Get Smart and Stay On Track This Holiday Season

You put on the weight this time every year, and it never comes off after. Here’s how you can make this holiday season different.

A two-month-long eating and drinking frenzy can do havoc to a waist line. 

The silliest season is upon us, and while we could blame our weight gain on the time of year, the reality is that it is our thinking and the choices that we make during this time of year that really do the damage.

On average, people tend to only gain a pound or two through the holiday season. But researchers have identified that weight gained over the holiday period is rarely lost. And those holiday pounds are usually added to the midsection, which is associated with an increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Every year I see the same pattern of people putting on the pounds over the Christmas and festive season, then set New Year’s resolutions and spend at least the first few months of the New Year trying to work it off. In Australia, as the weather cools and winter sets in, apathy and comfort food choices return, and the weight comes right back again. Spring comes, and people come out of hibernation and start to think about getting their summer body (that they never had) back. Then we hit the festive season again. Rinse and repeat. Every. Freaking. Year.

It is really easy to rationalize our behavior. It is our ego’s job to make us feel better about the decisions we make, whether they are right or not. Do you find yourself justifying your indulgences because it was “a staff Christmas party,” or “my best friend’s wedding,” or [enter event or occasion here]? The thing is, it is easy to miss a workout one day or indulge a little and justify it. When you do that a few more times, it gets easier and easier to do. And then instead of hitting the gym, it’s hitting your favorite bottle of red every night, or getting your regular junk food hit. And that eventually leads to regular visits to your doctor or cardiologist. It is a very slippery slope.

Brace yourselves. The “new year, new me” resolutions are coming. Did you see me just roll my eyes to the back of my head? If it was really important to you, part of your purpose or values, if you were serious, then you would probably already be doing it. But let’s cut you some slack. At least your intentions are good.

A national survey found that 58% of Australians—an estimated 11 million people—broke their New Year’s resolutions last year. Women were more likely to break them (64%) than men (54%). It took just three months for 15 percent of Australians to break their resolutions, while 40 percent had broken their promise by September.

Of those who were unsuccessful, one in four (25%) reported failure to keep track of their progress as the factor that led to this outcome. 21% of Australians said they failed because they made too many resolutions, while 15 percent said they forgot about their promise.

So this season, it is not going to happen, is it? No, it is not. Let’s move forward with a real plan to keep you on track during the festive season. 

Get Smart and Track Your Progress

Have a realistic goal. If you are currently on a fat loss journey, you need to continue to keep your eyes on the prize, but keep your expectations in check. If you arrive at the New Year and haven’t gone backwards, your month has been a success. By expecting to lose fat over this time of year, you could be setting yourself up for failure.

Keep track of your progress via girth measurements, weight, caloric intake, food diary, body composition, or whatever measuring stick for your progress you prefer. Use it consistently. Accountability and staying focused will keep you on track. Remember, this is the number one reason why people didn’t achieve their New Year’s resolutions.

Get Smart with Your Plate at Parties

You are the boss, so take charge. Don’t play the victim of circumstance. Here are some strategies to help you take control of what you are putting into your mouth this festive season.

  • Inform family the week before they arrive that there is no need to bring food. You have this covered.
  • Let people know you don’t want food as gifts, especially chocolates, candy, or nuts.
  • Try not to leave bowls of snacks and leftovers around after meals. Those calories will add up!
  • Eat fewer calories during the day if you have a big evening dinner planned.
  • Eat a healthy breakfast if you know you will be indulging later on.
  • Opt for soups, vegetables, and salads first. They are higher in water content and often nutrition too.
  • Order lunch-sized portions of dishes that have a high caloric density such as pasta.
  • Ask for sauces and dressing on the side.
  • Ask about how the food is cooked, and look for low-fat cooking options such as steaming, roasting, baking, and grilling, rather than fried foods.
  • Look for lean cuts of meat and ask for fat or skin to be removed.
  • Never go to parties or dinners super hungry; eat a healthy meal or snack before you go.
  • Use a small plate if it is a buffet-style arrangement, and watch your portion sizes.
  • Eat slowly, so you are more aware of the signs of feeling full from eating.
  • Pick a restaurant that has healthy eating options.
  • Take healthy food to a party if you are asked to bring something.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • If you do indulge, keep the days to a minimum and look to counteract them with more activity on others.

