It's that time of year when extra calories are lurking … everywhere! There are frosted cookies, sugar cookies, jelly donuts, holiday parties, candy at the office, family get-togethers, and let’s not forget … the booze! All these extras add up, and if you're like most Americans, you'll put on a pound or two or more by New Year's Day.
It’s very easy to get sidetracked from your best intentions and give in to festivities because “it’s the holidays”. And heck, why shouldn't you wait until January 1st to start over. After all, isn’t New Years about making resolutions?
Well, yes, but according to researchers at the National Institutes of Health, most Americans never lose the weight they gain during the winter holidays. The pounds add up year after year, making holiday weight gain an important factor in your goal to manage your weight.
So what are going to do? Start a new exercise routine? Eat only salad?
C’mon, let’s get real!
Building new healthy habits is hard enough when the sun is shining and the weather is beautiful. During this time of year, you have to factor in the “Winter Drawbacks”: Crappy weather, shorter days, travel – which means lots of time sitting, and being thrown off your regular eating and exercise routine. Oh yeah, let’s not forget all the holiday expectations and stress!
Add these to the fact that you're not always in control of your food during this time of year with the holiday parties and get-togethers, you will likely have less time to cook, which means more time going out to eat, or ordering more take out – and being served bigger portions, with more opportunity to self-indulge.
So this year, what if you just tried to maintain your current weight. That’s right, just "Coast" through the holiday. Don’t focus on weight loss. Okay, Beth - now you're talking! Now you have a plan – what are your strategies?
Let’s address five common triggers, and identify some coping strategies …
Trigger #1: Emotions. Emotions run high during the holidays. Like many people, you may struggle with emotional eating to feel better when you’re stressed, sad, anxious, or look for a distraction to get your mind off of your problems or holiday expectations. Well, there’s hope – try these simple strategies:
Strategy #1: Count backwards slowly from 20 before you make a decision to order or grab something to eat, or decide on that calorie-packed cocktail. This gives you an opportunity to think about your decision, instead of being impulsive. And don’t think your being a stick in the mud – you’re protecting your body! Heck – you’re "Coasting!" And be real: The food on our grocery shelves and in restaurants aren’t there necessarily to make you healthy – they’re there to intice you, so someone makes money!
Strategy #2: Try my favorite stress busting strategy: Deep-breathing exercises. All my clients know that I love the 4-7-8 breathing technique. Breath in 4, hold 7, release 8. Piece of cake! Oh no, wait – no cake …well not just yet! Keep reading …
Strategy #3: Stay positive. Research shows positive expectations are associated with weight loss. Even if this sounds or feels a little silly, give yourself at least one positive affirmation per day. Repeating something like “I can control my eating” or “I’m proud of how I ate clean today”. You’ll be surprised at how these short phrases can really impact your relationship with food.
Still, emotions can present themselves in other ways, too. For example, maybe it’s no struggle for you to pass up any candy, cakes, or cookies at the office, but if Grandma, Mommy, or Sissy made it just for you, it gets harder - especially if you have fond memories of eating it in years past. Well, even though your relatives may encourage you to eat a special sweet, or encourage you to indulge in seconds, you make the final decision!
Learn to decline respectfully. Try these simple phrases: "No thank you, I’m full.” Follow-up with, “Everything was delicious". Or try, "I couldn’t possibly eat another bite. Everything tasted wonderfully". If you’re not sure if you want seconds, say “I’m going to take a break. Check back with me in a bit”. This should be enough for friends and family members to stop pestering you. Plus, it gives you time to employ the other three strategies mentioned above.
Trigger #2: Cravings: Forbidding a special food, or specific food or food group, during the holiday season may only make it more attractive. Let’s face it, holiday parties are designed to present foods that simply taste unbelievably because they are loaded with butter, creams, sauces, flaky crusts, and succulent deliciousness. They're not designed to help you “Coast”.
