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Feast or Famine? How to make it through the holidays without gaining weight or feeling deprived

For many of us getting together with our families in person isn’t an option this year, making us long all the more for that delicious comfort food.

Many people think that there’s no way around gaining weight over the holidays because of all of the decadent food. If this is you, you may already be planning the diet or exercise plan you’ll implement after the holiday to drop the weight that you expect to gain.

Other people choose to forego the food and events altogether because they’re afraid it will sabotage the progress that they’ve worked so hard to achieve. If you fall into this group, you might feel like you’ll be missing out on what the holidays are all about.

It doesn’t have to be this way…

There are a number of strategies that you can use to help mitigate weight-gain over the holiday season, without feeling like you’re depriving yourself of all that delicious food and good company.

Today, we’ll look at four specific strategies that have proven to be very effective

Commit to getting some type of exercise every day.

For many, the holidays not only mean an increase in calories, but also a decrease in structured exercise. We don’t make it to the gym as often as we usually do because we prioritize family commitments. While somewhat understandable, this throws our calories in vs. calories out off-balance before we even factor in any additional food intake.

You see, your metabolism is tuned to maintain your weight where it is based on your regular activity level, recovery status, and calorie intake assuming those variables are where they should be – based on your current weight – to begin with. When one (or more) of these suddenly changes, it typically results in a change in body weight.

This means that if you suddenly decrease your daily activity level because you’re missing your regular exercise sessions, but your calorie intake stays where it usually is, you’re likely to gain weight. Compound above-average calorie intake on top of that and you’re all but guaranteed to pack on a few extra pounds.

This doesn’t have to be complicated, and it can even be fun! Get out in the yard and chase the kids around for 30 minutes or play a little touch football with the whole family. You can even sneak some exercise into your regular routine around the house by lunging from room to room instead of walking, or committing to doing 10 pushups every time you make a trip to the bathroom, or 20 bodyweight squats each time you go to the fridge or make a game out of it by putting a rule in place that anytime someone says “Happy Thanksgiving” (or whatever the holiday happens to be) EVERYBODY busts out one of these mini workouts.

Just decide what your activity is going to be in advance and stick with it.

Try slightly modified versions of favorite recipes.

We suggest our Guilt-Free Pumpkin Pie!

There are lots of healthier options of classic holiday recipes available online these days. For some people, this is a great option. On the other hand, this doesn’t necessarily fulfill the emotional connection you might have with your grandmother’s stuffing recipe, or dad’s cheesecake recipe. Our recommendation is – for the specific dishes that you have an emotional connection with – stick with the family recipe. For those recipes you DON’T have a strong specific connection to, see if you can find a healthier version of it online.

Eat slowly and don’t eat to the point of feeling physically ill.

This is one of those tips that SEEMS way too simple to be effective but, the truth is that this might actually be the most effective strategy on this list.

Your body is pretty good at telling you how much food you need, as long as you take enough time and pay close enough attention to the signals it’s sending you.

Leptin is a hormone that tells your brain that you’re full. The thing is, leptin takes 20-30 minutes to kick in. This means that – within reason – no matter how much food you eat in the first 20 minutes of a meal, you won’t feel full during that time.

If you’ve ever suddenly found yourself full of regret for how stuffed you feel, this is likely why. You probably over-ate during the first 20 minutes of your meal, and then by the time leptin release caught up with what was going on it was too late for you to do anything about it.

The best action item you can possibly take into a “feast” is a commitment to eating slowly in order to give your body the time it needs for the natural cues to work their magic. You’ll be amazed at how little food it might actually take to feel full, compared to your usual intake.

Try a 24-hour fast leading up to the feast.

One big word of caution on this one: If you’ve ever suffered from an eating disorder, attempting to use this strategy MAY trigger a relapse and, therefore, is not advised.

This strategy is relatively simple, but is not necessarily easy. The idea is that if you’re going to consume what is likely close to an entire day’s worth of calories at one meal, then you can simply plan for that to be your entire day’s worth of calories.

To keep this simple, the day before your feast, eat as you normally would, up until dinner. After dinner, don’t eat again until your feast the following evening.

Be aware that you are likely to experience strong sensations of hunger throughout the day.

The silver lining: They’ll come and go.

Sometimes the hunger will only be mild before fading away, other times it may be so strong you won’t be sure you’ll make it until dinner without eating. When that happens take a breath, remind yourself that this is just a feeling that will pass, and that you’ll have a wonderful meal ready to enjoy – guilt free – in just a few short hours.

This is a strategy we recommend using sparingly. It can be very useful for special occasions such as this one, however it can become easy to fall into a false sense of security when it comes to fasting and overeating on a regular basis.

This strategy also works best when used in advance, such as in the example above. Don’t allow yourself to succumb to the mindset that “it’s okay if I overeat now; I’ll just do a fast tomorrow to make up for it.” For some reason, that strategy does not work nearly as effectively in terms of how the body responds to it.

What should you do NOW?

If you’re planning on having a feast this long-weekend – or at any point in the future – put a clear plan in place before that big day rolls around. This should be something you put conscious thought into in advance and – ideally – communicate to those in your immediate household so that you can recruit them as allies.

Once you’ve got your plan in place, just focus on executing your commitments and enjoy the festivities.

Blog Credit: Sean Allt

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