There are many reasons why Americans gain weight during the holidays. The days are short and dark, it is cold outside, and our most well-intentioned health and fitness routines unravel in the frenzy of holiday parties and family obligations and visits. Combine this with the natural tendency we have to just ‘hibernate’ and eat chocolate Bon Bons by the fireplace and voila—you just gained 5 pounds.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. With a bit of proactive planning and intention it is easy to arrive at the New Year with renewed spirit and energy, and even a few pounds lighter. Listed below are a few easy suggestions that together create a harmonious approach to healthful holidays.
Modifying eating habits
Whenever you eat, drink too.
It is not unusual for someone to feel hungry when in fact they are dehydrated, so just get in a habit of drinking water when you feel hungry.
Eat between 5-6 SMALL meals a day.
Genetically, we burn food in 2-3 hour increments. In order to maximize energy and reduce/eliminate the amount of food being stored in our body fat, we should eat every 2-3 hours. What is a small meal—about twice the size of your palm. Example: a chicken breast, a piece of fruit and a few nuts.
It takes 20 minutes for your brain to register that you are full … you could eat a LOT of food in 20 minutes—by that point your brain is instead saying, “I’m stuffed.”
Limit foods with high fat content and sugary foods and watch your alcohol intake.
Look at what and when you eat throughout the day. For many people there is a particular time, place or situation when one’s normal healthful diet transforms into a binge of junk food.
Write down how you are going to change this habit and determine how you are going to reward yourself when you consistently keep this new behavior for some assigned time period—reward yourself with something that you will really be jazzed to enjoy! Here’s an example: Let’s say you snack constantly late at night; commit to going to bed earlier or having healthy snacks on hand and ready. After doing this for two weeks treat yourself to a spa treatment or special night out catching up with friends.
Have you noticed how some people have such healthy meals but eat such crap between meals. During the holidays we are often on the run or traveling and it is critical to have healthy snacks on hand. With just a little planning you can stock your office desk, handbag, backpack or glove box with a few of these suggestions:
Dried fruit, nuts and seeds, whole grain bread thinly spread with peanut butter, fruit leather (with no added sugar), whole wheat crackers with lowfat cheese (just watch the sodium content), carrots & celery.
Staying active—on the road or at home
Whether you are at home, visiting family or staying at a hotel, it is easy to exercise each day with a bit of preparation. If you are staying home take out a calendar and create a weekly schedule of activities that you would really enjoy—hike with friends on Monday, bicycle or indoor cycle on Tuesday, refresh with a yoga class on Wednesday, etc. Create a week of fun and exciting adventures and simply repeat each week.
If you are on the road or at your in-laws, no problem. Just pack a resistance band and jump rope in your suitcase to help create full-body fitness routines you can do anywhere with very little space. Jot down 20 different exercises and pick four to six to combine into a sequence—make sure to include a mix of core conditioning, upper and lower body strengthening and cardio. Set a goal to complete 3-5 sets of the sequence and you have a variety-packed fitness routine that changes daily.
A few suggestions:
Core: crunches, plank, bridge, front/side karate kicks, twisting core moves with a resistance band
Upper body: pushups, triceps dip from a chair, resistance band routines (curls, overhead press, woodchop, rows, flies)
Lower body: squats, lunges, squat jumps, side-to-side hops, tuck jumps, step-ups on a bench or stair
Cardio: jump rope, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, burpees, squat jumps, in-place running
If you prefer a health club experience, take 10 minutes searching the internet and calling to see what clubs or recreation centers offer drop-ins. Prefer the outdoors? The web will help you find nearby hiking trails, bike rentals or jogging paths. The key is to have this all set up before you leave home.
So this holiday season, take a little time to plan ahead and get intentional with your eating habits, exercise and rest. What do you have to lose but a few pounds?
About the Author: David Clair, is the director and trainer of fitness for Living’s Boot Camps in Boulder, Colo.