By Jordan Feigenbaum MS, CSCS, HFS, USAW CC, Starting Strength Coach
Anyone who knows me or has read anything I’ve published in recent history knows I don’t buy into the “watch what you eat around the holidays so you don’t get fat” hype. My reasoning is quite simple, the holidays are a time to cherish your family and friends, relax, and not worry about how many calories, carbohydrates, etc. you’re taking in. If you bring your food scale to my Christmas dinner, I’m slamming the door in your face….seriously.
On the other hand, there’s this weird behavior trend that I’ve noticed here in ‘Merica, that is, the “holiday season” is not limited to the actual holidays, but rather it lasts for five weeks or so from the Thanksgiving feast to the New Years Eve part. Giving your mouth free range to consume anything you want to for this extended period of time is a good recipe for feeling like trash come January 2nd and putting on more than a few pounds. Additionally, people seem to get busier and busier every holiday season and tend to miss more training sessions. It’s an understandable plight, but there’s hope! We’ve got about 2 weeks left from now until NYE and here are five pro-tips to help you avoid having to buy a bigger size dress or pair of pants for your New Years Eve party!
1) Isolate the Excess
These days people have company holiday parties (usually multiples), family gatherings (usually multiple), and it’s really easy to find yourself in situations where the food and drink is sub-optimal over and over again. It’s really difficult to stay on track when you’re not in control of the menu, but I have found that restricting intake during the rest of the day and week seems to be fairly easy if someone doesn’t have to be hyper-vigilant in their social situations. The easiest trick in the book is to lean towards a carbohydrate-restricted diet that’s based on lean protein sources, vegetables, and no added fats besides fish oil for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. When you get to the party or event, do what you want. If you’re craving a piece of pie or a cookie go for it. Another glass of wine? You bet. While I can’t guarantee that you’ll be okay if you find a way to put down 5000 calories at each of your holiday gatherings, I can say that it’s pretty easy to restrict calories at other times like breakfast and lunch when you’re not under any social pressures to do what anyone else is doing. Furthermore, I’ve found that after following this reduced intake for a few days hunger seems to decrease a bit as the body ramps up fat burning. Finally, having one or two holiday gatherings (and subsequent “cheat” meals) per week seems to keep metabolism humming along nicely. I’ve seen people actually get leaner during the holiday season with this approach. Remember, lean protein sources like egg whites, chicken breast, turkey, lean beef or fish, protein powder, etc., green vegetables ad libitum, and no added fats except for fish oil.
2) Bump the Intensity
Hopefully you can still find some time to train during the holiday season. One of the best ways to improve the way your nutritional intake is partitioned amongst your body’s tissues is to train heavy (relatively) with barbell exercises like the squat, bench press, deadlift, press, and power clean. To bump up your metabolism and improve this nutrient partitioning even further, add in some high-intensity interval training (HIIT) at the end of your workouts. Using any type of cardio, e.g. running, rowing, elliptical-ing, kettlebell swings, etc., go as hard as you can for 20-30 seconds, rest for 60-90 seconds, and repeat 6-10 times total. You’re welcome.
3) Sleep as Much as Possible
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years, you’ve probably heard about how lack of sleep can effect body composition. Additionally, stressful times like the holidays seem to result in decreased sleep levels for people. If you can, try to get as much shut-eye as you can. Supplements like ZMA, melatonin, and valerian root can help if you’re struggling in this department.
4) Drink More Water
That bloated feeling after a big holiday meal is a pretty gratifying experience, well for a few minutes anyway. Afterwards, we all kind of wish it would dissipate so we can re-buckle our belts, right? Wait, am I the only one who does this?!??! Anyway, most people don’t drink enough H2O anyway, and this probably decreases a bit during the holidays. This can impair the transit of food through your GI tract, make you constipated, feel bloated, etc. Simply put, if you increase your water intake significantly, you won’t experience these effects (or at least they’ll be reduced). Aim for 2-3L (just use your Nalgene) above what you’re taking in now. Yeah, you’ll be going to the bathroom a lot, but you won’t be looking like Santa Clause (or Mrs. Clause) either.
5) Prioritize the Celebrations
While there are many holiday gatherings, all spreads are not created equal. For instance, if you go to a party and what they’re serving doesn’t look that good to you don’t gorge yourself on that stuff! Wait until you get to the party that’s full of the goods before letting your hair down. The calorie balance thing is more of a long-term thing anyway. Calories don’t have a clock, so your daily intake probably matters much less than your weekly intake. Plan accordingly! If you know you’re going to an awesome party with really good food and drink, don’t blow it at your work’s potluck with the questionable finger foods and off-label soda. Just my 0.02.
So get to it, folks! Stick with the lean proteins and veggies, add in some HIIT, drink up, and wait for the quality buffets! Hope this helped.