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Strategies to Prevent Holiday Weight Gain

Nov 27, 2012 04:52PM ● By Cecily Casey

From the time the turkey makes its appearance on the Thanksgiving table until the midnight champagne toasts of the new year, many of us put our fitness and nutrition habits on hold, using the holidays as an excuse for overindulging in food and drink or skipping visits to the gym. The Holiday Weight Gain: Fact or Fiction? by Susan B. Roberts, Ph.D., reports a typical person that puts their otherwise healthy lifestyle on hold for the holidays will gain on an average of five pounds. Why not participate in a “maintain, not gain” holiday challenge?

Holiday dieting survival depends upon organization and preparation. We make lists and mark our calendars for parties, gift-giving and holiday decorating, so why not use these organizational skills to create specific fitness and nutrition goals each week to keep us practicing healthy habits? Grab a calendar and start filling it in with these goals.

Mark three or four days each week to participate in some type of high-intensity interval training. A study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, shows that interval-based exercise is more effective in raising metabolism and burning fat, compared to more traditional types of cardio-respiratory exercise. Participate in a metabolic interval class at a gym or design your own home class.

Here’s how: Set an interval timer for 30 seconds of work, followed by 30 seconds of rest. For each work interval, perform a different bodyweight exercise. Pick five exercises, each followed by a 30-second rest. Exercises that are perfect for this type of training include push-ups, mountain climbers, speed squats, jump lunges, bench step-ups, sprints, jumping jacks or any type of bodyweight exercise that can be performed quickly. Consistent workouts of just 10 to 20 minutes can deliver big results.

Maintain a food log and keep splurges such as sugary desserts and holiday cocktails to a maximum of four per week, and plan for them. If Mom’s rum balls are a must or you can’t survive without a mug of spiked wassail, account for them on the calendar as a splurge. The only splurges allowed are those that have been planned for. Save splurges for the things that you most look forward to during the holidays.

Pre-eat before heading to the party. Never go three to four hours on any given day without eating, but especially before a big night out. Don’t rely on willpower alone to stay away from the dessert table; it’s not that strong. Fill up on a good source of protein such as chicken or fish before the party to feel satiated and not indulge in all the sugary temptations. If eating at the party, go for the greens and colorful veggies, as well as the protein. Good fats balance out the plate, so scoop on the guacamole and satisfy the desire for crunch with a handful of nuts. Avoid sugary starches and alcohol unless they are on the calendar as a splurge. Try some sparkling water with a touch of cranberry juice in a wine glass, instead.

Stay hydrated. Keep track of water intake. Make sure to get enough to flush any extra holiday toxins out of the system.

Get eight hours of sleep every night. All the extra parties, shopping and decorating tend to cut into quality shuteye time. Mark bedtimes and what time to rise in the morning on the calendar and stick to it. A short, 20-to-30-minute power nap in the afternoon can work wonders for energy levels.

Manage holiday stress, which can promote the release of hormones that cause our bodies to store fat. To help release stress, schedule a weekly activity that will help calm the nerves, such as a massage, warm bath or meditation, or a visit to the gym to foam roll, stretch and decompress.

Enlist a holiday accountability partner. Share calendars with friends and family. Check in with each other frequently and most importantly, hold each other accountable for every plan.

Keep your goal in mind to maintain a balanced body composition throughout the holidays, and then plan a celebration in January, like a day at the spa. Mark it on the calendar, too—in ink.

Cecily Casey, RKC, ACSM-CPT, is the co-owner of RealFit Gym with her daughter and business partner, Lucy Casey, at 1480 Old Deerfield Rd., Ste. 8, in Highland Park. Casey recently received the Quilly award given by the Academy of Best Selling Authors for her contribution to the bestselling book, Results Fitness. For more information, call 847-780-4932, email [email protected] or visit