You know the drill. Most people gain fat over the end of year holiday season. They eat anything and everything in sight. There are plenty of social gatherings and they all center around food! And not just any food but holiday food like pies loaded with tons of sugar and calories not to mention all the processed food available.
In addition to this, there are plenty of time constraints as well, so not only do we eat poorly; we tend to skip workouts or stop working out altogether over the holiday season.
So what the heck can you do to prevent this? How do you overcome the holiday challenges of:
- Too little time
- Too many holiday parties
- Too much stress
- Being surrounded by people constantly encouraging you to 'enjoy' the holidays (i.e., eat and drink lots of bad stuff!)
For starters, how about looking at the holiday season in a different way? Instead of trying to minimize the damage, why don't you make it a challenge to yourself to improve your results over the holiday season? Don't climb out of bed New Year's Day, hate what you see in the mirror and try and gather up the momentum to hit the gym and reverse the damage.
Hop out of bed, New Year's Day, check out your improved physique in the mirror, be proud of it, and use that positive feeling to keep improving!
The great thing is, you can do both! You can enjoy the holiday season and improve your health and fitness. It does not have to be one or the other. This brings us to step number one.
1. Be Prepared
If you're prepared for what the holiday season will bring, you can enjoy it and still get great fitness results. It's not having a plan or goals that causes most of us to go off the deep end, abandon our workouts and eat and drink everything in sight. But if you have a goal and a plan to get to that goal, it's far less likely this will happen to you.
You can go one of two ways; you can make or you can take. You can either make excuses (we all do this easily enough, especially during the holidays) or you can take positive action. Which one is most likely to happen if you are prepared, have a goal and have a plan? That's right, taking positive action.
So set some goals for yourself. I've had some injuries recently, forcing me to take some time off, so I'm carrying a few extra pounds. Today, as I'm writing this, I've decided I want to obliterate 10 pounds of fat over the holiday season. It won't be easy, but now that I've set a goal to do it, I'm looking at the holiday season in a much different way, and I'm excited about it!
2. Nutrition With A Mission
When you're prepared, you can still indulge and enjoy your favorite holiday foods without your fitness goals falling apart. Being prepared keeps you from going overboard and stuffing your face with everything.
By sticking to the plan and making some changes for the holidays, you can still enjoy holiday food.
Increase Your Fiber Intake
Fiber has a wide variety of health benefits, both directly and indirectly (due to the loss of fat with a high fiber nutrition program). Fiber plays a very important role in intestinal action, i.e., keeping you 'regular'. It helps flush cancer-causing substances from your body.
A nutrition program high in fiber is a vital key to any fat loss plan. Fiber helps you to feel full, making it easier to eat fewer calories. In addition, more calories are burned from digesting high fiber foods. In fact, by increasing your fiber intake to 35 grams a day you can burn up to an additional 250 calories. While it's recommended you get 25 - 35 grams of fiber per day, most Americans get 14 grams of fiber per day. You may want to consider getting 35 - 40 grams over the holiday season. To make it easier to get this amount (and limit your calories) you should consider getting a high quality fiber supplement. One of my favorites is Colon Cleanse by Health Plus.
Increase Your EFA Intake
But that's not all. Essential fatty acids may also:
- Memory support
- Strengthen your immune system
- Minimize the damage caused by free radicals
Good fats include: polyunsaturated (especially Omega-3's), such as those from fish and nuts (especially almonds), as well as monosaturated fats, such as those from peanut butter, olive oil, egg yolks, and fish oil. You can also get them from:
To minimize excess calories during the holidays (so you can enjoy the treats) take fish oil capsules every day.
Eat More Protein
Increasing your protein intake will boost your metabolism and help to maintain your muscle mass, both key ingredients in losing fat and keeping it off.
Specific food combinations can help to burn calories by ramping up your metabolism. As I mentioned above eat carbs that are rich in fiber. They take longer to digest and you will feel "fuller" for longer periods of time.
Eating more protein to burn fat was confirmed in a study published in the American Journal of Physiology. One group was fed a high protein diet (just over one gram per pound of bodyweight per day) while the second group consumed a protein diet near equal to that of the RDA. The group eating the high protein diet burned more fat than the group consuming protein near equal to the RDA.
One great way to boost your metabolism, burn more calories, and keep you from eating way too much is to have a little whey protein with some fiber about 15 or 20 minutes before a meal.
Arrange Your Treat (Cheat) Days
This goes back to being prepared. If you look at your upcoming holiday schedule and can pinpoint the four or five days you'll be most tempted or really want to indulge (such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, holiday office party), you can arrange the rest of your schedule to make those your one day per week treat days.
Your Thanksgiving week may go like this:
- Monday - All Protein Day
- Tuesday - Low Carb Day
- Wednesday - Low Carb Day
- Thursday - Enjoy It All!
- Friday - Low Carb Day
- Saturday - First Two Meals Carbs And Protein, Low Carb The Rest Of The Day
- Sunday - Same As Saturday
Want to indulge in some of those great holiday treats like pie on non-treat days? Instead of having it after a big holiday meal, save the dessert for post-workout. Have a serving of a good whey protein powder with water for your protein and then have that piece of apple or pumpkin pie. Your body is ready to soak up protein and simple carbs right after a workout.
Lastly, when it comes to holiday eating and fighting off Holiday Weight Gain Syndrome, eat slowly and graze. Let's face it, most of us go to the holiday dinner table already full from the appetizers. Don't make this mistake. But don't go to the dinner table starved, either!
Graze (snack) on appetizers like shrimp cocktail, almonds, cashews, and other nuts. And don't forget some great tasting protein bars. Protein bars and protein powders are a life saver for me, especially during the holidays.
Take a walk after dinner (before dessert if you are going to have it!).
3. Make HIIT A Focal Point During The Holidays
In order to maximize your chances of avoiding holiday weight gain and improving your fitness, not to mention finding the time to fit your workouts into your schedule, we're going to be performing high intensity interval training.
High intensity interval training will help you burn fat faster and with much less overall training time, eliminating the no time excuse of the holidays.
Even so, most people today still perform endless amounts of low intensity aerobic exercise and wonder why they aren't making the fat loss progress they want.
I believe this happens for two reasons.
- Most people still aren't aware of the incredible fat burning potential of high intensity interval training (HIIT).
- This type of cardio fat loss training is very hard work. It's much easier to walk on a treadmill or spin a stationary bike for an hour than it is to do 10 or 15 minutes of interval training.
With a typical aerobics fat burning program, you perform your exercise (treadmill, stationary bike, elliptical trainer, etc.) In a steady state manner at around 60 - 75% of your max heart rate. Usually, your sessions last 30 minutes to an hour and a half.
With interval training, your workout sessions are much shorter and you can add a lot more variety into your program. High intensity interval training is just like it sounds - you'll alternate all out aerobic exercise with active rest.
Check out my article Beat The Christmas Bulge With Interval Training for a lot more detail on specific interval training programs for the holidays. It even focuses on routines with zero equipment so you can do them anytime, anywhere over the holidays.
By putting all these things into play, you can not only avoid the dreaded holiday weight gain syndrome, you can make improvements in your body over the holidays, and all this will leave you pumped up and motivated for the new year instead of frustrated and upset because you let yourself backslide over the holidays.
Your workouts will be hard. They'll also be very short so suck it up and crank up the intensity for a successful holiday season!