11 Tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

Facts About Holiday Weight Gain

Many of us have come to terms with the fact that we’re inevitably going to gain some weight during the holiday season each year. We accept it as just part of life, and we live with the consequences. We set extreme new year's resolutions in order to punish ourselves from all of the holiday overindulgence. We go hard for a few weeks, maybe even a few months, and then the fire goes away, and we gain it all back (sometimes more).

While controlled studies will show that the holidays are only responsible for an average of less than 1 pound of fat gain per person each year, anecdotally we all know that this is not true. Many Americans will report a 5 to 10 lbs increase on the scale during the winter holiday months, ranging from early November to new years.

There are a variety of reasons for this, including an abundance of high calorie, non-satiating foods, lack of physical activity, stress-induced eating, mindless eating, and of course, alcohol. For some of you, this may be hitting home. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the holidays, enjoy the food, enjoy the drinks, and still come out a stronger, happier, leaner you (without waiting till New Years). This blog post will provide you with many tips that I personally use, and some tips that have been proven by research to help avoid unwanted weight gain.

This year, by following just a few of the 11 tips below, you can leave the holidays and enter the new year already ahead of the game and on the fast track to lasting health and happiness.

Although holidays are inevitably stressful for a lot of us, we need to remember what they’re all about. Family, friends, happiness and relaxation should be your goals for each holiday season. Feeling stressed, anxious, and guilty about overindulging in food or adult beverage should not.

11 Proven Tactics You Can Use to Stay on Track During the Holidays!

Tip #1 

Limit your “party days”, or days that you’re going to overindulge, to the three holidays; thanksgiving, christmas, and new years. Even if you consume 10,000 calories on each of these 3 days (even consuming 5,000 is extremely difficult for 99% or people), you’re not completely derailing your progress from the other 362 days of the year.

The issue many people face is that they overdo it one day, and they get a case of the “fuck-its”. A bad day of eating turns into a week, a week turns into a month, and it becomes a downward spiral of guilt and feeling hopeless. Then January 1st  arrives, and they try to change every single bad habit they’ve developed all at the same time. This may work for a few weeks or even months, but it’s unsustainable. Fitness and health is about consistency, not taking extreme measures.

To avoid this, give yourself permission to overindulge! Just limit it to 3 (or 4, you can even include Christmas eve!) days, and then get right back on track with reasonable exercise and eating. If you eat too much on one day and wake up heavier the following morning, don’t sweat it, don’t do hours of cardio and prolonged multi-day fasts to try and “reverse the damage”, just get right back on track.

The weight you gain from one day of overindulgence is almost all water weight, as carbohydrates and sodium cause your body to hold onto water. I’ve done extreme cheat days in the past of over 10,000 calories. The next day I woke up 8-10 lbs heavier than I was the day prior, looking bloated and soft.

If I didn't know any better, I’d be extremely discouraged and think that I just gained a bunch of body fat.  But by day 2 or 3 of just normal daily eating and training,  I'm back to my starting weight and leanness. Just adhering this hack alone will bring you most of the way. But today’s your lucky day, because I have 10 more tips for you below!

Tip #2

A mindset change. The holidays should be about quality time with your friends and family. Good conversation, laughing, games, and happiness. If all you can think about is how much food you should or shouldn't eat, you’re missing the point and depriving yourself of what the experience should be.

Simply remembering what the holidays are about, and responsibly enjoying food and drinks with your loved ones to enhance the experience can go a long way in helping you avoid weight gain and feelings of guilt.

If it helps you to write this down each day, go for it! Just being mindful of your thoughts and feelings about life in general is something that works well for many successful people in all areas of life.

Tip #3 

Although not for everyone, fasting can be utilized strategically, especially when combined with tip #4, to enjoy the hell out of your meals and minimize the overconsumption of calories. If you have food-relationship issues or a tendency to binge eat, I recommend avoiding this. But if you’ve fasted before and are comfortable with it, a prolonged fast leading into your big holiday meal can ensure you’re not consuming way more than you should be for that day.

An example of how I use this technique: If I know I'll be eating tons of food at 4 Pm on Thanksgiving, I’ll have my last meal at dinner the night before, say 6 PM. That way when I reach the Thanksgiving meal I’ve been fasting for about 22 hours. I can tell you from experience that it’s very tough to consume more than 2 or 3,000 calories in one sitting, especially with proper meal set-up (tip #4).

