Estimates of holiday weight gain are all over the place. In some surveys, Americans report that they put on about five pounds between Halloween and New Year’s, while some media stories suggest the average is as high as 20 pounds! Those who are already overweight gain the most and the formerly overweight struggle as well. Regardless, holiday weight gain is real and research indicates the gain is not reversed.
Some folks don’t care but if body composition is a priority to you, the holidays can be especially stressful. The good news is that you can still indulge without packing on the pounds and completely abandoning your healthy habits. And it doesn’t require superhuman willpower. Here are 5 strategies:
- Consider a short-term fast the day before and/or after your holiday meal. In addition to lowering cancer risk, improving lipid profile, and enhancing brain function, research shows that intermittent fasting (IF) can increase fat oxidation and weight loss. Without any glucose floating around, your body is forced to burn stored fat for fuel. Contrary to what you may have heard, your metabolism will actually increase – not slow down- during brief periods without food. Aim for 14-20 hours, much of which can come during sleep.
- Train with weights as close to the start of the meal as possible. This type of activity, particularly exercises that target the body’s largest muscle groups, will increase metabolism for hours, as well as elevate levels of fat-burning hormones. Squats, deadlifts, presses, and rows will provide the most bang for your training “buck.” Use short rest periods for an increased benefit.
- Perform “smart” cardio the day after your holiday meal to clear excess sugar from the blood. High intensity intervals interspersed with periods of rest/recovery will get you out of the gym much faster and torch more calories over the long-term than traditional aerobics. By working harder in less time, your muscles accumulate more lactic acid and your oxygen stores become depleted – both of which result in an elevated metabolism post-workout (like when you’re indulging!). Sprinting, cycling, swimming, jump roping, recumbent bikes, and stair climbers all lend themselves well to HIIT.
- Keep your protein intake up, even if you’re not working out that day. Protein has a very large thermic effect, which means that the process of digesting it elevates metabolism. Protein also increases satiety to a greater degree than carbohydrates, meaning you’ll likely eat less overall if your meal contains some protein. In addition, protein has been shown to lower blood glucose levels so including it as part of a carbohydrate-containing meal will slow the digestion and absorption of the carbs into the bloodstream. In contrast, an all-carb meal or snack leads to rapidly elevated insulin levels and a greater likelihood that those carbs will be stored as fat.
- Supplement wisely. Omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, and green tea have all been shown in research to slow blood sugar spikes and increase insulin sensitivity, improving the body’s ability to store carbs as muscle glycogen rather than fat. Spices like cinnamon and turmeric and acids like vinegar have demonstrated a similar effect, as have nuts and berries.
Holiday weight gain stems from a combination of factors: stress, social pressure, an inability to control our environment. The increased hustle and bustle this time of year can throw us out of our healthy routines and though it may be hard to avoid holiday parties and feasts, it’s also not necessary! You can eat, drink, and be merry without packing on the pounds. Why wait until January to resume healthy living? Incorporating even just one of the strategies above will make you feel empowered and in charge.