My Number 1 Tip to Avoid the Holiday Weight Gain!

The holidays are a wonderful time of year in which we think about others, we spend time with our family and friends, and we close out what invariably seems to be a busier year than the last.  It is also a time of great indulgence.  The holidays, for many of us, are about food... and lots of it.  Not just food, but delicious, savory, sweet, and ultimately very unhealthy food, of which we eat copious amounts.  So it's no wonder that many of us trying to lose weight or simply maintain our weight can feel very stressed as we move from one office holiday party to the next. 

However, I'm very happy to be the bearer of good news.   It turns out that the perception of holiday weight gain is far higher than the actual weight gain that generally occurs.  This study from the New England Journal of Medicine found that people's average perceived weight gain during the holiday season was about 3.5lbs, but the actual average weight gain was just under 1 lb.   This is a good thing!  It means that we can relax a bit and enjoy ourselves a little bit more during this festive time of year.  (It should be noted, however, that those who are overweight or formerly were overweight are more at risk for higher rates of weight gain according to studies found here, here, and here.) 

Yeah, it turns out...not so much.

Yeah, it turns out...not so much.

But before we decide to hit the eggnog twice as hard because "we really don't gain that much weight" during the holidays, let's pump the brakes a little.  Let's not lose sight of what we've set out to accomplish.  One pound of weight gain is gaining weight.  It's not losing weight and it's not maintaining weight.  It is moving us further away from our desired level of health, further away from our optimal body and life.  So that brings us back to the topic of this post, my number 1 tip to avoid the holiday weight gain, which is this - workout on the days you are celebrating the holidays before you celebrate.

Yes, workout.  Workout really, really hard.  No, you can't outrun a bad diet but you sure can mitigate it's effects, especially when that bad diet simply means a few days that we're not sticking to plan and enjoying some holiday goodies. 

Now, when I say workout I mean workout your muscles and up the intensity.  This means big, compound movements (e.g. deadlifts, squats, overhead presses, etc.) with lots of weight and keep the heart rate up.  This does not mean spending 30 minutes on the elliptical and it certainly doesn't mean doing five sets of checking your Facebook while occasionally hitting some bench presses as a rest in between.  Pick a few of your favorite resistance exercises and hit them hard.  Super set them, set them up as a circuit, or better yet use them for high intensity interval training.

Christmas morning battlerope session 2015!

There are a few reasons I would suggest working out this way before you celebrate.  Number one is that it very simply increases your total daily caloric expenditure.  That is, the total amount of calories you've burned that day.  Number two is that when working through our anaerobic pathways (energy systems that operate without the use of oxygen and pertain to exercises that we can sustain for a max of about 60-90 seconds) we deplete our muscles of glycogen and our blood streams of glucose.  These are the stored forms of sugar in our body.  That means when it's time to sit down for Christmas dinner and you go for the bread rolls, those carbohydrates are used for restoring your blood sugar levels to a natural state and replenishing the glycogen in your muscles (a process that actually helps our muscles grow larger and stronger!).  Otherwise those extra carbs and Christmas sweets will elevate our blood sugar levels higher than normal, which will encourage a greater insulin response and subsequent fat storage. Finally, the reason I suggest doing a workout with higher intensity with an emphasis on intensity and not duration is that research has found higher intensity workouts will have a metabolic carryover.  They help you in your fight to be on the winning side of calories in vs. out.  In a paper published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, its lead author, Amy A. Knab of Appalachian State University, found that participants who underwent 45 minutes of rigorous exercise at 75% of their Vo2 max led to an increase in metabolism that increased the total amount of calories burned from their workout by 37%!.   Where as a different study found that participants who underwent workouts at 50% of their Vo2 max saw no significant change in their metabolic rate post exercise.

So before stuffing our faces with Christmas cookies, before hitting the eggnog, hit the iron.  Head to the gym nice and early and get after it!  Then enjoy your day.  Tell your family and your friends that you love them and indulge in what the holidays are really all about...taking time to be with the ones you care about most. 

...maybe make some room for the Christmas cookies too ;) .