The Holidays are upon us! As our friends down south finish scarfing down turkey while stampeding through Wal-Marts, Macy’s, and Targets across the nation, many of us are already half-way through our Holiday Binge #2 planning. Baked goods for friends, baked goods for family, baked goods for co-workers, numerous holiday parties, and the actual Christmas Day Feast itself can pack a lot of calories into a day. Did you know it takes an excess of 3500 calories to gain one pound? And did you know that, according to BBC, the average person consumes 6000 calories on Christmas Day?
When you first think about it, it seems totally outrageous and impossible. But then I think back to past Christmas mornings that often started with champagne and orange juice (approx. 190 calories) and Bailey’s in my coffee (approx 125 calories). Breakfast was usually something “light”, such as hard-boiled eggs, some fruit, and of course that delicious tsoureki my Yiayia makes every Christmas (lets say 500 calories). Breakfast was often followed by some of the chocolate Santa brought, like 1/2 a Terry’s Chocolate Orange (463 calories), a few Hedgehogs (420 calories), and probably some more Bailey’s in my coffee (125 calories). That’s 1823 calories consumed before noon. When you think of the chocolate-eating, cookie-sneaking, wine-drinking, cooking-tasting, and the actual feasting that goes on afterwards, 6000 calories really doesn’t seem that out-there.
What do you have to do to burn 6000 calories? Well the average person burns 600 calories per hour running. So you would have to run 10 hours straight, without losing your pace, to burn Christmas away. You could perform high-intensity Zumba for 12 hours (the thought of which makes me want to kill myself). You could shovel snow for 21 hours. You could perform oral sex for 60 hours. What I’d really like to know is how did Woman’s Day determine how many calories are burned during an hour of giving blow jobs? I would hate to have been a part of that experiment.
Now obviously not all holiday feasting-days are of this caliber. But when you think of all the eating that goes on this time of year, it’s pretty obvious that AT LEAST five pounds of weight gain is inevitable. Right?
WRONG! NOT YOU. NOT THIS YEAR.
You don’t have to starve yourself. You don’t have to avoid parties and miss out on all the goodies you love. And you don’t have to give a blow job for 60 hours (unless you want to). All it takes is a little bit of planning, preparation, and my carefully compiled tips for surviving the holiday parties! So let’s get to it!
#1. Don’t go to a party hungry.
This may seem counter-intuitive when food is one of the main focuses at a party, but it’s probably the most important to factor to avoiding over-eating. And it’s pretty straightforward, too. If you’re starving when you get to a party you’re more likely to eat more than a fair share of appetizers. Bring on the crostinis, dips, sausage rolls, garlic prawns and other delectable bites!! Regardless of how full you get from appetizers, you know you’re not going to pass up dinner or dessert.
Tip: Eat a few light, nutrient-rich meals throughout the day prior to your party. Be sure your body gets all the vitamins, minerals, and protein it needs before heading out to your feast of mostly empty calories. You don’t have to go to the party full, but you should be satisfied enough from your meals earlier in the day that you don’t hang off that appy table like your drunk co-worker hangs off all the married men at the staff Christmas party each year.
#2. Bring something healthy to share.
If you’re attending a potluck (which is really just a cop-out for the host who doesn’t want to entertain properly) bring something healthy to share with the group. You don’t have to bring boiled chicken breast or any “weird foods” like tempeh or wheatberries, but you can bring a vitamin-packed salad with a light dressing, some roasted vegetables, or some grilled meat on a stick. Even though you’re still going to dabble in jalapeno poppers and other deep-fried delights, you’ll at least have given your body a fraction of the nutrients it craves.
Tip: This recipe for Asian Flank Steak Skewers is super easy and super delicious.
#3. Don’t feel the need to eat EVERYTHING at the party.
Yes it all looks good. No you don’t have to eat it all. If something looks good and you want to try it, then by all means do so. But if don’t like mushrooms and you find yourself picking mushrooms off a mushroom flatbread just because you feel compelled to eat it, just stop it.
Tip: Before you reach for that sausage roll you know you don’t really like, stop and think. Why are you reaching for it? Do you actually LIKE sausage rolls? (And if you do you need a serious food intervention.) Or are you eating it “just cause it’s there”? If it’s the latter, put it down, and back away. This also applies to baking and cooking. Sure, you probably need to test things to make sure they taste fantastic. But you don’t need to be eating cookie dough by the spoonful (note to self) and then eat so many cookies you find yourself having to bake more because you no longer have enough for the party.
#4. Don’t waste precious calories on foods that lack meaning to you.
This is a bit of an extension of number 3, and while it sounds silly, it’s true. I am a total fan of pretzels. But I can go buy a bag of pretzels from Safeway any day of the week (but I practice self-control and don’t!). So when there’s a bowl of pretzels on the table and maybe some fantastic Chex mix my friend made, I’m going to say NO to the pretzels and just go for the Chex mix, saving myself a few hundred calories.
