10 Strategies to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain & Stay Lean Until 2016

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The holiday season is in full swing. And for physique-minded people, navigating this time of year is akin to trekking through a minefield.

It feels like the world has joined forces to take you down. At every step, temptation bites at your ankles. Holiday weight gain looms near.

Related: 25 Tips to Survive the Holidays and Not Gain Weight

Supermarkets, car washes, banks and your local drug stores put you into a compromising position by displaying the goodies in a place where you can’t miss them. Family gatherings that offer a smorgasbord of comfort food test your will beyond what you think you can handle. Work parties start our cordial, but after the entire crew throws back a few shots washed down with spiked eggnog, it feels obligatory to join the festivities.

There isn’t a shortage of strategies to avoid holiday weight gain, particularly if you live that #gymlife. People who are obsessed with lifting and body composition have devised strategies for the Holidays ad hoc.

However, even if these strategies help prevent from letting the wheels fall off in terms of food, little attention is invested into the psychological or emotional aspect of becoming a social pariah during the Holidays. Here are few examples of what I mean:

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Trying to lean out and can’t control your eating habits at parties? Then skip all Holiday gatherings at stay at home – cooped up like a hermit wearing a hooded sweatshirt doing lateral raises during the commercial breaks of the football game.

Your ma doesn’t count macros and she doesn’t lift. Therefore, she prepares huge Holiday dinners for the whole family. She assumes you are on that if it fits your macros plan – if it fits your mouth diet.

Because of this, you have to make things awkward and bring a duffel bag worth of Tupperware to the family dinner. Then you have to sit there eating your canned tuna and soggy steamed broccoli while you’re family enjoys each others company over food.

Your company throws a killer party every year. Lavish h’ordeuvres , open bar and luxurious food overlooking the lake is the scene. Three piece suits and long gowns make up the evening attire. You show up, but you miss the entire event because you are so miserable that you can’t have a bacon wrapped date or brie puff pastry.

I’m also not a fan of the other end of the extreme either: Instead of harshly abstaining from everything, you engage bulk mode (which really is just a polite way to say fat gain mode). You let go of any kind of discipline and eat everything in sight. Instead of a slice of pumpkin pie, you take down 4 or 5 slices. Instead of a piece of fudge, you scarf down a whole batch. You eat till it hurts.

These strategies work if you want to be viewed as a social pariah or morph into a grizzly bear who eats everything in its path. If you’re cool with either of those, then do what you do.

With that said, it’s without question, the Holiday season is the most challenging time of the year to eat healthy and stay on track with your goals.

However, if you’re looking for a toolbox of strategies that will help you enjoy the Holidays without turning into the hooded sweatshirt hermit or looking like a whale in a wading pool , you’ve come to the right place.

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10 Ways to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

1. Understand willpower

When you peel back the onion, the Holiday season is really just an assault on your willpower – or your self-control.

At the beginning of each day your willpower reservoir is full. But as the day wears on that tank runs lower. Essentially, by dusk and throughout the night your ability to make good decisions is impaired. Research shows that this plays a critical role in why people are most likely to cheat on their patterns, and gamble on riskier odds at night.

You brain is fantastic at overestimating your willpower at the exact moments you need it. For example, during the day you might believe that you won’t eat five slices of pumpkin pie at the family party later that night. But at 8:30 P.M., you find yourself on Grandma’s couch sick to your stomach and barely capable of basic human function.

The point is this: You must be aware that you are most vulnerable at night to fall to temptation – which is when most of the festivities take place. By knowing this, you can devise a plan or set of strategies to conquer the disadvantage without sacrificing the enjoyment of the Holidays.

2. Bring up your sleep game

Even if you claim to have a strong will and a high tolerance to abstain, if you’re not getting enough sleep your adding more vulnerability to the situation. And, since 53 percent of Americans are snoozing less than the recommended seven hours each night, it’s no wonder why many people can’t control themselves at the dinner table.

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Lack of sleep affects your hunger and appetite hormones ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is the ‘go’ hormone that tells you when to eat, and when you are sleep-deprived, you have more ghrelin. Leptin is the hormone that tells you to stop eating, and when you are sleep deprived, you have less leptin. More ghrelin plus less leptin equals weight gain. Virend Somers, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, conducted a study that showed people who slept 80 minutes less a night on average, overate about 550 calories the following day.

During the Holidays, it’s critical that you get enough quality sleep. Getting enough magnesium into your diet is a practical way to get better sleep. Magnesium decreases sympathetic nervous system activity – essentially lowering that stressed feeling you might have during the day – which helps you fall asleep faster. You can source magnesium from dark leafy greens, legumes, fish, and dark chocolate.

By getting better sleep, you arm yourself with better decision-making capacity when the Holiday parties come around.

3. Bring your own dish

If you’re one of those people who admittedly struggle with desserts and can’t keep it to a bite or one serving, why not bring your own dang dessert where you can splurge on it?

You’ll not only get a little experience in the kitchen, but you’ll have peace of mind that you can enjoy yourself come dessert time because you know exactly what’s in your dish. And, you can have more than just a little sliver. Don’t worry if you’re not a culinary wizard, at Tiger Fitness we’ve got your back. Here are a few recipes you can try:

Most desserts have about two to three times the amount of sugar and fat they usually need. By bringing your own dish, you can feel certain that you won’t be secretly jamming down 1,000 extra calories with that ice cream cake your auntie brought to the party.

Oh, and also please don’t be that person who brings their nutri-bullet to the party and suggests to make green smoothies for everyone after dinner. Not cool.

