For dieters, the holiday period from around October through to January can be a true minefield. Between the specific holidays of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, along with endless goody baskets and parties, folks can run into problems maintaining the habits they strive to follow the rest of the year.
A lot of strategies exist to deal with this time, although I’d consider few of them particularly healthy from a mental or psychological standpoint. One is to skip all food during the holidays. While this might avoid food issues, it’s also a way to make sure you won’t fully enjoy the holidays and the time with your family and friends.
I’ve even heard the need to take a meal or food with you in a Tupperware bowl. Newsflash folks, not only are we talking about a borderline eating disorder at this point, that kind of insanity just makes your family uncomfortable. So don’t do it. Better to stay home than be that person.
Of course, at the other extreme are the eaters who just go completely crazy and eat everything in sight, gaining a considerable amount of weight and fat in the three months of holidays. It can happen and I’m not saying that it can’t. Of course, if you’re a bodybuilder or powerlifter, you can just say “I’m bulking” as you shovel down the third piece of cake but I’ll assume that you actually want to keep a lid on weight/fat gains during this time period. Balance please.
As always, being a middle of the road kind of guy I am, I’m going to suggest some strategies that, while not quite as disturbed as taking broccoli with you to Thanksgiving, also doesn’t put you in the trap of gorging on fudge. In no particular order of importance, here are some tips to deal with holiday eating to not let it get out of hand.
1. Make Better Bad Choices
I forget who I stole this this idea from offhand but it’s nothing new. The simple fact, and I’ll come back to this point later, is that many people fall into the trap of “If I’m going to eat junk, I might as well jam as much of the worst stuff I can down my food hole.” That’s silly.
Instead, try to make better bad choices. Limit portions (you know that you don’t really NEED three pieces of cake to be satisfied). Pick the lower calorie or lower fat/high-carb stuff at the dessert table. People training hard can handle an influx of carbs acutely better than fat so pick that stuff. Maybe have a little bit of two or three different desserts, just get a taste and move on. You get the idea.
2. Take a Lowered Fat/Calorie Dessert or Dish to the Party
Whether a work party or holiday dinner, it’s not uncommon for people to bring their own thing to add to the food table. So make something that you’ve de-fatted or lowered in calories, there are zillions of recipes out there. And, please, I’m not talking about black bean ‘cake’ that you think tastes like the real thing.
Find a happy medium between the high-sugar/high-fat stuff and clean eating. Most American desserts have about twice the sugar and butter that they usually need and, who knows, you might even convert someone into realizing that they can eat sweets without it having to be 1000 calories per piece.
3. Train with a Bit Higher Volume Prior to the Event
One of the best ways to increase the ‘sink’ for incoming calories is to deplete muscle glycogen. When you do that by using a higher volume (more sets, higher reps) of training, not only do you increase fat oxidation, you give incoming carbs somewhere to go for storage instead of being use for energy.
You can simply bump up your volume a bit in the days before a specific event where you know there will be junk. Even a heavy training session on the day of the party can be beneficial here.
Train in a nice hypertrophy zone (get about 40 reps per muscle group) and you’ll increase protein synthesis so that incoming calories will support recovery. Training also tends to acutely blunt hunger so if you train right before the party, you’ll be less likely to overeat. Well, unless you’re a dis-inhibited eater who falls into the trap of “I trained, I deserve 10 pieces of fudge.”
4. Start with Lots of Lean Protein and Vegetables Before Hitting the Dessert Table
Lean protein has the highest short-term satiating power (this means it keeps you full) and the high-bulk of vegetables helps to fill your stomach which also sends a fullness signal. I’ve yet to be at a holiday party that didn’t have a vegetable plate (limit the high-fat dip) or plate of cold cuts. Load up on that to get some fullness going before you hit the desserts. You won’t be as hungry and, assuming you don’t like eating yourself sick, this alone will do damage control.
Have a High-Protein Snack with some Vegetables or Fruit about 30 Minutes Beforehand
If you’re in situation where Number 4 won’t work or won’t be available, have a small snack before the party or dinner. Some lean protein, veggies and fruit about 30 minutes will give you a feeling of fullness and help to limit overconsumption of ‘junk’ at the party.
6. Consider Intermittent Fasting on the Day of the Event
Intermittent Fasting (IF’ing) is a recent dietary approach that involves not eating for 14-18 hours per day and then either having an ‘eating period’ or roughly 4-6 hours or even a single meal. There’s some interesting research on it which I’ll save for another article. But it’s one good way to deal with holiday parties.
Know that you’ve got a 7pm dinner party where there will be lots of good food? Try IF’ing (or only have small meals of lean protein and veggies) most of the day. Unless you go completely berserk, you’ll be unlikely to exceed your entirely daily caloric requirement in the one meal. If you can train beforehand, that’s even better.
7. Consider a Short Mini-Diet in the Days Before the Event
Let’s say you have an event or two coming up on the weekend and you know that there will be lots of food and you may have control issues. Well, consider doing a short, possibly hardcore diet in the days before. Four days of a rapid fat loss style diet can actually reduce body fat by 1-4 pounds (depending on your size). Call it pro-active damage control.
8. Ok, I Was Actually Kidding in the Introduction About the Tupperware
Let’s face it, you know that nothing tastes as good as lean feels. You know how good discipline feels. You know the truth. You know that 50 years from now, you’ll know that it was worth it, sticking to your diet 365 days a year and never actually enjoying a moment of life.
So you go ahead and take your Tupperware with chicken breast, broccoli and sweet potato and eat it while everyone else around you actually gets some joy out of life.
No, really, I’m seriously kidding about this, don’t do it.
9. Stay Off the Damn Scale
No matter what happens, we often see the scale spike up after a big party; this is especially true after Thanksgiving. The typical carb-depleted trainee is especially prone to this; the high-carb intake of your typical holiday event along with extra sodium both can jack up scale weight a bit. But you know deep down it’s not really fat. The simple fact is that, unless you go nuts, you can’t eat enough in a single meal to put on appreciable fat. It’s only water and it’ll come right back off in a few days.
But stay off of the scale anyhow.
10. Don’t Be Your Own Worst Enemy
This goes back to what I alluded to in point 1, a lot of people fall into a dreadful trap over the holidays, figuring that if they’ve eating a little bit a junk food, clearly they’ve blown it and might as well retire to the corner with the entire tray of fudge and eat themselves sick.
The above is amazingly prevalent and exceedingly destructive. Extremely rigid dieters fall into a trap where they let events such as the holidays become a problem because of their own psychology. They figure that one piece of dessert has ruined all of their hard efforts so they might as well eat ALL the dessert. This is, of course, nonsense. Say that piece of dessert has a few hundred calories, or say, 500 calories. In the context of a weekly plan that is calorie controlled with training, that’s nothing.
Unless the person lets it become something. They figure 500 calories is the end of the world and eat an additional 5000 calories. Instead of just taking it in strides and realizing that it’s not a big deal, they make it a big deal with their own reaction.
Simply, don’t do that. Realize that there is only so much damage you can do in the short-term. Apply the other strategies in this article and realize, at the end of the day, what you did for one meal that week simply doesn’t matter if the rest of the week was fine. Not unless you make it.
And that’s that, 10 strategies I hope will help you to enjoy the holidays. Eat a piece of cake for me.