How to Defeat Holiday Weight Gain (While Still Enjoying Pumpkin Pie!)
For us Canadians, this weekend is Thanksgiving. (Sorry American's you'll have to wait a month to get your apple pie!)
With Thanksgiving comes many things. Cooler weather, the changing of leaves, time with family & friends, hockey (or football) and of course food.
Delicious, enticing, calorie-rich food.
...and lest we forget, there is also one other less welcome addition: That extra 5lbs of holiday weight.
Now if it was just about avoiding gaining weight it would be easy.
You'd just stop eating when you got full, skip out on dessert and drinks and workout the way you normally do. Easy peasy!
The problem is that most of us (including the two of us!) are not ready to sacrifice the enjoyment that comes with thanksgiving dinner. It holds a special place for us sentimentally, and to be honest it's just nice to have feast once in a while!
Thanksgiving is one of those times where it just feels wrong to diet! Sure you could grind through it with iron powered willpower, and yes a mindset shift would make it suck a little less, but just surviving isn't really what we're going for. We want you to thoroughly ENJOY it!
So with that as our context, we have a problem to solve:
Read on beyond the break to learn how!
So before we get into it, we first must answer the question:
"What's actually required for avoiding weight gain?"
While many things will help, the key thing is that we need to maintain caloric balance. That is, if we want to maintain our current weight we must expend just as much or energy as we take in.
Now, if the thought of spending 6 hours slaving away on the treadmill or stairmaster the morning before and after each holiday dinner gives you chills, you're not alone!
That is definitely NOT the way to enjoy your holiday!
Instead, I'm going to lay out a multi-pronged strategy that maintains as much of the holiday relaxation and enjoyment as possible while also maximizing your ability to maintain (or even lose) weight over the holidays!
To accomplish this, there are 3 main strategies we like to use:
- Exercise: Lift weights before dinner, go for a walk after dinner
- Diet: Fasting/Waiting until hungry to eat, choose your non-essentials wisely
- Mindset: Practice gratitude, eat slowly and mindfully & eat to feel good
Lift weights before dinner
Ah, lifting weights! One of my favourite strategies to allow some extra indulgences without any negative effects.
The great thing about weight training is that it increases carbohydrate absorption in your muscles. When you workout, and more so when you lift weights or workout intensely, your muscles use stored glycogen (sugar) to contract. As this glycogen is used up, your muscles have available storage space that needs to be refilled.
Weight training also causing micro-tears in the muscle tissue (this is what causes muscle growth) and increased the need for calories to rebuild and even grow your muscle tissue.
Enter thanksgiving dinner!
Rather than storing all of the extra calories as body fat, you are able to use some of them towards refilling your muscle glycogen stores and possibly build a small amount of muscle!
(And no eating all those carbs at night will not make you fat! - Read this great article by Layne Norton debunking that myth.)
Go for a walk after dinner
Going for a walk after dinner does a few things for you. First, it lowers the blood sugar spike you normally would get after a large sugar/carb rich meal. Instead of having your body scrambling to store that sugar somewhere, (can you guess where?) you are able to burn some of it off immediately.
Secondly, you'll feel much better about yourself. By getting moving, you'll be doing something positive and beneficial to your health which will help build positive momentum.
Lastly, most people we've suggested this to say they also just physically feel better when they go for a walk after a large meal. Processing all of that food is a big task for your body, so if you can help out by burning off some of those sugars floating around it makes sense that you would feel better.
Intermittent fasting/Waiting until hungry to eat
I just covered this last week, so I won't go into too much detail, but this is definitely one of my favourite strategies because it is so simple.
The gist of it is that by waiting until you are hungry to eat following your indulgent meal, you can often get away with waiting until 10:00am or noon the next day before even getting hungry, effectively saving yourself hundreds of calories.
Starving yourself until you're miserable to save calories is definitely not an effective strategy for lasting healthy weight, however if you're not even hungry, you won't be miserable doing it. There is effectively NO downside!
