Episode 71: December 3, 2012
by Ben Greenfield
Did you stuff yourself full on Thanksgiving? Are you now in panic mode about how your waistline is going to handle all those holiday parties – not to mention a Christmas feast? Maybe your weight survived Thanksgiving unharmed, but threatens to explode as the holiday season progresses?
In a recent Get-Fit Guy newsletter, you learned a few simple tips to minimize holiday meal damage. And in this episode, you’ll learn how holiday weight gain happens, plus 5 very effective strategies for avoiding it.
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How to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain
Even though it’s probably no mystery to you, each of the tips below will remind you how you put on weight in the first place, and then give you the strategies to ensure it doesn’t happen this year:
Holiday Weight Gain Reason #1: Your Schedule Changes
Once the holidays arrive, your tidy, type-A, strictly scheduled world can begin to unravel. Suddenly you have 3- and 4-day weekends during which there is ample opportunity to sleep in and be lazy – not to mention the holiday parties with heavy eating and drinking on nights when you’d normally behave and go to bed early, gyms that close or have new, strange hours, and travel that takes you to new locations where exercising can seem like a stressful or confusing chore.
So how can you handle these schedule snafus to avoid holiday weight gain?
One simple way: plan ahead!
For example, check with your gym in advance to find out what the holiday hours are, and on days when it may be closed or unavailable to you, plan on outdoor walks or runs, or home body weight exercise sessions. On long weekends, set exercise goals that get you moving and boosting your metabolism early, such as squeezing in 20 minutes of exercise before 9am. If you’re traveling, use Google maps to search for gyms nearby where you are staying, or pack elastic bands and running shoes and check out my article How To Stay Fit While Traveling for easy, no-excuses workouts on the go.
Holiday Weight Gain Reason #2: You're Stressed
During the holidays, at the same time that your schedule changes, you also suddenly have added pressure from shopping needs, family obligations, and changes to your daily routine. As a result of this added stress, your blood pressure and heart rate can go up, your motivation to exercise can go down, and your propensity to gain weight can increase as your body produces more of the potentially fat-storing hormone cortisol.
If and when this happens, there are steps you can take! Most importantly, one of the best ways to control stress is to exercise. While it may seem like a Catch-22 that stress makes you want to exercise less, exercise is actually one of the best stress-fighters. When it comes to exercise, it’s important to remember: every little bit helps.
For this reason, even during the holidays, I start every day with a short and simple series of jumping jacks, push-ups, body weight squats, and a full body stretch. Because this only takes about 10 minutes, there is a very low barrier to getting it done – and it can decrease stress enough to where I am motivated to squeeze in a bigger exercise session later in the day!
Holiday Weight Gain Reason #3: Food is Everywhere
As if it weren’t hard enough that all this added stress tends to make us want to eat more, there are usually cookies, pies, snacks, and drinks in constant view during the holidays. Studies have shown that when you can see tempting treats, you’re far more likely to eat them. (Big surprise!)
For example, just this morning, there was a half-eaten pumpkin pie on the counter, and I must confess that I actually had a slice of pie on top of my usual breakfast. Normally, I’d never have pie with breakfast, but since it was there in plain view, I ate it.
The solution to this is simple: hide the treats and snacks during the holidays. Keep cookies in opaque, non-transparent containers; cover and place pies or other desserts back into the refrigerator immediately after you’re done with them; put alcohol in a closed cupboard; and avoid putting dishes of candy or chocolates out on tables and counters.
Holiday Weight Gain Reason #4: It's Cold
While inclement weather conditions are only an issue if you live in a Northern climate, it is certainly a relevant reason for holiday weight gain. After all, who wants to go out for a brisk morning walk or jog when you have to spend 20 minutes putting on multiple layers, gloves, a hat and your sturdy snow boots? Even driving to the gym can be annoying when the roads are covered in snow or you spend the first half of your workout just trying to warm-up.
The best solution I’ve found for this problem is to keep my body as warm as possible throughout the day. So when it’s cold outside, I never let myself go for more than an hour without trying to squeeze in a handful of body weight squats, push-ups, or jumping jacks. Just this small amount of activity can keep my body warm and ready to rumble when it actually is time for an exercise session.
In addition, when I’m driving to the gym, I turn the heater up in the car on full blast so that my body and muscles are warm and ready to exercise when I arrive.
Holiday Weight Gain Reason #5: Peer Pressure
Let’s face it: I probably wouldn’t have written this article and you probably wouldn’t be reading it if holiday weight gain wasn’t an “accepted” societal norm. “Santa belly,” “festively plump,” and “food coma” are terms that are freely thrown around during the holidays. It’s a proven fact that if all your friends accept something as normal, it’s probably not going to bother you.
For this reason, it’s easy to become less guilty about overindulging, or combing gluttony with laziness during the holidays.
But wouldn’t it be much better if you could arrive at January 1 prepared for a New Year’s resolution other than “weight loss”? What if you were already as trim and fit as you want to be, and could instead set a goal of learning a new musical instrument, making more money, spending extra time with family, or listening to all the previous Get-Fit Guy episodes?
This season, consider not succumbing to peer pressure and societal acceptance of holiday weight gain, and instead, stay physically active and eat healthier. Your body (and belly) will thank you when the New Year rolls around.
Now that you know the reasons for holiday weight gain and strategies to avoid them, you can ask your questions (or add your own tips) below in Comments or on the Get-Fit Guy Facebook page!
Photos from Shutterstock.