Tis the season for food, and lots of it! We just finished Thanksgiving, and now Christmas is just around the corner. If you're like most people, you're probably concerned about gaining weight over the holiday season. Christmas parties filled with wine and appetizers, treats at the office everyday, and more food than you know what to do with...well actually, you know exactly what to do with it. EAT IT!
We eat more at Christmas than we do at any other holiday, and although it's important to let yourself enjoy the experience of holiday eating with loved ones, it's just as important to be aware of the extra food you're consuming. We get so excited for Christmas day with the turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and the many desserts that just beckon us to keep eating. On Christmas day, all rules usually fly out the window, and that's ok. But what about the rest of December?
Holiday weight gain doesn't just happen because you decided to eat 4000 on Christmas day, weight gain happens when you over consume for a prolonged period of time. Although you may get a stomach ache and feel sleepy after over eating one day, its not realistically going to contribute to weight gain. We delude ourselves into thinking that one day is going to be the straw that broke the camels back, but in reality, it's all the days leading up to, and after, December 25th, that pack on the pounds.
Christmas parties start as early as November, and we are just getting over or coming into Thanksgiving, where food is in abundance. Everyone over eats on holidays, so by having two months in a row with holidays that revolve around the dinner table, you never fully recover. So we have Thanksgiving, numerous Christmas parties, snacks and treats littering your office or workplace, family dinners, Christmas day, leftovers for the next few days that need to get eaten, and let's not forget, New Years Eve.
Let's just be honest with ourselves and admit that it's not just one day that makes or breaks us, it's the whole month. This is where being aware of how much, and what you're eating, around the holidays is so important. We try so hard throughout the year to stay on track, even though there are birthdays, anniversaries, other holidays, vacations, get togethers, that all revolve around eating food. This all adds up and makes it very hard for us to get to a satisfactory point with our eating or weight. It's not about restricting food, or not enjoying yourself on special occasions, but if those special occasions happen more often than not, or in December's case, every week, we go from over eating occasionally to over eating constantly. And it shows up on the scale, our waistlines and in our energy.
Just to be clear, I absolutely believe you should eat food and enjoy what you're eating, but if you have weight to lose, or you want to maintain your weight right now, there's a difference between eating and enjoying, and just gorging on sub optimal foods because they're around. We want to get to a place where the foods you enjoy eating are the foods that are healthy for you, that healthy food is what you naturally crave. Throw in a higher calorie meal, or some treats here and there, and it's no big deal, but if you're eating treats everyday in December, you're going to have a problem.
So what can you do to enjoy yourself over the holidays without gaining weight? Here are a few simple strategies I personally put in place over the holidays, and throughout the year, to help keep my eating in check.
1. Pick your meals wisely
Ever heard the saying "pick your battles"? Well eating is no different. Whatever you deem to be the most important time or events to let let yourself splurge with food, choose them wisely and stick to them. There are always going to be events or occasions that come up for you to eat unhealthily, and sometimes it's worth it, and sometimes it's not. If you over eat, or eat the wrong foods whenever something comes up, you'll always be struggling with staying on track. For me personally, I indulge on birthdays, our anniversary, Christmas or if we travel or go on vacation. Even in those occasions though, I splurge on high quality foods that may be higher in calories, but are still nutrient dense. It's not appealing to eat processed foods anymore, or foods with excessive sugar. Not eating that stuff doesn't feel like restriction for me, but you have to find what works for you. Maybe you let loose on Christmas day, but you don't eat the unhealthy food at your Christmas party. Pick your meals wisely so you can enjoy letting go, but maintaining your weight/health at the same time.
