The holidays—one of my absolute favorite times of year. I love everything about the time period of Thanksgiving through Christmas. I fully embrace the Clark Griswold style of decorations—more is better. I love the parties, the radio station that plays nothing but Christmas music 24/7, the awesome movies and I even love the horribly, ugly holiday sweaters. But, one of the things I most love about the holidays is the food.
This is the time of year when everyone lets their diets and healthy habits (if they had them to begin with) go to hell and load up on homemade cookies, fruit cakes, prime rib, turkey and egg nog. Then the rush begins January 1 to undo all the damage of the past two months.
The key is not go insane over the holidays to begin with. It’s a lot easier to enjoy a few select treats and not gain any weight than it is to take off a two month binge. For every pound you put on, you can expect it’s going to take you 1 – 2 weeks to lose it depending on your metabolic rate. So if you put on 5 pounds, you may need 5 – 10 weeks to take it off. Is it really worth it?
So I propose a few simple steps to enjoying the holidays and not feeling deprived, but also start and end the holiday season in the same jean size.
1. Be choosy and know that less is more. By all means enjoy the goodies that are flowing during December. Whether it’s mom’s homemade cookies or baskets of yumminess in your company’s break room, enjoy it. However, be selective. What are your absolute favorite treats of the holidays? Narrow it down to your top 3. Avoid everything else that isn’t in your top 3 so you’re not wasting precious “splurge calories” on stuff that’s not worth it. Then look at your top 3 and decide how much you typically eat of it. Cut it down to half or a third if you can. For example, my top 3 are egg nog ice cream, my mom’s red velvet cake and my mom’s cookies. If I really want to, I can eat a dozen of her cookies in one sitting. No problem. Instead last night I picked 4 cookies and munched on them slowly during a movie. Granted I still probably put away 300 – 400 calories, but it’s better than 1500. It’s a start.
2. Exercise. This is a great time of year to hit the gym. For one thing, they are typically not crowded. Most people are so busy during the holidays, they tend to skip their workouts. You can get a head start on a great exercise program before the gym gets to over flowing capacity with the New Year’s Resolution crowd that hits on January 1. Try to get 3 solid workouts in a week. If you can do more, definitely go for it. Also, on the days of the “big meals,” i.e. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, at the very least go for a walk. Get 30 minutes of cardio in on those days. It will help a lot. Many towns have 5Ks and/or family walks on Christmas morning. They typically benefit the hungry or other charities. It’s a great cause, it helps avoid excess weight and best of all, you’re done in less than an hour.
3. Avoid the process. Processed food that is. The holidays are full of processed foods from cheese logs, overly preserved sausages, dips, candies, etc. When you’re cooking for yourself, still make your family favorites, but try some substitutions in the ingredient list that will help cut down on the processed foods. They are loaded with tons of extra sodium and chemicals that don’t help your waistline. Don’t use the Cheez Whiz, instead use real cheese. Yes, it’s still high in fat and calories, but it is a natural product without a lot of harmful extras. Buy products that are labeled lower in sodium. Check labels though when it’s label lower fat as a lot of times that means extra salt and sugar.
4. Have a splurge day. Not a week or a month. It’s what you do everyday that matters, not what you do once in a while. If Christmas dinner is your family’s big meal, then splurge that day and don’t feel guilty. Get a walk or other exercise in and chow down. If you’ve been “good” all month long and have avoided weight gain, chances are you’re going to be okay if you overdo it one day. You may be up a pound or two, but typically that’s salt that goes away. But even if it is permanent, one pound is easy to get rid of, not 5 or 6. Enjoy that one day. Eat the second helping of prime rib and have an extra cookie. But if you’ve been splurging all month long, it’s not good to add to the pile. Consider Christmas Day your big reward for being cautious during the whole month.
I honestly haven’t gained weight over the holidays since I started losing weight and changed my lifestyle. I follow my own advice and pick my favorites to indulge all the while maintaining my exercise program. I splurge on the big day but keep it healthy otherwise aside from an occasional cookie here and there. So when I show up at the gym on January 1, it’s because that’s a normal workout day for me, not a start to undo damage.
Enjoy this wonderful time of year, but practice a little restraint. Your favorite jeans will thank you for it!