I’m doing something a little bit different for today’s post. I’ve tapped into my favorite Registered Dietitian for a bit of advice on simple ways to avoid holiday weight gain. I figured with all of the party spreads, candy, flowing alcohol and chaotic schedules, we could all use a little bit of help, right?
I’m pleased to introduce my husband, Chris Halagarda. In addition to being the spouse of a professional organizer (poor thing) and fun-loving father of a very active 3-year old boy, he is also a talented and skilled sports performance dietitian. I asked him to drop some knowledge bombs on us today about nutrition and fitness through the holidays.
Q: After the holidays, many people will say they gained 10 pounds. Is that true?
A: I think that gaining ten pounds of fat over the holiday season is an exaggeration. Weight gain is common during this time of year, but research shows that a lot of folks gain around 1-2 pounds of fat over the holidays. Unfortunately they keep that weight on, only to gain another 1-2 pounds next year and the year after that and so on. Remember also that the scale measures weight and not just fat. So if you weigh yourself after gorging on Thanksgiving dinner you might be 5-10 pounds heavier due to stored carbohydrate, water and fat.
Q: There is food everywhere I turn at the holidays. How do I avoid the temptation?
A: Well, food isn’t the enemy. So, if there are a good variety of foods available, do your best to fill up on the lean meats, vegetables and fruit. Then go for a short walk, strike up a conversation or drink a couple of cups of water before allowing yourself some of the fat and sugar laden foods. Adding short walks or conversation between trips to the buffet line allows some time for your appetite hormones to communicate to the brain that you’ve consumed enough food. Limiting your hunger is your best defense against unwanted eating.
Q: I was hoping to get a jump start on my New Year’s Resolution of losing 10 pounds. What should I do to get started?
A: I would recommend worrying less about losing weight and more about maintaining weight through the holidays. A simple strategy to help maintain your weight is to weigh yourself 1-2x/wk first thing in the morning. This awareness strategy is not to make you neurotic over a one pound weight change, but to be able to adjust your intake quickly before there’s a two or three pound change. It’s even more important to focus on making healthy food choices, getting 7-9 hours of sleep and getting physical activity in every day. Another effective strategy is to wear a pedometer and aim for 10,000 steps per day. I’d also recommend that you get 2-3 days of resistance training every day. Resistance training adds lean mass which is the fountain of youth. Most adults start losing muscle slowly but surely after the age of 30.
Q: Do you have any healthy food suggestions for a pot-luck?
A: A lean meat entree, vegetable crudité with hummus, mixed green and vegetable salad bowl, fruit bowl, pitchers of seltzer with cut up fruit, quinoa salad, part skim/low-fat cheese/lean cold-cut/cracker spread, deviled eggs, caprese (tomato-basil-fresh mozzarella) salad.
Q: My schedule is jam-packed! How do I possibly fit in workouts?
A: Desperate times call for desperate measures. Just kidding! It’s important to realize a couple of things. First, you don’t have to work out for an hour to get health benefit. In fact, simple “fit breaks” are potentially more effective than a 1 hour workout with 23 sedentary hours. Some more obvious ways to get some activity are to go for 5-10 minute walks every hour. Tell your boss that you’re going out for a smoke. Smokers always seem to get a pass on hourly breaks. Try things like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking the car in the boondocks at work and when shopping so that you have to walk further, standing up while speaking on the phone or better yet, creating an elevated workstation so that you’re standing at your desk instead of sitting. Especially since sitting is the new smoking, it’s important to stand as much as possible.
The second thing to realize is that you don’t need to be soaked in sweat after every workout. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for sprinting and metabolic type training, but you’ll also benefit greatly from long walks or many short walks and heavy weight lifting days without a lot of huffing and puffing. And by lifting weights I mean use your own body weight, resistance bands, dumbbells, barbells, kettle bells, suspension straps or any household items. Even kids are great to lift in a pinch.
Q: What foods should I avoid?
A: There is no easy answer to this question. I’d usually say something very registered dietitian-like that sounds like eat everything in moderation….but not many people know what moderation means when you’re looking at a tray of fudge on a holiday party buffet table. When it comes to buffets, most mortals like to sample a bunch of things and then get more of what they liked. Try to avoid food triggers. They are your kryptonite- the foods that make you lose self-control. For many people pizza and chocolate are food triggers that lead to more and more. I’ve worked with many folks who can easily avoid chocolate but once they have a bite, they eat most of the package. Pizza has this effect too. I can’t eat just 1-2 slices, it’s more like if I eat 1 slice, I will probably eat 4+ slices.
The other food to be aware of is a liquid. Alcohol pretty much leads to a loss of self-control….a job too, if you drink too much at a work party. But joking aside, alcohol leads to poor eating habits and then poor sleep quality. Even if you pass out for 12 hours, you’re not hitting a deep REM, which means you’re not getting a good release of human growth hormone and testosterone which are 2 important hormones for tissue repair and maintaining lean muscle. Sleep is also when cortisol (stress hormones) go down which will help the body lose the stubborn fat around the belly. And obviously, if you wake up feeling awful, you’ll probably make poor food choices because your appetite hormones are out of whack and you’re probably not going to be motivated to get some physical activity.
Q: If I do pack on the pounds during the holidays, how do I lose it?
A: Slowly. Crash diets are great at losing weight, but they are not sustainable and they end up decreasing your lean muscle mass. Higher lean muscle mass keeps your metabolism higher. When you lose lean muscle mass, you’ll experience a decrease in metabolism. When you give up on the crash diet, the weight you put on will most likely be all fat, leading to the dreaded yo-yo dieting. By slowly I mean shave 300-500 calories from your diet, prioritizing the healthiest calories you can eat from lean proteins and meats, nuts, seeds, olive and canola oil, whole grains and lots of fruits and vegetables. Then make sure you’re walking at least 10,000+ steps per day and weight training 2-3x/wk. I’d like to say to throw away the scale too. Weight doesn’t mean healthy or fit. Take circumference measurements of your waist, hips, chest, upper leg and upper arm to evaluate your changes. Also, take note of the difference you feel in how your clothing fits. Before and after pictures are helpful, too.
I hope this info is helpful! Have a healthy, happy holiday season!
Ciao for now,