Staying fit during the holidays can be a challenge due to excessive amounts of rich foods and an overbooked schedule full of parties, not allowing too much extra time to exercise. We can avoid the holiday weight creep by staying active and being mindful with our nutrition. Most of those who give into the holiday season heavy treats and lack of activity will gain what we call the “seasonal 7 pounds” between November 1st and New Year’s Day. There is an abundance of unhealthy foods loaded with sugar and unhealthy fats along with our schedules being booked with school activities, parties, shopping, and exercise drops down on the priority list. Avoid the seasonal 7 pounds by following the simple strategies listed below.
Even if you cannot devote the same amount of time to exercise as you normally do outside of the holiday season, try to still remain active throughout the day. Invest in an activity monitor to give daily steps and an estimate of daily calorie burn. Aim to get 10,000 steps in per day. Rather than devoting separate time to exercise, counting steps can be done at the mall while holiday shopping, walking more during your work day, cleaning more at home or playing with your children and/or pets. If you can carve out time to work out try to get in at least 30 minutes a day alternating between strength training, cardiovascular activity and some sort of flexibility discipline like Pilates and/or yoga. Exercise releases serotonin naturally which will help reduce stress and sugar and carbohydrate cravings. This is important to many of us who can become overwhelmed with stress during the holiday season.
Figure out any way you can to lower your stress. The holidays are a great time to get together and celebrate with family and friends, but it can also lead to extra stress possibly due to travel, financial or relationship issues. Incorporate daily stress relief through exercise, meditation, and avoid waiting till the last minute to get things done, this can lead to anxiety and emotional eating. Tune out others- You do not have to be rude, just a little assertive. Don’t let others influence you to make poor eating decisions. Seasonal treats are going to be everywhere, and everyone wants to indulge. Don’t give into peer pressure or that little voice that says, “It’s the holidays, it’s okay to gain a little weight, I’ll work it off come January.” Maintain your weight by staying consistent with your nutrition and enjoying your favorite treats in moderation.
Also, try to stick to balanced meals consisting of protein, non-starchy vegetables and heart healthy fats. Avoid the “counting calorie trap”, don’t substitute a cookie for a healthy salad because they are equal in calories. Just because foods are equal in calories does not mean your metabolism will process the foods the same. You may develop a sugar addiction and suffer from insulin spikes and drops causing you to crave more sugar than normal, resulting in unwanted weight gain. Getting adequate protein, fats and at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, with an occasional holiday treat, will ensure your metabolism does not get damaged.
Also don’t forget to take your nutritional supplements, if your body is deficient in nutrients due to a change in your diet then it could result in excessive cravings, inflammation and weight gain. A high quality multi-vitamin and omega 3 fish oil should be consumed daily. If you have a hard time with sugar cravings, a chromium supplement taken an hour or so before a party or get together can also help reduce cravings, due to its powerful role with insulin in the body.
All foods can be modified into a healthier version. A healthy version of a holiday meal includes protein, a complex carbohydrate like potatoes and of course vegetables. Try to use real unprocessed ingredients, avoid refined flours and white sugar. If you are into baking sweet holiday treats, opt for healthier versions of your favorite recipes. There are several recipes that use almond flour, coconut oil, dark chocolate chips, etc. instead of the traditional fattening ingredients.
If your family wants you to cook the traditional recipes, then try to give away the remaining leftovers so you will not be eating heavy foods several days after the meal, this will cause unwanted weight gain, one “off” meal will not.
Avoid beginning a rigid nutrition plan over the holiday season, this can become depressing and often leads to a feeling of failure, if you give into holiday treats at the office, your child’s school or holiday parties. A sensible goal is to try to maintain your weight during the holiday season. Enjoy time with your loved ones, start new active traditions with your family, play games, music, or watch movies instead of making all of the plan around food.
Holiday parties can be where the will power fails and bad decisions are made, here are some tips to get through holiday parties.
- Focus on protein, fat and vegetables. Load your plate with protein (turkey, ham, roast, etc.), and non-starchy vegetables like greens beans, greens, carrots, broccoli, etc. and leave only a 1/4 of your plate for the starchy vegetables like potatoes, or other starches like bread or stuffing. This will bring the overall calories down for the meal and maintain steady blood sugars.
- Share dessert or get small portions of what is offered. It is easy to overeat all of the seasonal treats, take small portions to taste and try not to binge.
- Go for the low sugar cocktails or alcoholic beverages and alternate them with a glass of water is possible. Wine and light beer are lower in calories compared to some of the sugar holiday mixed drinks. If you do drink mixers, go for a low or no calorie mixer like sparkling water, fresh lime juice, or a stevia based non-calorie soda.
- Drink plenty of water all of the time.Water is your body’s main nutrient. It naturally suppresses your appetite and transports necessary nutrients to your cells. If you are not drinking at least ½ your body weight in ounces of water per day, you are not adequately hydrated. This could lead to poor energy, weight gain, and headaches. Avoid artificially sweetened water, if you want to add some flavor try fresh lemon, lime, strawberries, or oranges. If you decide to have alcoholic beverages at a holiday party opt for wine or light beer instead of sugary mixed drinks and alternate the alcoholic beverage with a glass of water.
- Leading up to the party try to keep your diet extra clean. Have a protein smoothie with fruits and vegetables for breakfast, a large salad with fish and olive oil based dressing for lunch, so you have some “wiggle room” to splurge with calories during the party. Fasting until you get to the party is a bad idea, you may end up over eating too much and will end up feeling sluggish and full at the party.
A little discipline will go a long way during the holidays, you will be thankful for your efforts come January when you have not gained any weight and can get back into your routine with ease.
This is a preview to an article that will be featured in South Asian Woman Magazine. Check back for the full article.
Dr. Kantor’s greatly anticipated new children’s book, The Green Box League of Nutritious Justice, is now available. Be sure to order this highly reviewed book, filled with healthy living tips for the whole family. A portion of the proceeds benefit the Children’s Miracle Network.