The CDC recently announced the obesity rate in the U.S. has increased to 38 percent. And if there’s ever a time of year to work against that statistic, it’s now.
Research shows that during the holidays, Americans gain anywhere from one to ten pounds, and on average, once gained, that extra weight doesn’t go away. Unfortunately, all of that extra poundage can’t just be blamed on your mother-in-law’s pecan pie (although I’m sure it’s delicious). The weight gain is due in part to our bad habits.
People do crazy things to avoid gaining weight during the holidays.
As a personal trainer, I’ve watched the same bad habits wreak havoc on my clients over and over again.
Take Thanksgiving as an example. You’ve got an entire holiday built around binge-eating at one massive meal. So, in order to “feel better” about the eating, here’s what people do. They wake up late and skip breakfast. They go on a “turkey trot” of some kind—walking or running a few miles to build up an appetite. Then, when the Thanksgiving meal arrives on the table, they indulge, guilt-free, because they believe they have a huge deficit of calories to fill.
That kind of Thanksgiving routine is completely counter-productive. Skipping meals, building false calorie “deficits”—these are habits that do more damage than good. If you want to survive the holidays without gaining a pound, you need a much more scientific approach.
Get a Bod Pod Test Before and After the Holidays.* My gym owns one of the few privately operated Bod Pods in the state of Tennessee. Taking an assessment before and after this critical time will help you know whether you gained or lost lean muscle during the holidays. And trust me. The Bod Pod is far more accurate than a mirror or a scale or your jeans.
Eat Breakfast. Without breakfast, your basal (resting) cortisol levels remain high—and your body begins breaking down lean muscle in order to increase glucose in the body. For more detail about how eating more can help you lose weight, check out this article about the effects of under-eating.
Eat Again. I encourage my clients to eat at least five small meals per day in order to reach their caloric needs (e.g., 2000 calories per day divided by five is roughly 400 calories per meal). If you’re not eating Thanksgiving dinner until 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. — make sure to eat a second meal after breakfast. Not only will this keep your body’s metabolism working properly, but also it will keep your body from burning off your lean muscle mass. Not to mention, it will keep you from being so ravenous when the fat-filled side-dishes come out of the oven.
Refuel After Your Turkey Trot. A long jog or walk is a great way to spend time with family the morning of Thanksgiving. But keep in mind that after exercise, it’s essential to replenish your glycogen stores right away. Right away means within 90 minutes.
Arrive at the Dinner Table With a Plan. Decide before hand what you are going to indulge in. It’s not a problem to eat a piece of pie. It IS a problem to eat a “small” slice of every pie. Decide what will end up on your plate and then stick to your plan. Enjoy what you choose, and if you’ve eaten two other meals earlier in the day, it’ll be much harder to over-indulge.
Get back to the basics immediately. It’s tempting when there is gravy and pie in the fridge to keep indulging throughout the next few days with leftovers. Resist. If you’re going to have leftovers—have leftover turkey with something green. And yes, skip the cranberries. While real cranberries are high in antioxidants, let’s be honest—the ones you want are basically just glorified jelly.
If you follow this plan during Thanksgiving and every holiday meal — I promise you, you will be much better off when January 1st rolls around. Choose to make good decisions now. Your body will thank you for it.
And so will your trainer.