The holiday season can be a great time of year, but it can also be frustrating or stressful if you are trying to stick to a healthy exercise and nutrition routine. In many cases, the ease or difficulty of getting through the holidays without losing ground is influenced by the habits of those around you.
For instance, if you spend the holidays with people who are similarly concerned about eating healthy and exercising, then things may be fairly easy. However, most people are surrounded by tempting unhealthy meals and snacks and possibly even social pressure to eat large quantities of food. Fortunately, even in these situations, there are a number of things you can do to prevent significant weight gain during the holidays.
My best general advice is to make an effort to eat as healthy as possible and continue exercising, but have reasonable goals and allow yourself to enjoy the holidays without stressing about eating unhealthy foods.
It is important to have realistic expectations about your holiday eating behaviors and make a plan to stick to them.
For example, I usually eat healthy foods and keep my meals small, but I know that during the holidays I eat more unhealthy foods (mainly deserts) and it is not realistic for me to stick exactly with my regular eating habits. On the other hand, I do not abandon my healthy eating habits altogether and I put my energy into controlling portion sizes.
That way, even if I eat unhealthy foods, my total calorie intake is still somewhat similar and weight gain is minimized or even avoided. Admittedly, this strategy does not work for everyone, especially not for people who struggle with portion control. That said, controlling the amount you eat is probably the most important thing you can do to prevent holiday weight gain.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the holidays is there are so many opportunities for overeating and much of the time people do not even realize how many extra calories they actually consume during the holiday season. People are usually aware that they overeat during large buffet style family meals, but there are many ways people unknowingly consume too many calories during the holidays.
One of the biggest offenders is the various snacks that are left out all day for people to eat between meals. It is common for people to keep out things like chips and dip or a bowl of candy, but this ends up being a huge problem. When tempting foods are sitting out, the more you are around them, the more likely you are to have a little something, even if you are not hungry.
Another issue is many people drink liquids that are high in calories, such as eggnog or any number of alcoholic beverages. When you are already eating large amounts of foods during meals and having additional snacks throughout the day, the last thing you want to do is consume even more calories in your drinks.
As with the snacks, drinks are problematic, because you can consume a lot of calories in a small amount of time and not realize it. Junk foods (foods with few nutrients) and high calorie drinks are not very filling relative to the number of calories they contain. Therefore you can consume a lot of calories before you start feeling full.
To combat these problems, one of the best things you can do is drink water throughout the day. Even though water does not have any calories it still helps fill you up, because the feeling of fullness has more to do with the weight of foods and drinks you consume than it does with the number of calories they contain.
Drinking water is especially useful before and during meals. If you drink a glass of water before a meal starts, your stomach will already be partially full and you will not be able to eat as much before your body tells you to stop. Continuing to sip water throughout your meal makes you take breaks from eating, which may help you eat slower. Eating slower is another good way to consume fewer calories before you get full.
Another one of the most effective ways to prevent holiday weight gain is to keep a nutritional journal. This does not need to be complicated or time consuming, as just keeping track of what and when you eat and drink can have a huge impact on preventing weight gain. Keeping a mini note pad or using a smart phone or other small mobile device that stores text will work great.
Keeping a journal forces you to think about the amount you consume and take responsibility for your food choices. For example, if chocolate candy is left out all day, you will probably not really think about having a piece here or there. However, when you make a note every time you eat a piece of chocolate, you are forced to think about how much you have eaten. If you see that you had chocolate four times already, it makes you less likely to have more.
Not being conscious of everything you eat and drink quickly leads to consuming extra calories and keeping track of your food makes this much less likely to happen. It also affects how much you eat during larger meals, because people tend to eat less when they think about having to write everything down. Keeping track of food intake is a great way to hold yourself accountable for your choices and help control total caloric consumption.
Drinking water and keeping a nutrition journal are two of the most effective things you can do to prevent holiday weight gain, but there are certainly others and more will be covered in the next article. However, it is also important not to ignore the importance of exercise.
I know it can be much more difficult to exercise during the holidays, especially if you are travelling, but make an effort to get in at least some occasional workouts. If you regularly exercise and stop working out at the same time that you start eating more, then you have a definite recipe for holiday weight gain.
Exercising can help burn some of those extra calories, but more importantly it keeps your metabolism up to burn even more throughout the day. In many cases, just doing quick, but challenging workouts can be enough to raise your metabolic rate and maintain your fitness level, which are both important for preventing holiday related problems and this puts you in a position to start the new year off right.
The accompanying video shows an example of a quick and effective workout that is made up of only exercise band/cable and bodyweight exercises. This workout can be done almost anywhere and only requires a cable and a doorknob or other object to attach the cable to, so it is a great option for people travelling during the holidays.
By Ross Harrison
VFT Fitness Expert
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