2. Keep Exercising
Just because you're off work for a week or two doesn't mean you should throw the towel in on your workouts. I have always gone to the gym or worked out over Christmas to not only maintain my fitness, but to maintain my attitude towards food and health. The more you move, the more you feel like eating healthy foods. The two go hand in hand and spur each other on to good works. The more you sit around and eat sugary, fatty food, the more sugary, fatty food you want to eat, and the more you'll want to be lazy. A great way to stay on track over the holidays is by making sure you continue to exercise. You don't have to go to the gym every day, or be completely fanatic about it, but make sure that you engage in some sort of movement, at least every other day, that gets your heart rate up. Exercise inspires you to stay on track with eating because it requires energy, and if you're suffering from a food hangover, the last thing you'll want to do is get up and go for a run. I personally give myself two to three days over the holidays where I don't exercise, December 24th ,25th and 26th. Other than that, I make sure I'm moving. You'll be less likely to over eat, or choose the wrong foods if you're keeping active.
3. Incorporate healthy versions of your favourite holiday foods
This one is super important when your favourite holiday foods are on the table. You can make any dish healthier and just because it's Christmas, doesn't mean you have to consume a bazillion calories in one sitting. Find different recipes on Pinterest by searching "Christmas" or "holiday foods made healthier". There is no shortage of information on how to make any meal healthier, while still keeping it satisfying. One of the biggest ingredients to watch out for is sugar. Eating excess sugar will not only make you gain weight in and of itself, but will also keep you reaching for more food because of the insulin response inside your body. You'll eat double the amount of food you normally would if your meal is laced in sugar. If you are going to consume foods with high amounts of sugar, try to eat it earlier in the day so you still have a chance of moving around more, unlike the evening when after dinner you're more likely to kick back and relax.
4. Drink more...of the right stuff
It's no surprise that there is an increased amount of alcohol consumption over the holidays. But before you grab for another glass of wine, keep in mind that excess alcohol is not only extremely dangerous for your health, but it adds more calories to your overall day (in the form of sugar or carbohydrate), and is often accompanied by eating fatty, salty foods. When you're throwing back a few pints, the last thing you want to snack on is carrots and hummus. You're probably going to reach for fatty, salty or sugary foods that lend themselves to putting extra weight on. The more booze you drink, the less water you consume and the more dehydrated you can become. Drink more water, especially over the holidays. By drinking water, you'll balance out the excess sodium you'll undoubtably be consuming, and by staying hydrated, you'll have more energy and feel better which will cause you to not reach for more food. Sometimes we think we're hungry when we're actually thirsty. Drink a big glass of water if you still feel hungry after a meal and wait 10-15 minutes. If you're still hungry, then you can go back for more.
5. Move around More
It's easy to become stationary over the holidays, especially after you consume a big heavy meal. The last thing most people want to do is move around, when this is exactly what they should be doing. It's so important to staying moving over the holidays, and refuse to stay static. Get up and go for a walk with family, help out with chores around the house, put some music on and dance... just move. This is different from exercise, and although exercising over the holidays is crucial, it's just as important to actually move around throughout the day. Of course there are always times when it's necessary to put your feet up, but after a couple hours of sitting, you should purpose in yourself to get up and move around. Being lazy feeds on itself. The more you sit around, the more you won't feel like moving or helping out around the house. The more you move around, the less sitting around is going to appeal to you.
You don't have to gain weight over the holidays if you stay strategic with how you're going to eat and exercise. You can still enjoy yourself and eat the foods you love, but maintain your goals all the way through til the New Year. You don't have to eat everything in sight just because it's in front of you, and you don't have to go to every event just because you've been invited. Choose your events and your meals wisely. If it's really worth eating that specific dish, do it! But don't be afraid to say no. Why set yourself back? You'll feel far happier not gaining weight, keeping your energy high and enjoying healthier foods (as well as some less healthy options), than you would be if you let loose every day and ate until you were so full that you could hardly move. It's not about restricting, it's about disciplining yourself to stay on track and training your body to gravitate towards healthy eating, even over the holidays. One or two days isn't going to throw you off your path, but a whole month could.
Find out how you can be the healthiest version of yourself coming into the new year by filling out the form below. If you're interested in private consulting please leave me your name, contact and leave a message in the message box below. Merry Christmas and Happy new Year!