It’s that time of year, again. As we move into the winter holidays there will be more and more opportunities for overindulging and temptations to over-eat and “fall off the wagon”. Avoiding holiday weight gain may sound like a daunting task to accomplish, but it is far from inevitable. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to be the Grinch who stole Christmas, the holiday season is indeed all about celebrating, having fun, and some indulging is ok. So pass the Christmas cookies (in moderation of course) and let’s explore some simple strategies we can all use to help prevent festive fat gain and keep on track to our body composition goals— all without turning into Mr. Scrooge!
Although a common practice, “saving” your calories for Christmas dinner or that big holiday party is not your best strategy. If you skip breakfast you are bound to be starving come dinner or party time, which may result in overeating. Studies show that eating protein for breakfast reduces the brain signals governing motivation and reward-driven eating behaviors. A protein-rich breakfast will help reduce cravings for high-carb foods later in the day and eliminate the motivation to eat and over-indulge as a reward for skipping breakfast.
The faster we eat, the less time the brain has to register that we are full. So slow down, chew mindfully and take a second to savor and enjoy each bite.
Choose Shrimp cocktail, cheese plates, antipasti, olives and raw veggies instead of carb laden appetizers such as chips, crackers, breads and cookies.
Keeping in mind that moderation is the key, if you have a favorite dessert, instead of depriving yourself completely indulge in having 3 generous bites. Eating a small amount of something you crave will satisfy the craving and potentially eliminate the eventual tendency for overindulgence when deprived.
This technique can help in 2 ways, increase caloric burn and help us stay full. I know it sounds overly simple but it works. Your body naturally burns more fat when it is well hydrated. So make sure you are drinking lots of water throughout the holidays.
Exercise with weights doing a high volume of repetitions an hour before eating your big holiday meal. This will burn some extra calories, set you up for muscle building rather than fat storage, elevate your metabolic rate so your burn more fat, and most importantly improve insulin sensitivity. This means you’ll be able to handle a little extra carb and they won’t all go straight to your hips.
Alcohol in general is not great for weight loss, but if you are going to drink alcohol you are best selecting wine over beer and sugary mixed drinks. Red wine in particular contains resveratrol, which has a positive impact on insulin metabolism. Moderation is key here, 1-2 glasses is acceptable and shouldn’t cause too much damage.
Mixing starches and alcohol is a recipe for fat storage so choose to indulge in one or the other. If you choose to enjoy wine (1-2 glasses) with dinner perhaps consider passing on the mash potatoes or dinner roll. This rule won’t necessarily have you losing fat but it will certainly help you avoid putting on extra fat.
Vinegar helps decrease the blood sugar response and insulin levels that normally accompany a high carb meal. It can also make you feel full faster and longer. Try taking a couple tablespoons of apple cider vinegar before you eat.
Dark chocolate can help improve mood, reduce cravings, and reduce subsequent food intake. Cocoa raises serotonin, a brain chemicals involved in reducing cravings and helping to control appetite.
The holidays can be full of cheer but they can also be an inherently stressful time for some people. Stress can contribute to weight gain in several different ways, it can trigger increased eating and cravings, especially for carbs, so try to set some time aside for relaxation and leisure activities.
Staying up all night partying may not be the best thing for your waistline. Poor sleep can increase appetite and caloric intake leading to unwanted weight gain. So be sure to get adequate zzz’s over the holidays.