Enjoy Yourself and Stay on Track this Holiday Season
Holiday Binge? Don’t weigh in and Cringe
Most people feel conflicted during the holidays. It is a wonderful time to enjoy the company of friends, family and the delicious foods that you typically don’t eat year-round; and certainly not in the portions provided. The confliction lies in the days following precious time spent with loved ones, when you’re back to the daily grind.
You reflect on the mountain of ham, beef, turkey, chicken (maybe all of the above) consumed with a generous portion of sides, like mashed potatoes, stuffing and creamy caesar salad. Of course, you don’t forget that after all that food, you still managed to eat a piece of home-made pie, or cake (or again, both).
But what if I said you can have your cake and eat it too?
To clarify, what if I said you can enjoy yourself and stay on track this holiday season? It may sound too good to be true, but what begins as a conscious decision to remain on course, develops into scientifically sound approaches to eating more freely while minimizing or eliminating any body composition repercussions.
The content below will ensure you’re focusing on what’s important this time of year – friends and family, not the worry of sabotaging your progress. With that said, follow these tips to indulge without the bulge and especially without the guilt!
1) Remain in a “fit state of mind.”
Over the holidays, don’t let the sight of foods that are typically forbidden in your diet stress you out. Enjoy everything in moderation; but, that does not mean that just because it’s the holidays, you have permission to go all out. Remind yourself every morning that summer bodies are made in the winter; don’t let the time of year be an excuse to overdo it.
Enjoy your down time and the ability to stray ever so slightly from the meal plan.
But focus on maintaining everything in moderation. A break is a break; but at the end of the day, you still have goals to meet, and you’re still an individual who lives an overall healthy lifestyle. Get into this mindset from the moment you wake up and you’ll be sure to avoid temptation when it creeps your way.
2) Don’t lose sight of the “summer notch” in your belt.
A hands-on approach to remaining in a fit state of mind, is to make an effort to continue wearing your summer clothes. Of course, holiday weather comes with thicker, looser, cosier clothing. In order to stay on track, try to make an effort to wear the more fitted tops underneath your sweater;
once in a while, pay attention to the notch in your belt
is it reflective of the notch you used during the summer? This tip provides a physical snapshot of your fitness pre-holidays; and realistically, if you’re remaining sensible and in a fit state of mind, there’s no reason to deviate from this indication of pre-holiday fitness.
3) Train heavily on the days before your holiday dinner(s).
For some people, it’s routine to workout heavy on “cheat days.” This is sound advice but may be even more effective than you think. Having been glycogen depleted by following 3 days of a low carbohydrate diet with concomitant exercise, it took subjects eating beyond a whopping ~500g of carbohydrates before any de novo lipogenesis (fat production) was observed (1).
Moreover, exhaustive resistance training significantly depletes glycogen in the trained tissue (2).
Therefore, exercise your biggest muscle groups on the days leading up to or on the day of your meal. Throwing in a few sessions of high intensity cardio prior to your holiday feast will also serve advantageous in significantly depleting muscle glycogen (3). The point is, the amount you eat has to reach a threshold level before any fat accretion occurs, and if you’re glycogen depleted, this threshold increases. Therefore, training hard over the holidays will diminish the potential to store excess calories as fat. Not that you’ll be eating too much in excess anyways, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared!
4) Make a conscious effort to increase physical activity outside of the gym.
Have you ever had a moment when you bite into a dessert that has been put off for so long, your eyes close and you just can’t help but to surrender to the overwhelming urge to start slow-dancing… or it is just me? Well anyways; dance away, you’re post-holiday self will surely thank you for it!
If you plan on being less stringent with the diet this holiday season,
consider making an effort to expend more energy outside of intended exercise. Interestingly, the amount of excess energy that is stored as fat over time varies drastically from person to person. One of the primary reasons for this is an individual’s ability to activate non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) (4). NEAT includes actions that occur throughout the day, thereby expending energy that you may not necessarily be aware of.
Some of these include: spontaneous muscle contraction, standing or sitting upright or any other type of subtle activity that enhances total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) (4). The capacity for an individual to expend this extra energy correlates with resistance to weight gain (4). So instead of the elevator, take the stairs, sit upright at the dinner table and engage in activities that expend a little extra energy this holiday season, like dancing!
5) Eat with a purpose.
Undoubtedly, there will be a rainbow of colors on the table come dinner time. However, what ends up on your plate may drastically affect the way your body processes the meal in a postprandial state. Choosing a dinner plate high in protein will enhance the thermic effect of food (TEF) (5). Increasing the TEF is correlated with feeling full,
thereby preventing excessive intake;
moreover, by definition, a greater TEF means a larger portion of the meal is immediately burned for energy. Using chicken as an example, white meat contains more protein and is slightly lower in fat, so make a conscious effort to load up on this food. Doing so will enhance TEF and the feeling of satiety compared to other mixed-meal constituents. Another quick tip is to use a dab of your favorite BBQ sauce but to enhance the flavor profile by using zero-calorie hot sauce as the primary ingredient; that is, if you’re a fan of hot food!