So, coast with my favorite strategies to avoid a holiday binge: Plan your day! Yup – it’s that easy. Before you go to a holiday party, and splurge on the buffet line, or start picking on office snacks, candy, cookies, cakes, donuts, or add in extra booze, make sure that you have eaten throughout the day. If the party is after work, then plan a mini-meal at 2/3:00pm. This should be something with fiber and protein – both of which help to keep you full and satiated, arming you with the power to “Coast”. Plan a mini-meal that includes a serving of:
- Fruit with nuts or a nut butter or cheese
- Yogurt and berries
- Veggies and hummus
- Small cup of chicken vegetable soup
Whatever you do, don’t cut back all day so you can indulge at an event in the evening. This can set you up for a binge, or simple desire to overindulge.
Don’t forget to stay hydrated throughout the day, too. This way when you arrive at the party, you won’t be starving, ready to binge on the deep fried, cheese-filled, bacon-topped appetizers, and then down a drink …or two.
Planning your day important because if you feel like you blew it on the appies, or the meal, when it comes time for desert, you may be feel like you’ve failed, and give into any or all desert cravings. Speaking of desert, have a desert strategy. If swearing off desserts always backfires on you, try the three-bite rule so you can keep your sweet tooth in check:
- First bite: that amazing first taste
- Second bite: Still satisfying
- Third bite: Enough for a slight linger on the tongue
If you know that you cannot just take three bites (Beth, get real! Chocolate Ooziness with vanilla ice cream – three bites? Hahahaha! Girl, P-L-EEZE!), then maybe you should bring your own. That’s right - bring a healthy side dish or dessert to a friend's or family get-together. Not a home party - meeting in a restaurant? No problem - bring your own small piece of chocolate or cookie, to savor your sweet tooth. You don’t have to rule out eating what you, but knowing that you have an alternative to fall back on may help you with ability to “Coast”.
Trigger #3: Overindulging: Overindulging is sooo very easy this time of year, but wait before grabbing that second helping or serving of cake. Did you know that it takes about 20 minutes for the brain to get the message that you are full? So, the quicker you eat a meal, the less time you give yourself to realize that you are full. Strategize:
- Eat and chew slowly. Savor each bite
- Sit down, relax, and enjoy every bite of your meal.
- Drink a glass of water between second helpings
- Socialize and chat it up
- Or help the host with some clean up
- Changing up your environment – go to another room (heck go to the bathroom!), leave the buffet, dinner or desert table.
Any way you can, give your brain time to receive the signal that your stomach is happily full.
Trigger #3A: Overindulging at the Buffet: Even if you have superhuman willpower, holiday parties and buffets can be challenging. It’s natural to want to splurge. But, as I mentioned above, excess pounds usually don't disappear along with the decorations. And it’s not realistic to say that you're going to start running or up your gym routine after the New Year (see above “Winter Drawbacks”). Strategize on the buffet. First – don’t go there starving. How? See my “Craving Strategies” so following these strategies will seem more realistic:
- Plate Your Food: Plate all (yes, I said ALL) the food you eat. Why? Because it's hard to keep track of how much food you're eating when you nibbling a little here and there. Those nibbles can add up! Plating your food will keep you honest, and help you avoid the mindless hand-to-mouth munching that can add lots of extra calories.
- Use smaller plates: When possible, choose a salad plate (8-10 inches) instead of the ones that look like a serving platter! Research has shown that using smaller plates can actually make us feel fuller with less food. The key here: Don't stack your food! Small plates nowhere to be found? Okay use a back up strategy: Fill up on fiber. Make half your plate vegetables, and/or salad. My clients know that they should be doing this anyway! Why? Because the fiber in vegetables will help keep you fuller, longer. And add dressing realistically – don’t worry about the healthy fats from olive oil or avocado – you need fat to help you absorb all the great antioxidants, and phytonutrients in your vegetables!
- Don’t waste calories: If you don't love it, don't eat it. If you took something from the buffet because everyone else was ranting and raving about it – but you’re just not loving it, then don’t eat it! Don't worry about waste -- just leave it on your plate - use those extra calories for something you love.
