Many people gain 10 pounds or more over the weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year, not only because they eat more but because they also tend to be more sedentary. Here are a few tips for avoiding Holiday Weight Gain. Keep in mind, these tips are for maintaining your current weight and fitness rather than weight loss.
How to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain
Don’t Go To A Party Hungry
Many people’s strategy is to starve themselves during the day because they know they’re going to overindulge later. Don’t. That one back fires every time, because you show up to the party starving and then end up binge eating (usually on sugary, unhealthy food). A better plan would be to eat a balanced meal or snack before going so that you have more control over your choices. By “balanced” I mean having something that includes lean protein, healthy fats, and veggie based carbs. This will keep your blood sugar more stable and reduce cravings or the urge to binge. Will power is no match for biochemistry!
Eat Balanced Meals and Snacks
As mentioned earlier, balanced meals that contain lean protein, healthy fats, and veggie based carbs help keep blood sugar stable and reduce cravings. It’s how you should be eating all of the time, not just November and December. You also want to eat enough that you don’t starve yourself and shut down your metabolism. Eating too few calories results in your body breaking down muscle for needed energy, which lowers metabolism even further and causes a “rebound” effect where you end up gaining more fat later. Avoiding holiday weight gain is about eating right, not eating less.
Celebrate the Day, Not the Season
It’s Thanksgiving Day, not Thanksgiving week – which then morphs into theThanksgiving left-overs, then pre-winter solstice shopping and celebration season, then the actual holiday, then finally the New Year. That five week stretch represents approximately 10 percent of the year. So enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with your friends and family, then get back to your normal balanced routine.
Give Yourself Permission to Abstain From Unhealthy Foods
Just because everyone brought their favorite sugary dessert to the party doesn’t mean you are obligated to eat it. If you get pressured to eat something that you know you’re going to regret later, gently but firmly explain that you are making choices that support your health, thank you very much. You’ll feel much better later when you aren’t suffering from a sugar coma and watching the scale nudge up each week.
Watch the Alcohol
Your liver is a very busy organ at all times no matter how clean your diet is, especially when you’re trying to lose fat. When beer, wine, or spirits are ingested, your liver drops everything to process the alcohol, meaning that an increase in blood sugar and the corresponding increase in insulin result in an increase in body fat being stored. Beer in particular has a very high glycemic index, so that “beer belly” thing is for real. If you’re going to indulge, keep it to a minimum.
Stress can lead not only to emotional eating, but also hormonal responses that work against your best intentions. Cortisol is a stress hormone that affects appetite, blood sugar, insulin resistance, and thyroid function just to name a few. Holidays can be stressful times for many people with family obligations, work parties, travel, house guests, etc. This year in particular, Thanksgiving is coming soon after a very contentious political election and emotions on all sides may be running a bit hot. Try to find ways to manage stress, even if it’s just meditating for a few minutes. Soaking in a hot epsom salt bath with lavender essential oil is another suggestion 🙂
Get Some Exercise
As a professional Personal Trainer, I recognize that many of my clients are time strapped during the holidays. Taking time off from regular workouts WILL result in de-training, so please don’t unless you’re prepared to quickly lose a lot of the gains you’ve worked so hard to achieve. A better strategy is to aim for “maintaining fitness” as much as possible, similar to maintaining weight.
The STRRIDE study (Slentz, Houmard and Kraus, 2007) found that walking 8 miles per week is a minimum standard for maintaining moderate aerobic fitness. That’s a little more than a mile per day, or about 20 minutes for a moderately brisk pace. A better option would be a strength training circuit, even if it’s just body weight exercises. Include a few pulling, pushing, total body exercises to get all of the major muscle groups and you can be done in 15-20 minutes per workout. There are a few different inexpensive body weight circuits available for purchase in the pre-designed program catalog. I’ve also posted some travel workouts on my Twitter feed. At the very least, try to be less sedentary. Even an abbreviated workout or other exercise is better than nothing 🙂
Have a Plan and Follow It
You’ll have a greater chance of avoiding holiday weight gain if you plan ahead. This is true for both maintaining your fitness as well as healthy eating during the stressful time crunched end-of-year celebration season! A slow cooker is a wonderful tool for making easy healthy meals ahead of time (freeze some for ultra busy days when all you have to do is reheat). Schedule workouts in your day planner just like any other appointment. Practice gratitude. Enjoy spending time with friends and family rather than obsessing about the food at the party.
Slentz, C.A., Houmard, J.A. and Kraus, W.E. (2007). Modest exercise prevents the progressive disease associated with physical inactivity. Exercise & Sport Sciences Reviews, 35, 18-23.