Be sure to read the post Three Simple Tools to Allow You To Eat Whatever You Want at Social Events to get exact instructions on how to do it right!
Choose your non-essentials wisely
Non-essentials in this context can be considered anything that is not a meat or a non-starchy vegetable. In a typical holiday dinner, your non-essentials (at least from a nutritional point of view) are potatoes, gravy, bread, butter, stuffing, desserts, soft drinks or alcohol.
"But wait! That's the best part!"
...and that's totally fair. We don't want you to miss out on something you love. The goal here is simply to look at those non-essentials and make sure you actually do enjoy what you're eating. There's no point taking in extra calories for something you don't even really like.
So just take a second before putting a bit of everything on your plate and assess whether it's actually "worth" the indulgence. If it is, great, go for it! But if not, don't waste your limited room for enjoying food without consequence on something you don't even like.
Oh and don't worry too much about protein! If you're taking in excess calories, it's pretty safe to say you're not going to be losing muscle mass. Get the minimum 0.6g/lb of bodyweight to help recover from your workout, but don't stuff yourself with extra calories just to "get your protein" for the day. The main reason protein in excess of 0.6g/lb of bodyweight is recommended is because of it's satiety effects. But if you're going to be stuffing yourself anyways, satiety isn't really going to happen.
Instead of complaining about the piece of pie that you don't have room for, you end up stopping before you feel sick and being grateful for whatever you did eat.
It's really ironic that so few of us practice gratitude at Thanksgiving!
Eat slowly, chew thoroughly and actually take time to enjoy your food
SLOW DOWN! Take your time. It's not a race. You're goal is not to eat as much as humanly possible.
At a holiday dinner you should be eating for enjoyment and enjoying the company.
In order to actually enjoy your food, you need to think about what you're eating and have it in your mouth long enough to actually taste it! (It's a crazy concept, I know!)
Enter mindful eating.
Jill Coleman and Darya Rose have covered this topic extensively (here and here, respectively), so I won't go to much detail, but the key point is that while eating you should actually be mentally present while you are eating, focusing on the tastes and textures of the food.
This will increase your satiety, reduce the likelihood of overeating, and get this: Increase your enjoyment of what you are eating!
It's a no brainer!
Lastly, eat to feel good
This is one of the biggest and most helpful mindset shifts you can make. So much of our struggles with food come out of a desire to get maximum taste-benefit. But what if you changed your objective.
What if, instead of focusing on how good the food tastes, you focused on how good you feel after eating it?
How would that change your hierarchy of favourite foods?
This isn't some "brute force" attempt at convincing yourself that "being healthy" is more important than eating food you enjoy, instead you are simply using a different built-in indicator of enjoyment. No mental gymnastics required. All you have to do is observe how you feel and react naturally to that.
If you hit your thumb with a hammer and it hurts, you don't have to put much effort into resisting it in the future. You feel the consequences and because the consequences are so much worse than any possible benefit, you don't do it again. (At least not, on purpose anyways!)
Now food isn't quite as cut and dry, there are definitely some foods that you will decide are "worth" the consequences, but in general this can act as a good way to discourage you from eating foods that do not have a good taste:feeling ratio and encourage you to eat more of the foods that do make you feel good, even if they're not the most tasty.
At Thanksgiving dinner, you can ask yourself, is this extra dinner roll and heaping portion of potatoes and stuffing REALLY worth making me feel sick, gassy and tired for the rest of the night?
Do I really want to hold in my flatulence in front of guests/hosts all-night?
Maybe it is, and that's totally ok, but the point is to actually consider it instead of just blindly stuffing your face.
When you change your focus to how you feel, you will be able to eat MUCH healthier and eat less without even trying.
So there you have it! With those simple strategies you can maintain or even lose weight over the holidays while maintaining or even increasing your enjoyment!
You can't not do it!
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