4. Pre game it

Back in the day, me and the boys used to pre-game it before we hit the town. This was a fail-proof way to safeguard ourselves from waking up the next day to see our credit card statement graffitied with charges that added up to hundreds of dollars.

This same method can be used during the Holidays for the physique minded person. But instead of loading up on red bull vodka’s, you load up on high quality food before you hit the party. This way you don’t’ show up starving and vulnerable.

If you simply don’t have the kind of discipline to opt for the vegetable platter when the hot artichoke dip sits right next to it, you need to pre-game it. Eat before you leave the house. Have a good healthy meal that satisfies you. If you train hard and eat well as it is, you already know what to do – no need to change what works.

Have a meal built around some high quality protein, some fibrous carbs (veggies) and some healthy fats (nuts, avocado, or fat derived from your protein).

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5. Opt for a smaller plate

Bigger plates mean bigger portions. This means you eat more – whether you want to or not.
In his book, Mindless Eating, Author Brian Wansink and his research team revealed that subjects who chose to eat off a 10-inch plate rather than a 12-inch plate at 22% less food over the course of a year.

This method can come in handy for the Holiday seasons and help you automatically eat less. If you’re worried about not feeling satisfied when you use this method, don’t worry. If you try to eat less off of a big plate, your mind feels deprived. Therefore, seconds, thirds and maybe fourths are around the corner.

However, when you choose a smaller plate, but fill that plate up with food, your mind views it as more satisfying.

6. Don’t sit by food

Until it’s actually dinner time.

Don’t do this to yourself, PLEASE. By parking yourself where the h’ordeuvres are, you set yourself up for some serious snacking. With all of those goodies right in front of you while you talk to your Uncle Troy about how LeBron will lead Cleveland back to the finals this year, you’re for sure going to end up over-eating on the sesame sticks and spinach dip.

Instead, get your small plate, fill it up and head somewhere else. Go watch the game. Go outside and see what all the little kids are playing. Don’t sit in front of the food.

7. Moderate carb intake

One way to prepare yourself for the surge of carbs you’re going to eat that night is to moderate your carb intake anywhere from 4-6 days prior. For the average active male dropping carbs to about 70-130g per day, along with high volume training will buffer the damage done during the Holiday dinner. For the average active female, dropping carbs to about 50-100g per day will suffice.

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8. Drink wisely

I’m not here to be a parent to you, so before you get hot assuming that I’m telling you to drink or not, calm down. That’s not what I’m referring to.

If you’re going to drink and you’re conscious about how it plays into your diet there are few things worth considering:

Egg nog is the worst. It’s super high in calories and sugar. And, it’s disgusting (that last part is an opinion, not fact).

Sorry ladies (and for some men), the “girly” drinks come in a close second to being the worst for you and your holiday diet. White Russians, pina coladas, and mudslides can have more calories than a Thanksgiving dinner itself depending on the size.

Ideally you want to stay away from the juices, sweet liqueurs, cream, and regular energy drinks.

Alcohol has twice as many calories per gram as protein or carbohydrates so it’s best to stick to enjoying it on it’s own. Wine, beer (be careful with the dark beers), and straight liquor. If you must have some mixers the best are club soda and tonic. Lemon, limes or olives are fine for garnish. Choose a sugar free energy drink if that’s your choice of mixer.

9. Increase training volume

One way to defend yourself against the holiday surge of comfort food is to bump up your training volume a few days prior to the dinner (or event). By increasing your volume and intensity (more sets and reps with less rest) you recruit glycogen for fuel, and increase fat oxidation.

By depleting more glycogen than you typically do with your increased volume, you’ll create some space for the incoming carbs like the sweet potato casserole and stuffing.

10. Try intermittent fasting

Do you know that you have a dinner party at 7 P.M., where you’ll want to splurge on some delicious food? Try intermittent fasting.

If you’re a high achiever or a student and you need to be in a high performance state all day, fasting might get in the way. A practical way to fast without sacrificing mental performance (or dealing with hunger) is to have a cup of Bulletproof Coffee (coffee with 2 tablespoons of MCT oil and 2 tablespoons of grass-fed butter) when you wake.

The fats from the butter will keep you sated and provide a smooth energy through the day. The MCT oil has been shown to boosts your metabolic rate up to 12% too.

Unless you intentionally try to over eat your daily caloric needs at your dinner, it’ll be difficult to go over-board with one meal at night.

Wrapping Up

Extremism leads you down into a trap when it comes to dieting, especially when it comes to the Holidays. Rigid dieters often feel a sense of accomplishment early on, but after enough missed Holidays due to abstaining, they realized that the extra 300 calories maybe didn’t make any difference to their diet. But, it meant a lot more to their social lives.

The Holiday season is about celebrating, thankfulness and spending time with the people you care about. In doing so, your fitness lifestyle doesn’t have to fall off the deep end in the midst. With these 10 strategies you can regain the ability to enjoy the Holidays AND still pursue your fitness goals. Yes, you can have your cake and have your abs show too.

References

1) Sleep restriction leads to increased activation of brain regions sensitive to food stimuli. – PubMed – NCBI. (n.d.).
2) Study: Sleepy People Eat 550 Extra Calories a Day | TIME.com. (n.d.).
3) Thermic effect of medium-chain and long-chain triglycerides in man. (n.d.).
4) Wansink, B. (2006). Mindless eating: Why we eat more than we think. New York: Bantam Books.

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Name: Brian McFadden

Bio: Brian teaches motivated but overwhelmed active individuals the importance of adopting an integrative approach to their health and fitness, so they can finally make the gains they want in the gym, but also live a healthy life outside of it.