5 Simple Rules To Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

You need another holiday survival guide like I need another trip to the mall (not very much).

What you need is someone to tell you it’s going to be OK if you slip a little over the next couple weeks.

I’m sure you’re facing all sorts of diet landmines these days.

Christmas parties, work events, insufferable nights at the in-laws.

I get it. Think about when it makes sense to restrict and when it makes sense to give in.

I caution against going completely off the rails though.

For one reason: most of the weight adults gain in a year happens in the next few weeks, and this added weight seems to stick around and accumulate year after year, according to a study by the New England Journal of Medicine reported by Examine.com

See this study reported on by Examine.com that shows yearly weight gain spikes around new year’s and never fully comes off.

Now, one feast isn’t going to make you gain five pounds — there’s a limit to the amount of fat you can gain in one sitting.

What your body cannot process for storage during that time, it tries to burn (your temperature rises) and excrete (you end fighting with your uncle for the next available bathroom).

When you binge, a lot of the immediate weight you gain isn’t fat, but water, especially if your binge is high in salt and carbs. So, don’t, whatever you do, weigh yourself the morning after.

The excess stomach content and water weight from the additional carbs will drastically skew the number. It’s temporary – if you follow the rules I’m about to share.

The problem isn’t one big meal, but the quick succession of multiple meals, leftovers and time spent planted on the couch this time of year.

If you follow these six rules, you can have fun and avoid holiday weight gain.

Rule #1:  Eat sparingly leading up to the party.

To give you a visual, the “calorie” ditch is dug deeper so you can overcompensate later and still break even at the end of the day.

Start with a coffee and delay your first meal. Now, I wouldn’t fast all day right into the party or you’ll be ravenous when you get there and probably over-eat.

Instead, eat something filling but low in calories a few hours before you go out. Think a big salad with a chicken breast on top or something.

Two food choices which always fill you up but are low in calories are lean protein and fibrous veggies.

Rule #2: Don’t abandon exercise

Don’t pair your holiday calorie binge with inactivity all week long. That’s a recipe for disaster. Instead, commit to working out on the day of your holiday party.

It doesn’t have to be a trip to the gym or a big-time commitment. Move your body hard for 10 minutes.

Here’s a circuit that requires no fancy equipment at all.

The 7 Circuit
Do the following circuit three times, resting only long enough to go to the next exercise. Rest 1-2 minutes between rounds.

1A Bodyweight Squat (15 reps)
1B Push Ups (15 reps)
1C Seal Jacks or Jumping Jacks (15 reps)
1D Close Grip Push Ups (15 reps)
1E Glute Bridges (20 reps)
1F Step Ups on a ottoman(10 reps)
1G Plank (30 secs)

Rule #3:  Give yourself some (loose) parameters to follow at dinner 

Nobody wants to pack a chicken breast for the party. But you need to set some limitations or “rules” to follow.

The 3D rule is from my personal playbook. You can have any combination of drinks and desserts as long as it is limited to three.

Pick your favourites and only eat a reasonable portion of each. Seeing the party as a free-for-all can lead to physical and mental suffering later.

Rule #4 Watch The Fat

When you eat fat, your body has only two options: burn it for energy in the absence of carbohydrates or protein (which is what keto aims to achieve) or store it as fat.

Whereas when you eat carbs, your body can use them for energy, store it as glycogen in your liver or muscle for later use, burn them off as heat, or, as its very last choice, converted to fat and stored that way.

When you eat protein, your body can use it for protein synthesis (i.e. muscle gain), burn it for energy, or, rarely because it’s not easy to do, turn it into glucose or fat.

Of the three macronutrients, protein requires the most energy to digest, relative to the energy it provides.

Protein provides four calories per gram, but its thermic effect (i.e. the calories burned to digest it) is 20–30 per cent. So 100 calories of protein roughly translates to 70-80 calories. Fat provides nine calories per gram, and its TEF is a lowly 0–3 per cent, meaning majority of the calories are absorbed. Carbohydrate provides four calories per gram, and its TEF is 5–10 per cent.

So, if you’re going over-eat, start with the turkey. Load up on the roast.

Not only does this have the greatest likelihood of minimizing fat gain during overeating itself, but protein’s well-known for filling you up and might help reduce overeating to begin with.

As a bonus, if you are looking to manage blood sugar levels, eating protein before starchy carbohydrates has been shown to reduce post-meal blood glucose and insulin responses.

Total calorie intake as a whole is the overriding factor in whether you’ll gain weight or not, with macronutrients secondary, but the little tweaks in where those calories come from can help.

Rule #5:  Choose your alcohol… in moderation.

Remember the 3D rule. It forces you to prioritize either dessert or drinks.

If you go the drinking route, think rum and diet coke, dry red wines and low carb beers, not egg nog and vodka or sugar laden mixes.

Alcohol itself has 7 calories per gram, second only to fat, so don’t pile on needless calories by adding mixed drinks to the mix (i.e. egg nog, which by the way is the candy corn of holiday foods — not worth the calorie cost).

Alcohol is problematic when combined with a lot of food. The more alcohol you drink, the less food your body will burn effectively when eating to excess, and so the more it’ll store. This explains in part the “beer gut” phenomenon. Not to mention, alcohol increases appetite and loosens inhibitions around foods you know you should avoid. Sorry for being a Debbie Downer, but it’s a fact.

It’s the big picture that matters

Holiday weight gain is caused by eating like crap all holiday long, not just a few dinners here and there.

When your party is finished, pass on leftovers to the family and get to the grocery store and prepare to eat well the rest of the week apart from your special events.  Don’t let a Christmas Eve binge translate into a Christmas Week binge.

Happy holidaying.


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Mitch Calvert is a Winnipeg-based fitness coach for men and women like his former self. Heavyset in his 20s, he lost 60 pounds and now helps clients find their spark and lose the weight for life.