This is a scary time of year for many of my patients, and many people in general. The holidays are a wonderful time to celebrate family, faith, and life in general. Holidays are also a time when “comfort foods” are most rampant and people either give up on their diets, or stress about the weight they are about to gain. While neither of those options sounds good, they are reality for most people. Given that, there is an alternative strategy that may allow you to, excuse the pun, have your cake and eat it too.
Holiday strategy #1: AVOIDENCE
Avoiding foods cakes, cookies, pies, heavy sauces in general, calorie dense foods, is clearly the best way to avoid unwanted weight gain. This, however, may be more difficult than achieving a doctorate from MIT in Nuclear Physics, and I will therefore not go into detail on this simple, yet (mostly) impossible strategy.
Holiday strategy #2: PORTION CONTROL
This is an age old strategy that has allowed people to be successful in limiting their weight gain while still being able to enjoy the meals and desserts that come with the holidays. There is no true science to it, though if you are interested in understanding the ramifications of calories in/calories out and the different macronutrients (fat, protein, carbohydrate), please review my blog on Dietary Fundamentals of Weight Loss. Eating slower allows you to realize when you are full quicker, and thus will lead to eating less. Taking smaller portions is a given. While some are sure to always leave food on their plate, I always feel bad for people who may not have enough food, so I don’t like to waste. Additionally, my Mom always instilled in me to “clean up your plate!” My exception to this is with desserts. I have no problem spitting out a piece of dessert that I know will not satisfy me. I’d rather the garbage have the calories than me, and I would rather take something else that may be available. Or, take a half piece of dessert(s) if you are worried about weight gain at all, but can’t seem to resist. Most importantly however, be sure to GET OUT OF THE KITCHEN as soon as possible. Most people linger in the kitchen, and desserts especially, have a powerful gravitational pull that can entice anyone in the same room, regardless of whether they taste good or not! Grab a big glass of water, and vacate the premises!
Holiday strategy #3:
SWAP THE CARBS
You must understand that the term comfort foods may as well be defined as carb foods. Too many carbs is really a bad thing, and if you are going to be indulging, you may want to limit one type of carb to make the other less likely to increase weight. While bread is often looked at as healthier than a piece of cake (it is due to sugar content and calorie density), they are both purely carbohydrates. When your body consumes too much carbohydrates, it converts it all to excess fat. Therefore, even if you are eating whole grain bread, and unsatisfying fat free desserts, you are still packing on extra pounds due to the excess of carbohydrates. My recommendation is to avoid the bread if you know you want the pie afterward!
Holiday strategy #4:
EARN YOUR REWARDS
One of the best ways I’ve always managed to keep a steady weight, even during periods where I’m not training for a race, is that I look at food as fuel. Just like filling up your car with gasoline, I try and balance the right grade of fuel for how I’m going to use my body. So if I’m going to be very active, I can eat more carbs because I know I’ll burn them and they won’t be stored as fat. If my activity diminishes, I eat less carbs. But I always try and balance out my eating habits with my activity. While I personally eat to maintain activity and exercise habits, the other way to think of this is to exercise to maintain your eating habits! Here’s the trick; don’t overdo it! A lot of people think that periods of intense exercise are what’s needed to keep off the excess weight, but increased stress on the body (release of cortisol) can offset the benefits, and when people don’t have sufficient fitness, they are more at risk for injury than anything. I recommend walking at a pace somewhere beyond casual but well below a power pace. A hike in the woods, walk around the neighborhood, a couple extra laps around the mall and whatever other type of low intensity activity it takes to get the body’s metabolism to increase a little will make a difference. Most importantly however, it will allow those people who are hoping to get in shape after the holidays, get a head start in developing a base level of fitness.