Another great tip is to exploit the function of resistant starches. They are sitting right there on your dinner table and you may not even know it! You may have heard the term, resistant starch (RS), but really familiarizing yourself with what they are and how they work may drastically influence your food choices to promote a favorable body composition. RS is any starch that bypasses the small intestine without digestion or absorption (6).
This is quite the phenomena considering food is exposed to a variety of digestive enzymes in the duodenum of the small intestine. RS then make their way to the large intestine and are fermented by gut bacteria into short chain fatty acids (SCFA). Interestingly, including a moderate amount of RS, ~5% of carbohydrates, leads to enhanced fat oxidation sourced directly from the meal you just ate (7). It has been postulated that increased fat oxidation stems from the conversion of RS to SCFA which favors the use of fatty acids versus glucose for energy production in the liver (7). Sources of resistant starches include: whole grains, pasta with durum (6) pumpernickel bread, white beans and cooked lentils to name a few (8).
To really ensure you’re staying on track during the holidays, combine these two pieces of advice; load up on protein and combine your plate with RS-containing carbohydrates. Together, high protein intake with simultaneous consumption of particular resistant starches further enhances postprandial lipid oxidation (6). So fill your plate with white meat and whole grains to promote satiety and burn through fatty macronutrients!
6) Eat slower.
If you find yourself in a scenario where there is an opportunity to eat until you can’t sit upright, eating slower may save you a lot of agony, both physically and mentally. Eating slower enhances the response of hormones that account for satiety; namely,
PPY and GLP-1 (9).
These hormones are released by the small intestine in response to food and act on the brain to signal that you are full. Moreover, the satiety effect of eating slower has been assessed clinically and individuals that adhere to 30 seconds between bites lose weight long term, whereas their non-adherent counterparts gain weight (10). Holiday diets aren’t necessarily “long-term,” and consuming one large meal in excess has little, to no effect on subsequent fat gain, even if this occurs over the course of a few days (11).
But given that holiday meals have a tendency to maximize food availability, eliciting a physiological response by eating slower to help resist a second or even third helping, is almost essential. While at the same time, of course it helps because you need to save room for dessert!
7) Bake some protein goodies for the family.
In the time before or after a meal, when guests are being entertained, usually yummy treats are circulated around the room. Do everyone a favor and contribute a healthier alternative option in the form of some protein baked goods. Not only will they expand your meal plan arsenal by researching and baking some new treats; but it allows yourself and whomever you share with to indulge in a
guilt free snack!
This goes back to the discussion about increasing protein to enhance TEF and to remain full. Find your favorite whey isolate, bake some delectable protein brownies, cupcakes, cookies, whatever! Not only will they be delicious; they will replace the empty calories of fatty/sugary conventional desserts!
8) Planning on eating at a restaurant? Look at the menu beforehand.
Heed this tip if eating in is not your thing. Many restaurants will provide their menu online and if you’re lucky, they’ll even provide the calories and macro’s associated with each item. It may also help to intentionally select a restaurant that provides this information if you want to stay on top of your game.
To avoid overconsumption via tempting menu items,
look at your options beforehand and select two dishes that you’ve determined suit your calorie and macro needs. Don’t even bother looking at the menu once you arrive to avoid last minute indecision. Selecting what to order beforehand not only gets you your food sooner, but it will keep you happy and healthy knowing you’re not straying too far from your diet.
9) Develop a holiday “stay on track stack.”
Finally, to add a little boost to your holiday progress, there are many supplements that contain scientifically backed ingredients that elicit significant effects on energy expenditure, lipolysis and fat oxidation.
Green coffee bean extract and caffeine have demonstrated independent effects on the liberation of fatty acids from fat cells (12). These are heavily studied compounds and both of which are active ingredients in products used for fat burning such as, ALLMAX Rapidcuts. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is another compound that has proven to enhance fat loss in human studies (13).
Lastly, L-carnitine has been shown to effectively prevent fat accretion by increasing genetic and intermediate components of fat metabolism (14). All of the aforementioned compounds are made available by key supplement providers like ALLMAX Nutrition.
There you have it, 9 tips that will allow you to enjoy your time during the holidays guilt and stress free! Keep in mind that these tips aren’t necessarily just for the holidays. You can implement these hands-on approaches year-round to feel less worried or unsure about enjoying your favorite foods once in a while!
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Steven Bugiel, BSc., MSc. (IG: @stevieinonstagram)