As a personal trainer, I can tell you truthfully that the busiest time in the gym is January-March. For about six to eight weeks after the holidays end, the gym is flooded with people who have over eaten, under exercised and have made a resolution to lose the weight they put on the year prior. The gym folk who have been working out all year-long get slightly annoyed as the volume of treadmill and elliptical users rises taking up their precious cardio time (cardio, in my opinion, is one of the biggest jokes in pop culture today). However, the crowd thins and dissipates about six to eight weeks after it swells as those who made hasty (or perhaps even recurring) resolutions lose their resolve because they 1) don’t see instant results, 2) have no idea what to do, 3) do the same exercises they have done before or 4) get burned out from taking on too much too quickly. Soon enough, the gym is back to its steady clientele and the roar of the treadmills is slightly softened.
It breaks my heart to see this cycle. If only people could thrive during the holidays and eat well, not gain any weight and continue an exercise program that is consistent with delivering results!! Oh wait, they (and you!) can!! Here are my top five tips for thriving through the holidays and avoiding the dreaded new years guilt of having to resolve to start over with better eating and exercise:
1) Chose a smaller plate
Photo from Crate and Barrel
My in-laws have gotten (mostly) used to my quirks about diet and exercise during the holidays. I always bring an entrée (or side) and a dessert that I make that I know I can enjoy without setting me back emotionally (hello sugar addicts, I am talking to you) or physically (I work hard for this body!). One of the habits I engage in is using a smaller plate. A lot of satiety (feeling of fullness) is visual. Seeing a full plate can be very visually satisfying and thus leaving you without feeling deprived by only filling up half a regular dinner plate.
Using a smaller plate is great because you can fill it up and eat the whole thing versus taking a little bit on a bigger plate and going back for more. The portion sizes you eat will be smaller than if you place them on a bigger dinner plate. I often grab a salad plate out of the cupboard and swap it for the huge china dinner plate. Think I’m crazy? Try it for yourself and see what a difference it makes!
2) Have a satisfying breakfast or lunch before having a holiday meal
Photo from Dailymail
Appetizers, egg nog, apple cider, booze, candies, nuts- most of these are present at holiday get togethers. It’s not that they are bad, but indulging in these little delights will not only increase your overall caloric intake, but they will also ruin your body’s ability to digest well, especially the sugars. They can also trigger cravings and turn of inhibitions which help keep you aware of what you are putting into your body. By eating pre-emptively, you can avoid these little bombs, eat a reasonable size meal (remember your smaller plate) and not over do it. The thing I hear about the most is waiting to eat until the Big Meal. This is the worst idea because you arrive at the meal starving so you eat more than you normally would. And, because it’s a social event, you might even be tempted to eat beyond the point of satisfaction and eat a second (or third) helping or pick at foods even if you’re full.
Eat a normal amount of protein, complex carbs and fats before you go to ensure that you have a clear mind and balanced blood sugar before you go.
3) Chose your dessert wisely
Photo from Country Living
Apple pie, pumpkin pie, Oreo cookie cake, fruit cake, sugar cookies, gingerbread cookies….it’s all there. Everywhere you start to see these sugar laden treats pop up. This is the hardest part for most of my clients. Cookies at work, pie at families, bars at parties….its never ending during the holidays! I am a huge believer in moderation, and having small treat at a holiday party is an ok way to avoid feeling deprived.
That said, think about how many parties you are going to. I would limit dessert to once a week to avoid excess calories, fat and sugar. Never, EVER put dessert with alcohol. If you must drink, do it far far away from carbohydrates like breads, pastas, potatoes, stuffing and especially sugar!! It’s one or the other this time around. Always opt for wine over cocktails, hard cider over egg nog, beer over margaritas or hard liquor over mixed drinks.
As for which dessert to choose, opt for a small slice of pumpkin pie over pecan, apple over pecan, lemon bars over 7 layer bars, gingerbread cookies over sugar cookies and one piece of candy over ice cream. If you can, make a dessert that has less sugar and enjoy that instead of trying to guesstimate on the rest.
4) Walk after a big meal- don’t sit!
Usually after a big meal, there is a lot of sitting. Sitting means no extra calories being burned which can add up fairly quickly. So, grab your scarves and mittens and head out for a half hour stroll after the big meal. It doesn’t have to be a cardio workout or even a fast walk, just enough to use some of that ingested energy (calories are energy- if it doesn’t get used, it gets stored!). If it’s too wet outside, play an active game like charades, Twister (yep, I totally own that one!) or find a way to move your body. Not only does it burn calories, but it also helps aid digestion of all that food.
5) Stay consistent with your diet, exercise, sleep and stress management
Photo from Vision Fitness
Nothing is more stressful than the holidays. Decorating, parties, food preparation, family interactions, a busy schedule, more traffic, buying presents- it’s all very stressful and stress is the arch-enemy of weight loss. The best thing you can do to ensure thriving through the holiday season is to keep the status quo- keep doing what you have been doing.
-Don’t skip the gym- hire a trainer if you need to to keep you accountable for your exercising.
-Keep focused on your diet (and by diet I mean the foods you eat) and don’t chalk it up to the “holidays”.
-Manage your stress by deep breathing, staying organized and finding outlets for emotions like a punching bag, treadmill or therapist.
-Sleep as much as you possibly can!! Go to bed as early as possible and sleep in as long as you can manage. Make your breakfast the night before so you can sleep just a little longer. Sleep is your body’s rest and recover time-it’s also your greatest weapon against getting sick!
Keep checking back for more helpful hints on surviving and thriving through the holidays!!