In the previous article I discussed how drinking water and keeping a nutritional journal can help you control portion sizes and minimize overeating: How To Not Pile On The Pounds Over The Holidays – Part 1. Those are a couple of the most effective strategies, but there are other things you can do as well, both in terms of nutrition and exercise.
The most practical and successful solutions to preventing holiday weight gain involve strategies that do not expect you to be perfect. A good approach is to make the best of your situation and focus on minimizing the overindulgences and excesses that are typical around the holidays. Unfortunately, this does not happen automatically and you should work on developing a plan that works for you.
The important thing to remember is that nutrition has a cumulative effect on your body and one bad meal or a bad day will not ruin your diet or make you gain 10 pounds during the holidays. The real problem comes when people start saying things such as, “I blew my diet today, so I might as well not worry about it until after the holidays are over and I can get back to my normal routine.”
Instead of giving up until after the holidays, a much better idea is to develop a plan to help you get through the holidays as well as possible. One of the best ways to do this is by analyzing your previous holiday experiences and figuring out what specific things caused you the most problems or prevented you from maintaining your previous results.
For instance, my biggest weakness is always sweets and there are certain desserts that I have a very hard time not eating when they are around. When I am at home this is not a problem, because I don’t buy them, so the temptation is not there. However, a wide variety of sweets seem to be at every gathering during the holidays, which becomes very problematic.
Fortunately, since I know this is my main problem, I can develop a strategy to minimize the negative effects, especially on weight gain. My plan involves evaluating all the foods that will be around and figuring out which ones I will have the hardest time not eating (the ones I want the most). Then I make a plan to actually include those foods in my meal.
It is important to have a balance between protein, carbs, and fat, even during the holidays, so this becomes my starting point. Then if I know there is a food like fudge brownies, that I will most likely eat, I think about how that will effect my overall meal. Since brownies are essentially fat and carbs, I know the rest of my meal should be more heavily focused on protein (ideally low-fat protein).
In addition, I will minimize my intake of foods that are mainly carbs or fat. For example, with a traditional holiday dinner, there could be a turkey, potatoes, vegetables, rolls, sauce/gravy, dessert, and possibly some other items. If I know I want to have some of the dessert, then my plan will be to focus on eating the turkey and minimizing or skipping the potatoes, rolls, and gravy type foods. Vegetables without sauces are good to eat in any situation.
What typically happens is people eat everything available during a meal and then cannot turn down dessert or other foods later, so they simply eat way too much. Planning around the foods you cannot avoid and skipping foods during the meal that you do not enjoy as much is a great way to minimize overeating.
Admittedly, this is not the healthiest way to eat from a nutrient standpoint and it is definitely not a good strategy to use year round, but it can be very useful during the holidays or any meal where there is a lot of food, such as a buffet. Just be sure to look at everything first and try to decide how much of each item you plan to eat and what foods you will skip, before you take your first bite or even grab your plate.
Another important part of the holidays is keeping up with some sort of exercise routine. If you are traveling or have company to entertain, you may not be able to maintain your regular routine, but that does not mean you need to stop exercising altogether. It is much better to do some workouts, even if they are not as challenging as usual, than not doing any exercise at all.
If you are spending the holidays with family and/or friends, you can come up with a group activity to at least keep your muscles and joints moving. Weather permitting; this could be as simple as walking around the neighborhood to look at holiday decorations. You could also drive to a park or other area that has walking or climbing trails.
If weather is an issue, you could go to a nearby mall or similar covered area where everyone can walk around. There is probably something nearby that you could do to at least get you and your family/friends up and moving. Also, if you are out and moving around, it means you are not sitting and eating, which seems to happen by default during the holidays.
Another option for holiday exercise is to do shorter, but more intense workouts than usual. This is a great option for people who do not have as much time to exercise, but want to maintain as much of their fitness level as possible. The increased intensity of the exercise and high overall level of difficulty is great for preventing performance decreases and may even stimulate additional positive results.
For example, if you normally perform endurance running routines, you can do shorter sprint workouts instead. On a treadmill or other cardio machine you can increase the speed, incline, and/or resistance, depending on the machine. These workouts should make you feel just as fatigued (possibly in a different way), but it happens much quicker, especially if you are not used to that type of training.
If you already do a lot of intense workouts, but do not have to time to complete your normal routine, you can simply create some shorter workouts using similar exercises. For instance, if you usually perform full body workouts, then you can do workouts focusing on one or two areas of the body. Then the next workout you can focus on different areas. The overall workout will not be as difficult as usual, but you will get the stimulus needed to retain most if not all of your existing level of fitness.
You can also shorten your workouts by taking out the easier exercises and focusing on the exercises that use your larger muscles or numerous muscle groups at the same time. Exercises like squats/lunges (legs), bench presses/push ups (chest), and rows/pull-ups (back) are great choices.
An example of a quick full body workout using dumbbells that focuses on larger muscle groups and core training is shown in the accompanying video. There are many options for holiday exercise, so try to figure out what will work best for your particular goals. You may have to significantly change your workouts or even try a new type of exercise, but there are always options.
By Ross Harrison
VFT Fitness Expert
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