We are quickly approaching that time of year when all five of the senses can be tempted by decadent treats, tantalizing aromas, and endless buffets. The reports vary, but generally suggest that most people gain between five to eight pounds between Thanksgiving and New Years. While I’m not sure how accurate those numbers are; it is easy to believe most of us are at risk of putting on weight if not careful.
Winter, in general, may cause a bit of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in many people, especially if you live in the part of the country that becomes cold and gray at this time of year. This can cause even the most energetic person to become more lethargic, to lose their focus and drive. In other words; your ‘get up and go’ seems to have ‘got up and went’! This time of year can tend to make you ‘fluffy’ and soft as you slack off on workouts and dietary discipline. Maintaining a healthy balance can be challenging, at best.
It’s not impossible to maintain your weight during the Holiday Season. It does take some strategic planning on your part. You can enjoy the festivities and maintain a lean physique if you practice these successful tips I’m going to share. I’ve gathered these helpful tips from the Pros in every field, from Dietitians to Physique Competitors. These folks make it their business to know lean and healthy. So listen up:
Erin Stern, Ms. Figure Olympia offers these tips:
1. Be efficient in the weight room. employ compound movements, supersets, and keep recovery to a minimum between sets. Even if you have a dedicated “arm day,” start with close-grip pull ups and close-grip bench or dips. The excess calories can fuel your workouts! I have been known to rearrange my lifting splits so my leg workout falls after a treat meal.
2. Be aware of NEAT. NEAT is non-exercise activity thermogenesis, or the amount of calories we burn in daily activities. When we’re indoors, eating a lot of food, we tend to nap and sit around. Simply getting up and going for a walk, stretching, and consciously being more active can burn 600-1,000 calories per day. Get up and get moving!
3. Be strategic about big meals. Who doesn’t want to just dive right into the rich, fatty foods? Before loading up your plate, look at all of the foods. Notice which ones are your favorite ones, and put those on half of your plate first. On the other half of the plate, add some nutrient-dense, low calorie foods like salad and fruit. This way, you’ll fill up on the foods you love, and also on foods that won’t contribute to weight gain.
- Chuck the guilt. I know I’m not the only one who is stuffed after a holiday meal. Enjoy and savor the food. Be mindful of every bite. Don’t feel badly if you ate more than you were planning! Wake up the next day, eat balanced meals, and train hard. Guilt can cause us to overeat repeatedly, especially if we try and make up for the excess calories by not eating the next day. Our bodies are amazingly adaptive, and a treat meal here and there won’t have any lasting effects if we just move on and continue to eat balanced meals most of the time:
Dietitians offer these tips:
- Talk about it. Get support from family and friends. Keep yourself honest. Maintain a food journal and write down what and how much you eat. Documenting can show what healthy foods are missing from your diet, as well as when you’ve included too many treats in your day.
- Don’t neglect your exercise program. Even on the most time crunched days, you can find 15 minutes to fit in some form of exercise. Go for a walk, take the stairs, find ways to move more. We tend to have an ‘all or nothing’ mentality when it comes to exercise. Just because you don’t have an hour to devote purely to your exercise program doesn’t mean you can’t do something. Compound Moves are the perfect answer for those days when you may be short on time. Work as many body parts as possible in one move. Weighted overhead Squats are an example of a compound move.
- Prevent overeating. Avoid skipping meals with the idea that you can eat more at a party. Eat a light snack before you head out the door so you are less likely to over indulge later.
- Plan Ahead! If heading to a ‘Potluck Gathering’, choose to bring a healthy option to the party, such as veggie tray, so you won’t be forced to make unhealthy options.
- Keep an eye on your portion sizes!. Moderation is key. Taking a small ‘taste’ of something that you can’t resist is okay. Just be careful of ‘overdoing’ it. It’s not about deprivation, but about keeping it in check. However; if you know that one little taste will lead to a ‘slippery slope’ and derail your diet; then don’t go there. Choose something healthier.
- Don’t stay glued to the food…mingle with the guests and keep your mind off the food.
- Avoid alcohol. This is a tough one, but the reality is; alcohol can make us ravenous and reduce our inhibitions. Another thing to bear in mind is that alcohol contains calories. It’s easy to ‘drink’ your entire days’ worth of calories if you’re not careful.
- Be sociable. Just make sure your are socializing away from the buffet table. It ‘s very easy to nibble and nosh while catching up with people. Be mindful.
- Get out and Shop. Walking can burn as many as 275 calories Take stairs instead of escalators and park away from the entrance. Walk, walk, walk!
- Be prepared: while out running errands carry a healthy snack with you such as a single portion sized bag of raw almonds, apple slices, or raw veggies. This way, you won’t be tempted to dodge in to the nearest fast food establishment.
- Divert your attention at your next gathering. The Holidays focus on food and drink. That’s no secret. But there is more to be savored than food. Focus on the music, the stories, laughter and dancing. Take your primary focus off the food and allow people to become the reason for enjoyment.
- Use the smallest plate available at the Buffet. Don’t pile your food on your plate, but keep it to one layer. Choose vegetables and lean protein, such as shrimp. Avoid the dips and sauces. They are notorious for hidden fat, sugar and calories.
- Watch the Sweets. This is one area that can really wreak havoc on the waistline. If you know you’ll cave once you have one taste; then don’t go there. If you’re that person who has to try ‘one of each’, you’ll be better off having one of something than a whole plateful of ‘a bit of everything’. If you have to have something sweet, then choose dark chocolate. A small portion. If you are in charge of bringing dessert, think fruit. Almost everyone welcomes fresh fruit on a buffet. Even though fruit does contain sugar, it has other healthful benefits.
- Don’t forget to hydrate! I can’t stress this enough. If you have to have something to drink in your hand while socializing; make it water. No one need know what’s in your glass but you. Keeping your body hydrated will provide endless health benefits in addition to keeping your skin clear and body functioning.
- Relax! This can be one of the most stressful times of the year. We pile too many social obligations onto our schedules. We expect more of ourselves during this time of year than any other. We feel frazzled and frayed from every angle. Just remember that stress creates higher cortisol levels which can lead to weight gain if not kept in check. According to Prevention Magazine, this is what happens to your body on stress:
Here’s what happens: Your body responds to all stress in exactly the same way. So every time you have a stressful day, your brain instructs your cells to release potent hormones. You get a burst of adrenaline, which taps stored energy so you can fight or flee. At the same time, you get a surge of cortisol, which tells your body to replenish that energy even though you haven’t used very many calories. This can make you hungry…very hungry. And your body keeps on pumping out that cortisol as long as the stress continues.
But few of us reach for carrots in these situations. “Instead, we crave sweet, salty, and high-fat foods because they stimulate the brain to release pleasure chemicals that reduce tension,” explains Elissa Epel, PhD, a researcher on stress eating at the University of California, San Francisco. This soothing effect becomes addicting, so every time you’re anxious, you want fattening foods.
With your adrenal glands pumping out cortisol, production of the muscle-building hormone testosterone slows down. “Over time, this drop causes a decrease in your muscle mass, so you burn fewer calories,” explains Shawn Talbott, PhD, author of The Cortisol Connection. “This occurs naturally as you age, but high cortisol levels accelerate the process.” Cortisol also encourages your body to store fat—especially visceral fat, which is particularly dangerous because it surrounds vital organs and releases fatty acids into your blood, raising cholesterol and insulin levels and paving the way for heart disease and diabetes.
Take time out each day to meditate, do deep breathing, sit quietly, read a good book, listen to soothing music or soak in a hot tub. But find something to relieve the stress.