Who are we to tell you to abstain from indulging in great food, drinks, and relaxation this holiday season? While a very small percentage of the population will be happy to do just that, the reality for the vast majority of us it that Christmas is a time to recuperate. We get to enjoy our favourite comfort foods, have a few drinks, and ultimately, spend time with friends and family. To set rigid expectation for health and fitness during the holidays is somewhat absurd, but there are some tips and tricks to incorporate healthier choices into your holiday fun.
Let’s take a look at the numbers around holidays and health:
1. It has been said that the average person will gain 7-10 pounds between US Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. While that may sound high, the figures in Canadian studies (for the whole winter, not just the holiday period) are between 1-2 pounds. The Canadian study likely reflects binge eating for the month of December and then binge exercising and dieting in January and February.
2. For people who are already overweight, the holiday weight news is worse. People who are already overweight tend to exceed the 1-2 pound average over the winter. One study even found that overweight people gained five pounds or more during each winter that they were ultimately unable to lose.
3. For those that do lose weight, the study showed that the extra pounds you put on between Halloween and Christmas can take more than five months to lose.
Abstinence might not be the answer, but there is definitely room for awareness around how times of overindulgence affect us, and some of the risks that come with this season. If you understand what the end result of one month of no exercise and over-eating and frequent drinking looks like, it becomes easier to approach your holiday a little bit differently to minimize that weight gain. There are a few things to keep in mind with respect to eating, drinking and physical activity.
Keep your metabolism running high:
1. Fill a third of your plate with protein.
Protein will keep you fuller, longer and will ensure you aren’t overloading with carb rich dishes that carry high calorie counts.
2. Fill up on fiber.
Just like protein, things that are high in fiber (like vegetables) will keep you fuller, longer and will ensure your meals have balance.
3. Ditch added sugar.
When it comes to desserts, try to pick ones with fruits, veggies, and whole grains. Minimize the amount of cookies, cakes, and pie you are eating.
4. Eat and chew slowly.
There’s a theory that states you should chew every single bite 23 times before swallowing. This helps with the digestive process and allows your body to maximize key nutrients it needs from food. Also, the slower you eat, the less you’ll eat because you’ll give your body time to recognize that you’re becoming full.
5. Wait before grabbing seconds.
Remember that it take about 20 minutes for the brain to realize you are full. Before you rush up for seconds, give your body some time to digest.
6. Take it easy on the white stuff.
White bread and refined sugars provide energy, but often lack the same nutrients as complex carbohydrates (legumes, potatoes, corn, whole grains). Try to stick to whole grains and healthy proteins.
7. H2O is your friend.
The best way to curb your appetite is by downing water! It will make you feel fuller, and will help you digest and process all the food you’re going to eat – in particular, anything with high sugar or carb content, especially alcohol.
Things to note about alcohol consumption:
1. Eat before drinking and celebrating.
Don’t show up famished and start drinking. Ultimately, you’ll tend to drink less if you’re fuller.
2. Choose a tall thin glass over a short stubby one.
Research has shown that people pour less liquid into tall glasses than into their vertically challenged counterparts. Keep this in mind especially if you are mixing your drinks with pop, as it can be a double whammy.
How physical activity plays into your holidays:
1. Joining a Gym
People tend to put off joining a gym or starting on their fitness journey until after New Year’s. The reality is, the best time to typically join a gym is between Christmas and New Year’s. It’s comparable to buying stock before the price goes up; If you join and get started when you have lots of time (and when nobody else wants to), you’ll get the best deals of the year because your bucking the supply-demand curve at a highly incentivized time.
Things you can do at home:
1. Limit TV time to less than 3 hours per day when on holidays.
Watching television is linked to snacking, so limiting your Netflix binges to healthy number of hours helps to avoid passive eating.
2. Chew gum.
Chewing gum can help curb your appetite in a sea of hors d’ouvres, or when you’re full yet still eyeing up the trays of dessert! The chewing motion also helps burn calories.
3. Get outside for an hour per day.
In Alberta, chances are the weather may not be calling you outdoors. Surprisingly, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Taking a trip outside in the cold increases your tendency is to keep moving, and movement equals calorie burn. Whether you walk, shovel, skate, or toboggan, doing this once a day will help to minimize your weight gain.
From a realist’s perspective, nobody is going to behave completely perfectly for holidays. If you are able to follow just a few of these healthy tips, you might just come out the other side of the holidays looking and feeling great.