during the winter, when cold weather and less daylight can contribute to carb cravings and the winter condition called seasonal affective disorder or SAD, also termed neurovegetative syndrome.

Why women gain weight in the winter >>

Tips to avoid Valentine's Day weight gain

By no means does this mean you should dread Valentine's Day or deprive yourself of the holiday's food and enjoyment. It just means being strategic in sticking to your healthy diet and exercise aims, even if they are temporarily abbreviated. Here are some of Hendel's top holiday health tips — which are applicable all year-round, regardless of the holiday in question.

1

Walk, walk, walk

On the hunt for the perfect Valentine's Day gift for your mate? Do it on foot. Hendel suggests, "Walk as much as possible — walk to do your errands, park the car further away — just squeeze in moments of brisk activity."

2

Tighten up your workouts

Have a big Valentine's Day party or romantic dinner planned? "Don't abandon your exercise — just tighten it up," says Hendel. "Do fewer minutes but turn up the intensity." She also recommends simply doing your workouts at home — with fitness DVDs or online fitness videos — so you save travel time to the gym.

3

Pre-determine your treats

This isn't your first Valentine's Day — you're well aware of the decadent treats that await you. "So plan ahead of time what portion-sized treats you will allow yourself and which you won't this year," Hendel says. "That pre-planning will add some guilt' if you start breaking the eating rules." For example, eat one single piece of really good chocolate at work (or at home) every day or save your indulging for your actual Valentine's Day dinner date. And eat slowly, savoring every delectable bite you take.

4

Take a romantic stroll

You've sat through a cocktail, appetizer, dinner and dessert. Help your food digest and burn a few extra calories by going for a hand-in-hand stroll once the bill is paid. If possible, walk to and from your dining destination instead of driving.

Here are some other fun, fit ways to spend Valentine's Day >>

5

Use healthy substitutes

poprcorn

During the weeks leading up to Valentine's Day, make sure you have healthy, balanced snacks on hand and choose them instead. "Get to know some satisfying snacks like air-popped popcorn with flavored sprays, fat-free low-sugar flavored lattes, diet hot cocoa (made with evaporated skim milk), apples and some dark chocolate or sugar-free caramel dipping sauce, baked apples with cinnamon, veggies, and bean or hummus dip to name a few," suggests Hendel.

6

Snack smart

If you are making your Valentine's Day dinner for an at-home rendezvous, Hendel recommends using healthy replacement or substitute ingredients. She says, "Try fruit puree instead of butter or oil in cake recipes, and switch out oil and replace it with 100 percent Florida orange juice in marinades or for citrus salad dressing." Additionally, choose leaner cuts of meat, skinless poultry or seafood for your entree. Best yet, many aphrodisiacs are considered superfoods and are quite inherently healthy.

Check out these 30 aphrodisiac foods and plan your romantic menu around them >>

7

Journal for your health

You have time to read the news and celebrity gossip, so that means you have time to write down or type up your eating and exercise habits. Hendel recommends journaling what you eat and the exercise you do to hold yourself accountable. Not only will you be less likely to scarf down that sixth chocolate truffle, you'll also be less likely to forgo your noon spin class.

8

Wear form-fitting clothes

belt

You know that form-fitting sweater dress with the chic wide belt? Wear it to work, wear it on your Valentine's Day date, wear it any time you may be faced with the opportunity to overindulge. "Wear belted clothes that make you aware when you overeat," Hendel advises, "It's literally a physical barrier to overeating (if you don't loosen the belt)."

9

Stay on track even if you slip

Keep a balanced diet in place and don't allow one day of overeating to justify breaking loose and abandoning healthy eating completely. "One day is not your downfall — it's when you let it evolve into days of overeating that you're in trouble," warns Hendel. That means if you feast on loads of fondue, toasted bread cubes and an entire bottle of wine on Valentine's Day, don't let that shake your resolve so you continue to eat too much the day after and the day after that and the day after that. Just get back on track with healthy eating and daily exercise.

10

Be prepared for emotional eating

Date stand you up? Getting over an ugly divorce? Perhaps this year's Valentine's Day is causing you serious distress — don't let it lead to diet destruction. "When you're tempted to eat emotionally, have other options ready, like gum, hot tea or a low-cal beverage, or an ongoing hobby," says Hendel. Just think — you'll feel so much better if you go on a 400-calorie-burning hike than sitting on your couch inhaling 1,000 calories' worth of chocolates.

Oops, you've put on the 5 pounds — now what?

Don't despair. Hendel advises to first get rid of the tempting leftovers (bye-bye heart-shaped sugar cookies and cordial cherries) and put the above tips back into practice. In addition, Hendel says, "agree that losing a pound to two pounds a week is the most sensible way" to reach your goal. No extreme dieting or exercising — it only sets you up for burnout, injury and bingeing. Need more motivation? "Buddy up with a friend to help keep each other on track and join a website program that helps you track calories — accountability is a huge help," she adds. Finally, Hendel suggests that you use healthy meal plans and eat at home — as opposed to restaurants — so you can monitor your eating, portion sizes and calories.

Try these 7 diet tips for women to eat healthier at home >>

More healthy ways to celebrate Valentine's Day

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