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So, you’ve been good with your eating habits and training hard through the year, but then the holidays arrive. As much as you promise yourself that you won’t overdo it, it’s hard to battle against the lavish side dishes, appetizers, and especially Grandma’s cookies. You’re not alone – research shows that between Thanksgiving and New Year, Americans average more than a pound in weight gain that is never lost throughout the rest of the year. It doesn’t have to be this way – here are our tips to keep in control so you don’t derail the hard work you’ve put in during the year.
With family and friends visiting, preparations to make and huge meals to be eaten, let’s not kid yourself – you’re going to be hard pushed to train ‘later’. The best plan is to try and fit in some daily training early in the day, even if you have to switch up what you would usually do. It’s time to get creative – not having access to the gym or the track is not an excuse! Save time by doing high-intensity sessions of interval training, tempo training, Fartlek or circuit-style resistance training. This type of training also has the advantage of elevating your calorie-burning capacity for several hours afterwards.
Feeling cold triggers a self-preservation mode that signals the body to heat up fast. Our body can then crave the sugars and starches in carbohydrate-rich foods that provide the instant “heat” boost the body is demanding. If you then get into the habit of having sugary, starchy foods, blood sugar peaks and then falls, setting up a cycle that keeps your appetite revving high. Wear a good base layer and invest in good thermal gear so you never get freezing cold.
In research published in the journal Obesity, Heather Niemeier and colleagues found that emotions can be the root of overeating for many people, and that these people then tend to have a harder time losing weight and maintaining weight loss. Emotions can run high in holiday season due to a number of factors, such as stress, family (including some you avoid for most of the year!), lack of sleep and SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Up to six percent of the population suffers from SAD, a melancholy that can come from reduced exposure to natural light. A feature of SAD is lower blood levels of serotonin (as occurs in people with depression). Carbohydrate-rich foods give us a serotonin rush, so people with SAD can have food cravings, but at the same time, the shorter, gloomier days can cut the time we spend doing incidental exercise outdoors. So try to get outdoors in the brightest part of the day and keep up your outdoor incidental exercise as best you can, wearing gear that enables you to keep walking or cycling in the cold to get to and from work or do your errands.
This tactic can backfire, leading to binge eating later on – picking at the pre-meal snacks, then going a little crazy with your portions of rich foods at the big meal. Instead, make sure you eat earlier in the day. Have a meal that is low in carbohydrate, has plenty of protein to curb the appetite later, and has plenty of fiber. For example, some salmon and salad with an olive oil dressing, or a filling snack such as cut vegetables and guacamole dip will still be low in calories, but they with both help to stabilize your blood sugar and appetite so you’re not eating everything in sight later on.
Avoid having your alcohol at the same time as fatty foods, as the presence of alcohol in the blood makes it very difficult to metabolize fats. Don’t forget that alcoholic drinks can also be loaded with calories – something that’s easy to forget since a few drinks goes down so much easier than a sandwich or a steak! Another factor – alcohol lowers inhibitions and increases the likelihood that we’ll go back for seconds or thirds or get involved in a pie-eating contest. It’s hard to keep a rein on willpower and an eating strategy if you’re tipsy!
According to research presented by the American Chemical Society, drinking two 8-ounce glasses of water before breakfast, lunch, and dinner while also cutting back on portions may help you lose weight and keep it off for at least a year.
You could make yourself a deal – instead of drinking sodas and juices loaded with calories and sugars, promise to stick to water the rest of the day and then treat yourself to a glass of wine or spirits with your guests and family.
Keep sipping away at the water during the big meal. This does more than help cut calories alone – downing a little a little water between bites to give the brain time to recognize that you’re full and satisfied.
Smaller plates can actually make us feel fuller with less food, according to a study at the University of Toronto. Plate sizes have expanded significantly over the years, and the brain associates a big open space on the plate with less food. The opposite also true – plus if we have to keep filling up our smaller plate to eat the same amount of food, we become much more conscious of how much we are eating.
If you are considering seconds, just slow down and take a short break first, because our body doesn’t register fullness at the same speed we can eat.
If you’re the cook or host, you can take some measures to make sure the holiday meals don’t become a blow-out. For every rich, traditional favourite, serve a healthier dish or a salad or vegetable dish. Vegetables and other high-fiber items like legumes can help keep us fuller for longer and help control the portion sizes on the rich foods. Make sure all your dishes, snacks, breads, cookies and sweets can all be enjoyed in small individual portions – there’s no need to make cookies as big as your head, even if that’s the way grandma made them! When it’s time for the main gastronomic event, serve everything up restaurant-style on individual plates rather than taking everything to the table or setting up a buffet. This lets people track how much they’re eating and it makes the decision to eat more a little less impulsive.
Walking after eating can improve glucose tolerance, according to a study at George Washington University. Walking after a meal appeared to blunt high glucoses after eating – sugar levels were more balanced, with levels returning to normal sooner after the meal. Repeated and prolonged spikes in insulin are associated with increases in belly fat. So before you curl up around the fire, round up the gang for a short hike or a gentle game outdoors.
If tightness of the belt is an indicator of fullness for some people, then surely a compression top would be an even better guide? It’s not exactly what 2XU had in mind when we engineered our compression gear, but our tops will keep you warm and serve as a gentle reminder of your fitness and training goals when your stomach starts pushing out against the fabric!