We’ve all heard statistics that have left us shuttering: “The average American gains 7-10 lbs over the holiday season.” I’ve recently read articles about how untrue that stat is. But, whatever the official number, no one would argue that many of us fear stepping back on the scale when January 2nd rolls around.
It’s perfectly normal (and acceptable!) to want to be able to let loose, have fun, and to maybe eat a whole pumpkin pie or drink a few bottles of wine over the Christmas season. What if I told you there was a way to do it all without gaining weight?
There is! You can enjoy your holidays and eat (and drink), too. Over the next 3 days I’m going to share 5 simple strategies I use with my nutrition clients to help them have happy holidays without kicking themselves come January 2nd, starting with the first one today.
- Set Simple Rules.
“Motivation doesn’t work – habits do.” – Robin Sharma
Studies show it takes 66 days to form a new habit.[i] We don’t have time for that over the holidays, but why do habits work?
Habits work because they are actions we take without thinking about them.
Since we don’t have 66 days to practice, we can use a principle that allows us to take the contemplation out of the equation the same way a habit does: we can set rules for ourselves.
The rules you set, however, should be realistic and should allow you to enjoy pies and cocktails. When we tell ourselves on Christmas Eve, “I am not going to touch sweets,” we are setting ourselves up for failure from the moment we step out of bed and take the Christmas baking tray out of storage for others to enjoy.
By first setting an unrealistic standard, the next thing you know that happens is this: you’ve started your day off with three shortbread cookies for breakfast and you’ve launched yourself into a day of zero willpower. Might as well have a cheese ball for lunch, pumpkin pie for a mid-afternoon snack, and coffee-and-Bailey’s on tap all day.
Sound familiar? This is a prime recipe for weight gain over the holidays (not to mention an unhealthy relationship with food where it controls you (and for many of us, your emotions)).
Instead of saying you are going to switch off your cravings for sweets entirely, set realistic rules to follow. Here are the ones I use and encourage clients to try: Save treats for around your workout or until after 7 PM.
“Junk food” is a part of a healthy lifestyle and a positive relationship with food. We know this is true when it comes to our children, “You can have a fruit by the foot when you finish your lunch,” but somehow we forget this as adults and think we need to abstain from sweets entirely to be a good human being – this is simply not true!
Besides Christmas day (please, have a butter tart for breakfast and bathe in a fountain of coffee and Bailey’s) and Boxing Day, I pick a few other days where I allow myself treats after 7 PM, or after a workout. This prevents me from taking in a boat load of calories and ensures I am still consuming nutrient dense foods over the holidays, getting in all those micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) my body needs to function and feel great, but it also allows me to have fun and enjoy just the right amount of treats to really appreciate them instead of overindulging in them.
When someone offers me something or I hear a baking tray calling, “Brittney!” I simply reply, “No, I am waiting until after I lift this afternoon.” Or, “No, thanks, I will have some after 7 PM.” This gives me an instant will-power boost and mini-win leading to big results when compounded over the holidays as a whole.
Too much of anything is just that – too much! Just the right amount will leave you satisfied and proud, and will keep that dial on the scale constant from December 10th to January 10th. Saving baking and booze until after 7 p.m. over the holidays is a simple strategy that can have a profound impact.
A quick note about having baking around a workout: Part of the whole problem is the dichotomy we have placed on food: “Broccoli is healthy and a cookie is unhealthy.” This is simply not true! Broccoli before a workout is not the best choice; the fibre simply slows the digestion of protein and carbs your body needs for fuel and muscle growth. A cookie on the other hand? Have that baby in the middle of your lifting session or right after some HIIT (high intensity interval training) and your muscles and body composition will thank you! Glycogen, the fuel for our muscles to be powerful and strong is created by breaking down carbohydrates (starch and sugar) and then rebuilding them into a super-strong power substance. I have hit shoulder press PRs fueled by butter tarts (read: butter tarts – not wine. Please save booze for after you train. 🙂 ). Baking around workouts can mean no regrets and little-to-no change on the scale.
A note on booze: Sure, too much alcohol certainly does the body harm, but a well-placed glass of wine has been shown to improve heart health, and even I am a proponent for a strategically-placed entire bottle of wine enjoyed all to yourself while your sister or husband or best friend enjoys her or his favorite beverage in excess a couple times a year, because it is fun to get a little tipsy in a safe environment with loved ones. Do this too much and you will do damage. Christmas eve and New Years Eve, let loose! Do this everyday over the holidays, and your body will revolt.
You don’t need to be a contributor to the holiday weight gain stats, but you also don’t need to invent some kind of device that shocks you every time you reach for a cookie to do that! Enjoying treats is a part of a healthy lifestyle. You can have your holidays (and eat, too), and have the scale remain constant if you set basic (realistic) rules for yourself and follow them.
Stay tuned for the next 4 strategies in parts 2 and 3 coming out the next 2 days to bulletproof your holiday fitness goals.
Need a nutrition coach to keep you accountable over the holidays? Check out my program here.