The holiday season is a special time. 

Between time off work, good food, and a relaxing atmosphere, we get to take a breath, forget our worries for a few days, and recharge our batteries.

Of course, the holiday season can also be stressful and rushed. Between gift shopping, making plans, having guests over, paying attention to the kids, and keeping the spouse happy, holidays can feel like work.

Plus, given the relaxed and judgment-free atmosphere of the holidays, everyone enjoys loosening up and skipping a few workouts.

The question is, how can we set ourselves up for success during the holidays and prevent the dreaded weight gain? 

Let’s review.

The Compounding Effect Of Weight Gain

Despite what many people believe, weight gain doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, the process compounds over months and years of poor nutritional habits and physical inactivity. 

The holiday season plays a vital role in this compounding effect because folks gain a bit of weight each year and fail to lose it after that. The weight gain accumulates over the years, leading to a significantly high BMI, poor quality of life, and an increased risk of health problems.

Let me give you an example:

John is an average 32-year-old man who doesn’t exercise but isn’t overweight. Over the holidays, John eats 10,000 calories more than his body needs to sustain itself. As a result, he gains around 3 pounds. Some of that is water, but some is also fat.

Once the holiday season is over, John goes back to his old nutritional habits. His lower calorie allows him to lose some of the water weight he gained. The trouble is, John doesn’t lose the fat he gained over the holidays and instead carries it with him.

A year goes by, and the holidays arrive once again. John repeats his ritual of indulgence, gains a few pounds of fat, and loses some of that once the holidays pass. 

Year after year, the minor weight gain adds up. Before he knows it, John is in his forties, about twenty pounds overweight, and unsure where to start his health journey. It’s safe to say that how we approach the holidays can play a significant role in our long-term weight, quality of life, and health outcomes.

Here Are My 5 Tips

1. Limit Choices

Most people believe that limiting the amount of food we consume is the best way to control our calorie intake. While the idea makes sense at first glance, we should employ another, more effective tactic: limiting choices. 

A blessing and a curse of any holiday season is the sheer number of food choices we get to enjoy. The table is full of all sorts of delicious treats, and we want to taste at least some of them. The problem is, each food type causes a dopamine spike that triggers a hedonic response: stuffing ourselves without being hungry. 

In contrast, limiting our choices reduces the risk of such dopamine spikes that lead to uncontrollable eating. Sure, we feel psychological delight from eating, but that lessens with each bite we take, clearing the way for physical hunger.

So, instead of worrying as much about quantities, be more mindful of the number of foods you consume. Ideally, you should limit yourself to:

  • A protein source (e.g., meat, fish, etc.)
  • A starch (e.g., potato, rice, pasta, etc.)
  • A dessert (after all, you should enjoy some sweets)

You can consume various fibrous foods (leafy greens, fruits, etc.) since they are lower in calories and highly satiating.

2. Reduce The Scope And Get It Done

Many people have an all-or-nothing mindset when it comes to fitness. If they can’t be perfect, they don’t bother trying. The problem is, this kind of thinking only serves to hinder your process and justifies poor decision-making. “Why bother training? I only have 20 minutes.” 

The great thing about fitness is that it is fluid like water and can assume many shapes, depending on what you need. Instead of trying to do things perfectly, focus on your consistency and strive to keep the momentum going. 

When you can’t have a full workout, settle for what you can do. You don’t have an hour for a workout? Fine. Exercise for as long as you can and call it a day. Or maybe you don’t have a fully-stocked gym? That’s also okay. Have a bodyweight workout or go for a run.

3. Make Plans to Train

Aside from having a flexible mindset with your training, setting up plans for your workouts is also beneficial. Specifically, you should get clear on three things:

  • When your training will take place – for example, at 4:30 PM each day
  • Where you will train – for example, in your living room or at the local gym
  • What training you will do – for example, five concrete exercises

The tactic is referred to as implementation intentions in the scientific field. A solid number of studies show that folks who make concrete plans for different behaviors are much more likely to follow through.

4. Load Up On Protein And Fiber

A good rule to follow, especially around the holidays, is to load up on protein and fibrous foods. Both nutrients play an important role in your satiety, allowing you to feel fuller on fewer calories. 

A good example of a satiating meal is meat or fish with a salad. Aside from being nutritious, such a meal would fill you up well, reducing the risk of overeating. Plus, meat and salad can taste incredible, so long as both are prepared well.

5. Eat Slowly And Practice Mindfulness

We’ve become increasingly less mindful when eating. Back in the day, before the technology boom, we didn’t have as many distractions and could focus on our meals. Nowadays, our focus is always occupied by something: the TV, computer, phone, tablet, or something else. As a result, we are more likely to overeat. 

Avoiding distraction while eating is one of the best ways to become more mindful of your satiety, reducing the risk of overeating. By focusing on your meal, you are more aware of how much food you’ve consumed, and you’re better able to gauge your fullness. 

Coupling mindfulness with slower eating further helps control your calories. The reason is, it takes your digestive system up to twenty minutes to send satiety signals to your brain. By eating more slowly, you allow satiety to set in before you’ve overeaten.

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