Tip: If your Aunt Margaret makes a bomb-ass batch of shortbread cookies that you only get to eat this time of year then go ahead and chow the fuck down. But if your Aunt Sue, who you see all the time, makes her same old batch of brownies that she makes every single time you see her, save the room for good old Aunt Margaret.
#5. Fill your plate (and tummy) with veggies.
As I mentioned above, vegetables are packed with nutrients that your body will crave as you intoxicate it with copious amounts of alcohol and refined sugar. At least give it a little bit of love! Not only that, vegetables are filled with fiber which will help to fill you up. I know during the holidays we are used to eating past the point of fullness, but lets try to develop some conscious eating habits and practice putting down the fork when we’re full. Fiber also helps to stabilize blood sugar levels, and while I don’t know exactly how many cookies you’d have to eat to offset any of its benefits, I’m sure it will help at least a little bit!
Tip: Many holiday parties are buffet-style, or at the very least served family-style, which means that while someone else may be doing the cookin’, ultimately it’s YOU who controls what goes on your plate. Load your plate up with as many veggies as you can handle (estimate what you can handle, then add at least one cup more), then head for the protein (which also has magical fullness-inducing powers), THEN all the fun starchy stuff.
I don’t mean the meat sweats here people. I mean get in a good sweat session before and after you conquer the dinner table! If I know I’m going to eat a bigass dinner, whether it’s Easter, Christmas, or just a regular old Sunday, I like to work up an appetite in the morning and really earn all that extra food! An intense, heavy lifting session calls for an intense eating session my friends. Same goes for cardio. Are you a runner? Go pound out a 15km in the morning and put those dinner carbs to work (but don’t forget to fuel right after as well!)! The same goes for the day after a big meal. I know many people do fasted cardio in the morning in an attempt to “burn off dinner”. Well I hate to break it to ya, but after a couple of hours slothing on the couch in a food coma and then 6-8 hours of sleep, your body has already started storing all that shit. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise though! A) A good sweat sesh will help shed some of the water you may be holding from extra sodium, and B) it’ll just make ya feel good. So go bang out some sprints.
Tip: My favourite pre-holiday binge workout is an intense lifting session followed by 20-30 minutes of steady state cardio. My fav food hangover workout is sprints on a treadmill or spine bike followed by whatever plyometric exercises I can get my dragging ass to do.
#7. Choose your poison: food or alcohol. And choose wisely.
I know I’m going to get labeled as a Debbie Downer for this one, but if you do plan on feasting, try to limit your alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a depressant, slowing down the body’s metabolic processes, and therefore slowing our ability to burn through food. The result? It gets stored as fat. Not only that, alcohol contains A LOT of empty calories that provide your body with nothing except some embarrassing pictures on Facebook and a hangover. Plan on getting wasted? Eat right before you head out and limit the amount of food you eat at the party. But good luck with that one. Just as alcohol releases inhibitions and makes it easy to hit on that creepy guy from accounting, it can also make you not care about eating all the food.
Tip: Pick one or the other. Simple as that.
#8. Be realistic.
You’re going to eat foods that aren’t in line with your goals. You’re going to eat too many carbs. You’re going to eat too much sugar. If you’ve been paleo for the last six months you might even eat a ton of white potatoes, gluten, dairy, and everything else that wasn’t under the sun when the Cavemen thrived. But that’s okay. It is the holidays, after all! Relax, enjoy the season and the company, and enjoy some treats. But don’t make food the focus of your gatherings.
Tip: By implementing these suggestions you can minimize holiday weight gain, or even prevent it from happening. But if you’re the type that historically has indulged a little too much over Christmas, try not to make unobtainable goals such as dropping five pounds during the month of December. You’ll likely just set yourself up for disappointment (however if you do manage to do this and stay sane while doing so, hit me up. You deserve a high five). Set smaller, more realistic goals. Normally gain 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Years? Aim to cut that down by three quarters, or even to just maintain your weight. Challenge yourself to stop eating when you’re full and to say no to Aunt Sue’s boring brownies. By developing smaller goals you’re more likely to achieve, your successes will push you to continue to summon that inner strength of yours straight through till New Year’s.
You don’t want to enter 2014 feeling guilty about your choices over the few weeks prior, do you? No, you don’t! You want to enter 2014 feeling strong, empowered, and motivated by the fact that yes, you enjoyed yourself over the holidays, but no, you didn’t overdo it. Gyms are BRUTAL the first two weeks of January, so the less time you feel the need to sweat the holidays out in there, the better.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be doing a few more holiday-related posts, such as a gift guide for the health and fitness nut in your life as well as short yet effective workouts that can be squeezed in during holiday prep. But I’d like to hear your holiday success stories first. What have you found that helps you avoid overeating at this gluttonous time of year? Anything in particular you struggle with? And what are your favourite holiday goodies? 🙂