My Secrets to Fight Holiday Weight Gain

Kapow! or Kachow, which I think is what Lightning McQueen says in the “Cars” movies. I think this because we inherited one of those annoying fun and stimulating talking toys that shouts out catch phrases. I can’t remember exactly who bestowed this Lightning McQueen toy upon us but thank you, friend, as my 2-year old, Cash, now runs at full speed and then slams on the ‘brakes’ and screams “Kachow!” at the top of his lungs, arms flailing, during every grocery trip, neighbourhood walk, trip to the bathroom… I’ll bet you have a hard time mustering half that energy around this time of year, with all the parties, dinners, shopping trips, extra cleaning/tidying/decorating/wrapping chores and the accompanying emotional, financial and physical stress. Wow. I sound like a Grinch.

I actually really like the holidays, but the older I get, the more I find the responsibilities of the festive season to be pretty overwhelming at times. One of the stresses for me during the holiday season, as well as for many of my clients, is trying to keep one eye on that fitness prize whilst being tempted by well-meaning relatives and (let’s be honest) even sabotaging girlfriends. I really don’t recommend resisting every bit of temptation.

I don’t think the mid- to late-December time of year is a great time to target any substantial weight loss or performance goals, if you’re one who celebrates a winter holiday. And if you celebrate more than one, God help you. Instead I prefer to think of this time of year as an easy maintenance time. I try not to gain any weight. I try to balance my indulgences with some exercise. But I also recognize that pumping my veins full of carbohydrates and booze does not set me up for stellar workouts. I am sleeping less. I am drinking more. I am drinking a lot of coffee. I mean, a lot of coffee. I am running around like a chicken with my head cut off because I am the textbook definition of a procrastinator. Willpower wanes. Schedules get tight. So do what I do. I know from years of fitness training that there are times to fight tooth-and-nail, and times to admit I’m beaten. Give yourself a free-pass to enjoy the festivities over the next couple of weeks, by all means… but let’s keep it to something slightly more wholesome than the food and drink version of “Girls Gone Wild.” Here is my plan, and now your plan, to enjoy the holidays without giving yourself a month-long hangover come January 1st.

  • Don’t eat every carbohydrate that passes under your nose. Resist. Resist! When you get to the party, dinner, brunch, survey the options and decide which of the side dishes you can pass up. Mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes? Are you carbing up for an Ironman Triathlon? If it doesn’t really excite you, skip it. It’s probably not the last meal you’re going to eat.
  • Beware the condiment. Seems harmless, right? Just a dip in the ranch dressing. Maybe a smear of some kind of strange cheese spread. Dip 10 veggies in ranch dressing (one time each – easy, double dippers…) and you’ve likely consumed a couple of tablespoons of dressing and up to 200 calories in dip alone.
  • Volunteer to be on kitchen duty. This is a good one! Not only will you keep your butt off the couch and burn calories cooking and cleaning, you’ll also spend the day hovering over the stuffing, potatoes, latkes, braciole… insert your festive cuisine here. This takes the excitement of the “reveal” away when you sit down to the table. Look around the dinner table and notice – I’d be willing to bet the people who spent the day smelling, cooking and tasting those dishes are not piling their plates as full as everyone else. It’s a “been there, done that” kind of thing.
  • Or… volunteer to be on kid duty. Take the kids outside. Snow or not, you can keep the kids from going totally nuts if you get them some fresh air, sunshine and exercise. And, unless you take the box of chocolates to the park with you, you’ll probably eat less and burn more than you would staying at home.
  • Don’t drink too many calories. You’re going to eat and drink more than usual…pretty much guaranteed. So choose cocktails that don’t provide the equivalent of a meal’s worth of calories in a glass. 150 calories of red wine (about 5-6 oz) will get you just as drunk as 300 calories of a mixed drink cocktail (the average 6-7 oz glass). Lower carbohydrate and lower calories options for mixed drinks are vodka, gin and tequila. Mix with sparkling water and add generous squeezes of citrus to help blunt the blood sugar spike.
  • Keep a mental food budget. Don’t count calories at the holidays. That’s more depressing than receiving a small appliance from “Santa”. If you know dinner is going to be heavy, skimp earlier in the day on the types of foods you’ll probably be eating later on. Specifically, most of us will eat a portion of meat surrounded by 463 side dishes of various starches, swimming in sugary and fatty sauces. By the way, I’m now salivating. Don’t skip breakfast & lunch in order to save calories; you’ll just be drunk and starving by the time dinner rolls around. Instead, bulk up on veggies and protein early on (which are, conveniently, lower in sugar and calories) so by the end of the dinner you’ve had a more well-rounded day of nutrition.
  • When the going gets tough, get going. I like to party as much as the next personal trainer. No, really. We do like to party. My style is the go-hard-early-and-disappear-after-dinner style. In other words, I drink before dinner and enjoy dinner, help clean up (most of the time) and then generally head to bed pretty early. Stay up late and more drinks, dessert, snacks and midnight leftovers just become WAY more likely. Go to bed and you’ll not only miss that second round of gluttony but log some z’s so your metabolism stays somewhere near normal and you’ve got just an ounce of willpower tomorrow when the next holiday meal or leftover treats are beckoning.

Happy Holidays!

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