This also limits grazing throughout the day which can really rack up your daily calorie intake (tip #6). Another benefit to fasting is that the food tastes even better than it would if you come into the meal having eaten throughout the day. For all the bros out there that are worried about losing muscle mass from skipping meals, I promise you won't.

The body simply doesn’t work this way and amino acids from protein you’ve consumed in past meals still go to your muscles throughout the day after.  If you really want to make the most of this, do a hard strength training workout at some point before you feast.

This will ensure most, if not all of the calories you eat go towards building muscle. Extra bonus, get a family member or a few of them to come work out with you. There are few better things in life than family bonding over fitness!

Tip #4

This often-overlooked strategy can really make a difference in how much you eat and how satisfied you feel from your meals. If your goal is to control your calorie intake, this is a great strategy to follow for every meal, not just large holiday meals. It also aids digestion and will help you feel better after you eat!

Here's how you do it: Since protein is essential (you can’t live without it), and also the most satiating macronutrient, you’ll start your meal with something high in protein and optionally healthy fats (also an essential macro). Most, if not all holiday meals have a large amount of meat involved. This is the perfect choice to start out.

Vegetables are full of fiber (which makes you feel full and aids digestion) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals that your body needs), so you’ll either pair them with the protein or eat them second. Then and only then will you begin to eat your starchy carbs and sugary foods.

Carbohydrates are not an essential macronutrient (you can stay alive even if you consume none of them) and they tend to be less satiating than protein and easy to overindulge on. Implementing this simple trick will almost certainly result in less overall calorie consumption as you’ll already feel somewhat full before you dive into the less filling, more palatable (and more calorie dense) foods. 

Tip #5

Be “that guy/gal” who brings the healthy plate to the holiday potluck. That way you’ll at least know that there is one healthy food option, and there’s almost always meat. You may catch some slack for this one, but it’ll probably be from someone far less healthy than you.

Worst case scenario, no one eats it but you. Best case, you get some of your friends or family members to try some, which sparks a conversation about health and fitness. You can share with them the benefits of exercise, sleep and good nutrition. Maybe you’ll help start someone on their health journey! Just be sure not to push it too hard on anyone. Let them be the ones that ask you about it.

Tip #6

Usually holiday get-togethers are full of appetizers for people to graze on throughout the day as they wait for the main meal. Do your best to avoid this. Instead of gluing yourself to the heures-devoirs table, stay busy doing other activities.

Have conversations, go throw the football around with your kids or nephews. I’m not telling you that snacks and appetizers are completely off limits, but try to be sensible. I promise you, if you go a few hours without eating, you won’t starve.

Aside from staying occupied with other activities, you can also nurse a drink or two during this time, or sip on some diet soda or sparkling water. Just be sure to not drink excessive alcohol on an empty stomach. We all know where that can lead!

Tip #7

We all know that consuming alcoholic beverages will not bring you any closer to your fitness goals. Thankfully, when done responsibly, enjoying some adult beverages won’t derail all of your hard earned progress either. There are a few simple ways to mitigate the damage as much as possible.

Firstly, being cognizant of drink selection can mitigate your total calorie and sugar intake for the day. It should come as no surprise that vodka mixed with sparkling water or diet soda is far less calorically dense than an IPA, glass of wine, or grandma’s spiked eggnog. Choosing clear liquor (vodka, gin, tequila) and mixing it with non-caloric drinks such as water, seltzer, or diet sodas can keep them relatively low-calorie.

If you do decide to drink a little before the main meal, I highly suggest sticking to tip number 4. Alcohol lowers your inhibition and tends to make you want to eat less healthy, more palatable foods (and more of it). Starting with protein will mitigate the urge to pig out. A

s always, remember to drink responsibly and stay hydrated. I recommend cutting off the drinking at least 3 hours prior to going to bed so that it doesn't interfere with your sleep and you’re less likely to have a hangover the next day.

Being hungover should be something you strive to avoid at all costs if you value your health and fitness. It can also lead to inactivity and poor food choices the next day, which would break rule number 1!

