Holiday Weight Gain – 8 Tips to Fight Off the Fat
The holiday season is upon us which for most means an influx of social gatherings, homemade food, decadent desserts, and alcohol. You’ve worked hard all year to add quality lean mass, drop excess body fat, and improve your overall health.
Unfortunately, the holiday season can be a serious challenge for those looking to maintain their new and improved lifestyle and body composition. Thankfully, proper diet and exercise is not an all-or-nothing endeavor. I’ll be the first to admit that I increase my indulgence in desserts and alcoholic during this time of year.
With the proper dietary practices, exercise regimen, and mental outlook, you combat holiday fat gain and put those extra calories towards building lean muscle. These eight tips will ensure you have the winning edge on the fight against Holiday weight gain.
Fight Holiday Weight Gain
Tip #1 – Don’t drink your calories
Avoiding calorie-dense beverages like fruit juices, full-sugar sodas, apple cider, egg nog, and hot chocolate is one of the easiest and most impactful ways to slash calories from your diet. While these beverages may taste great they have absolutely no impact on how full you feel.
Fruit juices and apple cider are stripped of the glucose-controlling fiber and many vitamins found in whole fruits. This results in hundreds of calories from pure sugar going directly in to the blood stream with no fiber to slow or lower the insulin spike. Just eight to twelve ounces of full-sugar soda has between 100 and 200 calories, all of which from sugar, and zero nutritional benefit.
I love spiked egg nog as much as the next person but it packs over 200 calories and 20 grams of fat per cup before you add Holiday Cheer. There’s nothing like huddling near the fire with a steaming cup of hot chocolate after a cold day outside shoveling snow. While some hot chocolate mixes off a nice dose of calcium, they’re often packed with large amounts of nutritionally-devoid carbohydrates in the form of sugar.
Do your waistline a favor and pick fruit-flavored zero-calorie water enhancers, diet soda, light egg nog, and hot chocolate with no sugar added.
Tip #2 – Fill up on fiber
In addition to its numerous health benefits, fiber is your friend when it comes to suppressing appetite before and in-between meals. Instead of providing a laundry list of high-fiber fruits and vegetables I’m going to let you in on a little trick – psyllium husk.
Psyllium husk is derived from a shrub-like herb called Plantago ovata and contains a large amount of water-absorbing soluble fiber. Soluble fiber not only improves your bowel movements and lowers your cholesterol, but also decreases appetite before a meal and blood sugar spikes after a meal.  Just 7.4 of psyllium husk consumed before meal decreased appetite by 13% and caloric intake by 17%. 
Psyllium husk may prevent you from overfilling your first dinner plate and minimize the chances you go for that third helping of pie. Unlike other fiber sources psyllium husk contains almost nothing but fiber – 30 calories, 8 grams of carbohydrates, and 7 grams of fiber per one tablespoon (9-gram serving). Psyllium husk is sold in bulk online as well as found in digestive health products like Muscleology Myofiber, Species Nutrition Fiberlyze, and Optimum Nutrition Fitness Fiber.
Mix one tablespoon of psyllium husk with at least ten to sixteen ounces of water and consume 15 minutes prior to or in between meals.  Psyllium husk absorbs a lot of water very quickly so it’s important to consume rapidly after adding enough liquid and mixing thoroughly.
Tip #3 – Deplete your glycogen stores
Think of your fat and muscle cells as buckets and excess calories as water. When you eat a high calorie meal rich in carbohydrates your body attempts to use these carbohydrates to replenish the glycogen, or buckets in your muscle cells.
When the body realizes these muscle cell buckets are full they send the carbohydrates to fat cell buckets. Fat cells don’t turn away excess calories so even if your existing fat cell buckets are completely full, the body will create additional fat cell buckets. The result – fat gain.
Plan a glycogen-depleting workout before you eat a high-calorie and high-carbohydrate meal to minimize fat gain and encourage these extra calories to be put towards facilitating recovery and building lean mass. Glycogen depleting workouts utilizing high volumes, short rest periods, and moderate to long time durations.
My favorite glycogen-depleting techniques using cardiovascular exercise are running up hills in my neighborhood, pushing the weighted sled, and performing intervals on the rowing machine, stationary bike, or Airdyne bike using a ratio of 20 seconds of work to 40 seconds of rest. I employ drop sets, rest-pause sets, supersets, and bodyweight exercise circuits during my weight training routine to deplete glycogen.
Timing a glycogen-depleting workout before a high-carbohydrate meal will minimize fat gain, encourage muscle growth, and improve insulin sensitivity.
Tip #4 – Practice (intermittent) fasting
Fasting is the practice by which you abstain from eating. While this sounds like a recipe for muscle loss and succumbing to calorie-rich cravings, it’s a powerful tool when you employ it correctly during the Holiday season. Intermittent fasting is a dietary protocol in which you follow pre-defined fasting and feeding windows every day. For example, you may fast for 14 to 20 consecutive hours per day and then allow yourself a 4 to 8 hour feeding window.
For intermittent fasting to work correctly it is critical that the fasting and feeding windows are unbroken. You should not fast for 10 hours, feed for 2 hours, fasting for another 10 hours, and feed again for another 2 hours.