Get Smart About Your Triggers

Believe it or not, you can celebrate without indulging in food and alcohol. Often, the places we go to and the people we are with can heavily influence our food and beverage choices. Being around particular people can also trigger feelings that can lead to self-medicating with food and alcohol. Try and avoid those people who encourage you to overeat and drink, or bring out the more self-destructive elements of your personality. One of the best ways to deal with your triggers is avoiding them all together.

Don’t be afraid to display a little vulnerability. Explain to the person influencing your eating, exactly how you feel when they behave in certain ways. They may not be aware of their influence, and be willing to make some changes to help. I doubt it, but it’s worth a try.

  • Just say “no” if you have to. Learning to say no is empowering and important.
  • Tell the people around you about your goals of a healthier lifestyle. Surrounding yourself with supporters and cheerleaders is always better than hecklers and saboteurs.
  • Do not allow yourself to be pressured into eating if you don’t want to or are full.
  • Do not eat or drink to “fit in with others,” or to please the cook.

We often eat for many reasons other than being hungry. Asking the following questions will go a long way toward helping you stop the emotional eating cycle by building self-awareness.

  • When did I last eat?
  • Am I really hungry right now?
  • Why am I hungry right now?
  • If I eat, will I feel better afterwards?
  • Would anything else besides food satisfy me?

Get Smart With Your Training

Why is it when people go on holidays, it means taking a break from movement and training? Life doesn’t press pause for you. Realistically, you have more time to move when you aren’t working. So it’s time to get both more structured and more incidental activity in.

  • Ask for an active present, such as gardening tools, a rock-climbing course, or gym membership.
  • Set yourself an exercise challenge. Fun runs and obstacle courses are great events to get involved in.
  • Plan a family day out at the park, zoo, or indoor game center to get people moving again after Christmas Day.
  • Book an adventure holiday rather than a few lazy days poolside.
  • Play with your children. Try outdoor cricket, throwing a Frisbee, bike riding or swimming. Buy active presents for the kids. Examples include bicycles or sports gear.
  • If you’re on a vacation, walking is the best way to become familiar with your holiday location. It’s amazing what you can discover when you are on foot.
  • Use the facilities at camping grounds, motels, or resorts. For example, hiring a tennis court is an inexpensive way to stay entertained for hours.

Get Smart About Your Drinks

A standard alcoholic drink contains 10 grams of pure alcohol, but when going out, a standard restaurant pour for wine can often be 1.5 to even 3 standard drinks. For healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces your risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury over a lifetime. Drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion.

From a health perspective, alcohol is big player in weight gain. And it is not just the alcohol that is the problem. Often, the food choices we make while we drink are poor, because it affects cravings and appetite. Fat and sugar burning comes to halt when we drink. Not only this, it affects hormone production, including insulin and cortisol levels, and even our sleep. If you are trying to get strong, it is no good for your growth hormone levels. Alcohol is a big barrier to fat loss. So here are some strategies that will help.

  • Eat a snack or drink water before you go out so that your stomach is not empty.
  • Decide ahead of time on the maximum number of drinks you will have.
  • Volunteer to be the designated driver.
  • Make your first drink a large glass of water.
  • Drink only with meals.
  • Alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
  • Choose low-alcohol beers and wines.
  • Choose a ‘mocktail’ (non-alcoholic drink) rather than a cocktail.
  • Leave your wine glass full. Fellow diners or service staff can’t refill a full glass.
  • Remember, you don’t have to finish the bottle. A bottle of wine is over 7 standard drinks!
  • If you drink to relax or reduce stress, try an alternative activity like going for a walk.

A Healthy Lifestyle Doesn’t Take Holidays

Leading a healthier lifestyle is an all-of-the-time thing, not seasonal. Developing new skills and habits both mentally and physically is the key to long term success. Challenging your day-to-day “normal” is a big deal and can be really uncomfortable. Try implementing these practical and effective strategies slowly and consistently over a period of time. They have helped me and many others stay on track over the “silly season” that is the holidays.

Don’t fall for another temporary diet this new year:

Changing Your Life Is Not a 45-Day Challenge