Tip #8

November and December are two of the best months for most people to get great training sessions in. Many of us have more time off from work in these two months than any other time of the year. Why not take advantage of the free time and really focus on getting some strength gains and physique improvements?

Last I checked, there were no written rules against working out on holidays (or weekends, or your birthday, or any other day for that matter). A great way to ensure most of the calories you consume go to repairing and building muscle is to train hard before eating.

You don’t necessarily need to go to the gym for two hours and kill yourself (this can cause massive hunger and lead to overeating, especially if it’s a cardio workout). But if you want to go to the gym and strength train, I highly recommend it.

You can also invite your family member(s) and perhaps introduce someone to the wonderful world of resistance training. If the gym is not an option, fun physical activity is a great way to go. You could probably convince at least some of your friends and/or family (at least your dog) to go on a walk with you before you eat (or after).

Sports games like football in the yard or basketball in the driveway are some other fun ideas and often a tradition with many families. Who doesn't love a nice game of Thanksgiving family football? These are all great ways to bond, stay active and keep yourself from falling into the trap of planting yourself on the couch, snacking, drinking and watching football all day.

Tip #9

Allow yourself to indulge a little. The purpose of holidays is to enjoy yourself, relax a bit and not be stressed out about food all day. Unless you’re a physique athlete who has an upcoming competition where you’re judged solely on your leanness, or a combat sport athlete who needs to make weight for an upcoming fight, indulging in some of your favorite foods that you likely only eat once a year is perfectly normal and harmless to your health.

Conversely, being rigid and completely abstaining from all treats can be quite harmful to your mental health (a very important aspect of your overall health). It’s also very healthy for your relationships to bond over food. I

’m not recommending eating 4 plates of food and 10 pieces of pie for dessert (although you can, and I usually do). But having a big plate or two of food and a piece or two of dessert is totally fine. You should enjoy yourself on the holidays, and indulging in great food with family is a great way to do that.

Tip #10 

You ate way too much, and now you’re uncomfortably full and throwing yourself a pity party while everyone else chats and enjoys themselves. It happens, and it’s ok. Life goes on, and tomorrow is another day.

You cannot undo what you just did. Although it may be the last thing you want to do, this is a great time for light activity such as walking, or even a low key family sports game. This will help your food digest and you’ll feel less uncomfortable from the food baby in your stomach. Get right back on track tomorrow.

There are 364 more days this year to stick to the plan. If you wake up the next day a few pounds heavier, rest assured that you didn’t gain 3 lbs of fat (unless you’re capable of eating 20,000 odd calories in one day). Your body is holding water.

Stay well hydrated, train if you want to (normal training, not crazy long cardio bouts) and eat according to your normal plan. In a couple days or less you’ll be back to your baseline. If you’re late to the party and reading this on New Year's day and you’ve already put on a few pounds, don't beat yourself up.

Do not go to the gym for hours a day and try to reverse the damage in a few days. You likely put on 5-10 lbs over a couple months, and the worst thing you could do is try to lose it over 3 days. Just get back on track with consistent strength training, occasional cardio, as much walking as you’d like, and feeding your body what it needs to be healthy, grow muscle and speed up your metabolism.

Going on an extreme diet, or even worse, a “7-day detox” of some sort is easily the worst thing you could do at this time. The best way to develop a poor relationship with fitness and health is to take extreme, quick-fix measures and try to punish yourself because you feel guilty. Take it slow, be consistent, and enjoy the process!

Tip #11

No matter when you’re reading this blog post, the time is now to start your health and fitness journey. There is no difference between today and January 1st. Procrastination is one of the biggest progress killers there is (for any goal in life, not just fitness).

Don’t fall into the trap. Start eating sensibly and working out today, and you’ll thank yourself for not waiting till new years and being one of those annoying “resolutioners' ' who crowd the gym equipment and breathe your air. You’re better than that, you just have to believe it.

Hopefully these 11 tips have given you a good blueprint on how to stay healthy, lean and mean throughout the holidays while still enjoying the hell out of them. It’s quite simple, really. All it takes is some strategic planning, a bit of discipline and being mindful and self-aware.

I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on these tips. Which are your favorites? Which do you struggle with? I also know there are tons of other hacks out there. Please don’t hesitate to share your tactics below!

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