Holidays and Christmas are around the corner. A lot of people are starting to neglect their training and nutrition habits already in the middle of December. And it can only get worse from there. Big dinners and drinks on the weekends and traveling and family feasts during Christmas. Health and training progress might get lost, and weight gain cannot be averted. And all that to start again in January with the same new year’s resolution (which by the way might not work in the long run).
How about trying to escape that yearly cycle of holiday weight gain and New Year’s resolutions? Just start the New Year like the old one ended. Healthy and strong and still able to enjoy some delicious dinners and drinks with family and friends?
For that, we need a few practical strategies to apply for the next few weeks. These strategies are used year-round, but this time of the year they might need special attention.
How do we get fat?
A little understanding of physiology helps us to identify what and how much we should eat.
The storage of body fat happens when energy intake is high, and energy demands are low. We store fat when we eat more than we burn through metabolism and activity. The fundamental law of thermodynamics applies here, all the energy we consume has to go somewhere. Like it or not, our body’s preferred storage method is fat.
The storage of body fat can either come from excess dietary fat or excess dietary carbohydrates. Theoretically, it can also come from excess dietary protein intake, but this requires a unique set of conditions.
- Excess dietary fat is stored directly as body fat.
- Excess dietary carbohydrates increase glucose oxidation,(thus impairing fat oxidation) and more dietary fat will be stored. Only a slight amount of carbs will be stored as fat directly.
It means no matter what combination of macronutrients you eat, if you eat more than what is expend, you will store the excess energy. Hence energy balance is the last equation that determines weight loss or gain.
If we take in more energy than we need or use, we will gain weight.
Strategies to prevent weight gain
Food intake will be the most important aspect of preventing weight gain. Here are a few useful tips.
1. Calorie counting
Calorie counting is very debatable. For myself and most of my clients, it is not a long term solution. It is time-consuming and also somewhat inaccurate. A lot of different factors, like growing conditions, the length of storage, method and cooking time, changes the energy and nutrients listed on food labels as much as 25%. BUT calorie counting can work. A friend and old client of mine, Karsten Aichholz, had great success with counting calories. Read his 10kg in 100 days Blog post how to lose weight with calorie counting
2. Choose whole foods with minimal processing
Choose food which are high in nutrients over food high in calories (and low in nutrients). For example, if you have a craving for sweets, prefer a piece of fruit over cookies, chocolate, etc.
Examples of food with higher nutrient densities:
- Bright or deeply colored vegetables
- Bright or deeply colored fruits
- Beans, meats, eggs, whole grains, etc.
3. Eat slowly and stop eating when you are 80% full.
Keeping food in our mouth longer, which leads us smell and taste it better, tells our brain that we are getting enough nutrients. Slow, mindful eating leaves us feeling more satisfied with less food. After you feel about 80% full, you can stop eating. There is no need to overeat.
4. Fill your plate with Veggies
Ideally, your plate should look like this. Half of the plate are Veggies, the rest a lot of Protein and some Starches, Fats, and Fruits. Keep this picture in your mind and fill your plate with vegetables instead of French fries; I know that sounds boring 😉
Last but not least on this list is exercising. It can be difficult to impossible to follow your regular exercise routine, but there are many ways to incorporate different activities wherever you are. For optimal fat loss, you ideally have a mix of various types of exercises, because they have a different effect on how we use energy.
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- High-intensity, short-duration activity, burns a modest amount of energy during the exercise but after, the total energy expenditure can stay up for hours. Examples: CrossFit, strength sports, HIIT training, sprinting, etc.
During these activities, our body prefers to use carbohydrates for energy and the “afterburn effect” uses mostly fats.
- Low intensity, long duration exercise, burns more energy during the activity because it takes so long. However, there is no “afterburn effect”, and total energy expenditure returns quickly to baseline. Examples are endurance activities like hiking, jogging, cycling, swimming, and walking. During these activities, our body prefers mostly fat as fuel.
For more ideas how to stay active during traveling have a look here: 5 tips to stay healthy and active while traveling. All this means that a mix of high- and low-intensity exercise and a range of activities is probably the best choice to burn energy most efficiently and you might enjoy that as well.
This list is by far not complete, just a straightforward and realistic summary of how can enjoy the well-deserved holiday and still stay on track with your health and performance goals. Let me know your thoughts and experiences how you manage to stay fit during Christmas time in the comments or a message and share this post. Happy holidays.