Trigger #3: Alcohol: Let’s face it, alcohol lowers your inhibitions, and if you’re drinking a little extra, you won't have as much control over what you eat ...say bye, bye to “Coasting”. Plus, as I tell my clients, if you want to make sure you add in calories quickly, drink them! Drinking your calories is a strategy I use in the hospital when someone is experiencing unintentional weight loss, and/or is malnourished! The fastest way for me to help them get calories and protein is to suggest a liquid supplement. So be mindful of your alcohol consumption…strategize:
- Feel out of place without holding a drink like everyone else? Sip on water or club soda with a lemon or lime wedge.
- Throwing a party at home? Choose tall and thin glassware. Why? because research shows people pour less liquid into tall glasses than into short squatty glass.
- Drink 8 oz of water for every shot of booze, glass of wine, or pint of beer. Plus drinking water will keep you hydrated, slow your drinking down, and help prevent the morning after alcohol headache.
And, PLEASE DO NOT DRINK and DRIVE. Call a friend, or call an UBER!
Trigger #4: Leftovers: Great party. Lot’s of people brought something, and now you are stuck with tons of leftovers! Well, if you didn't specify, most people will likely bring a not so healthy desert. So first strategy: Be specific. Tell people either that you are in charge of desert, request a healthy desert, or ask that they bring a salad, roasted vegetables, veggies and hummus, or beer and wine.
Still stuck with tons of leftovers? Invest in some toss-away tupperware or gallon size bags. This way, before your guests have desert, ask them if they want something to take home and pack them a doggy bag. No one was interested? Buy some quart sized freezer bags, portion out serving of leftovers and freeze them. Studies show that when food is out of sight, you are less likely to reach for a second helpings. PS Don’t forget to label and date what you freeze!
Trigger #5: Losing your exercise MoJo: Exercise is an important strategy to help you "Coast" and maintain your weight throughout the holidays. Even in the busiest of days, try to stay focused, knowing that exercise doesn’t necessarily mean hitting the track or going to the gym. So what if you can't get to your favorite yoga class, or find time for your run? Do whatever you can to squeeze in 10-minute intervals of activity throughout the day. Try these strategies:
- 10-minutes in the morning. Exercising in the morning can help ensure better behavior all day long. It’s true! Research shows that people respond less to pictures of tempting food compared with the days they didn't do a morning workout.
- Make a conscious decision to get more steps into the day. Take the stairs at work; park the car far away when you're at the office, grocery store or mall, or take the dog for an extra walk. Still having trouble being motivated, enlist the help of your kids, or your better half.
- Download one of the “Seven-Minute Workout” Apps on your phone. Heck, you can do anything for seven minutes!
- Jump rope for 15 minutes at 2-minute interval. Jumping rope for 15-minutes can burn about 190 calories. Challenge yourself to keep it up for 2-minute intervals, and mix in some crunches, planks, air squats, air lunges, push-ups, or some yoga stretches. This is a great way to help you maintain muscle, flexibility, and balance throughput the holidays.
Whatever you can do to stay positive about your exercise routine will help. Remember that even a simple regular exercise routine can give you more energy to tackle those long holiday "to-do" lists, help you cope with stress, and sleep better (which has also been associated with less weight gain).
Above all, be flexible, accept your limits, and don’t panic. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that doing something (even if it’s very tiny) is better than doing nothing to keep your emotions in check, avoid too much booze, crazy cravings, or too many overindulgences on the buffet line, office, or holiday get-togethers. Stay positive, and re-evaluate your weight maintenance and exercise goals in light of what you can reasonably achieve this time of year. Even reaching your goals 3 days per week is better than giving in, or worse, giving up.
Have a wonderful, happy, healthy holiday season as you "Cruise" through to New Year!
Wishing you all a very Peace-filled New Year!
To learn more about how to build and maintain a healthy body, increase your athletic performance, or to simply sustain a lifestyle of healthy eating, contact me at 973.852.3335