By limiting the time window during which you can consume calories you’re less likely to snack and eat empty calories throughout the day. Thus, most people consume less total calories and a small indulgence during the feeding window won’t completely derail your caloric intake for the day.
Don’t use intermittent fasting as an excuse to eat only garbage foods. Start each meal with a large serving of fresh or raw vegetables, followed by lean protein, high-quality carbohydrates, and essential fatty acids. Top off your meal with a small serving of dessert and be sure to push away the plat once your feeding window ends.
At the end of the day burning more calories than you consume contributes to most your fat loss but intermittent fasting provides a psychological edge in allowing you to have the satisfaction of eating larger meals without exceeding your target calorie intake.
Tip #5 – Choose lower calorie alcoholic beverages
Alcohol has seven calories per gram, provides no nutritional benefit, and blunts fat burning. I’m not going to preach from a soap box and tell you not to drink alcohol since I enjoy a glass of whiskey four to five nights per week. This tip builds on Tip #1 – don’t drink your calories. Alcoholic beverages can be calorically dense, high in sugar, and provide no feelings of fullness (satiety).
If you can limit yourself to one to two full-body beers or sweet wines with a moderate to high ABV then by all means, enjoy yourself. For many of us holiday gathers may be multiple hours long during which we may consume upwards of five drinks. Stick with low-carbohydrate beers, dry wines, and distilled spirits mixed with zero or low-calorie mixers like water-enhancers, diet soda, club soda, and diet tonic.
Whiskey on the rocks, a vodka soda or rum and diet soda are my three go-to options for low calorie alcoholic beverages. You’ll save yourself hundreds of calories, grams of sugar, and for those eggnog drinkers, grams of fat during the holiday season.
Feel free to enjoy that Holiday Cheer but do so responsibly – choose low calorie alcoholic beverages, don’t overdrink, and absolutely DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE.
Tip #6 – Volunteer for chores
If you’re usually the one to camp out on the couch before or after a calorie-rich meal, switch it up this year and volunteer to help with chores. This could be anything from prepping the meal, setting the table, or washing the dishes.
By volunteering before the meal you’ll decrease the stress levels of the host and burn a few extra calories before you indulgence in that second piece of pie. Secondly, you’ll be less likely to overeat appetizers when you’re busy helping to ensure guests can sit down on-time and enjoy the main meal.
Instead of succumbing to the post-meal food coma volunteer to clean up and wash the dishes. By standing upright and moving around instead of lying prone on the couch you’ll promote proper digestion and burn substantially more calories. In both instances, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you positively contributed to the creation of fond memories with friends, family, and loved ones.
Tip #7 – Use big movements and train your entire body
Perform multi-joint compound movements like squats, deadlifts, overhead press, barbell, and bench press to burn calories, drop fat, increase strength, and build muscle. These big movements engage big and small muscle groups from head to toe.
Save the small movements like calf raises, abs, and curls for the last 10 to 20% of your workout. By prioritizing compound movements you’ll fight holiday weight gain more effectively and may even build some lean mass in the process. Performing these exercises in a superset or circuit fashion will further increase the caloric build while building your work capacity.
Even if you can’t make it to the gym throw in a few sets of bodyweight squats, lunges, and push-ups when you wake up, before or a few hours after a big meal. Performing some physical activity is always better than performing none.
You can also incorporate big movements and train your whole body using cardiovascular exercise and bodyweight movements. Some of my favorite calorie-burning workouts involve supersetting sprints on the rowing machine, Airdyne bike, stationary bike, or weighted sled pushes with bodyweight chin-ups, dips, lunges, squats, and push-ups.
Combining cardiovascular exercise with resistance train with torch bodyfat, jack up your heart rate, and give those holiday calories the one-two punch.
Tip #8 – Don’t throw in the towel
Living a healthy lifestyle and achieving significant body composition changes is a long-term endeavor. Don’t give up and start binging just because you overate during one meal or made poor food choices the entire day.
The Holiday season is stressful enough so don’t beat yourself up if your diet slightly derails. Instead, accept what happened, identify potential future triggers, and make a conscious effort to ensure it happens less frequently in the future. Diet and exercise also don’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach.
The Holiday season is a time relax with loved ones; having one extra cookie or slice of pie isn’t going to cause you to lose all the progress you made the previous 47 weeks of the year. Indulgence sensibly and stay vigilant to ensure one cookie doesn’t turn in to twelve.
With these eight tips, you have a significant advantage over the dreaded Holiday weight gain. Do you have a favorite tip or trick for prevent Holiday weight gain? Let me know in the comments below.
1) Ludlow, Nicholas. “Psyllium Husk – History, Uses, and Benefits – Tiger Fitness.” Tiger Fitness, Nov. 2016, Accessed Nov. 2016.
2) Rigaud, D., et al. “Effect of Psyllium on Gastric Emptying, Hunger Feeling and Food Intake in Normal Volunteers: a Double Blind Study.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Eur J Clin Nutr, Apr. 1998, Accessed Nov. 2016.
3) “Blond Psyllium.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 16 Sept. 2016, Accessed Nov. 2016.