As a personal trainer and weight-loss coach, I am constantly answering health and fitness questions from my clients, on social media and in our Start TODAY Facebook group. In this column, I address some of the most common questions and roadblocks that trip people up on their journey to establish a health and fitness routine.
I always gain weight during the holidays. How can I break the cycle?
Research shows that weight gain is common during the holiday season, which stretches from November to January. So you’re not alone finding yourself in the yearly cycle of overindulging and seeing a few extra pounds creep up on the scale come the New Year.
It’s not entirely your fault: This time of year we have every temptation in the book thrown at us and have less time to focus on making ourselves, and our health, a priority. And everyone loosens the reigns and enjoys more indulgences over the holidays — myself included!
But that doesn’t mean holiday weight gain is inevitable. If you’re feeling anxious about the number on the scale creeping up once again, know that it is possible to break the cycle.
This time of year isn’t about setting lofty goals. Now is not the time to attempt time-consuming workout plans or set stringent diet rules. Instead, I encourage people to focus on maintaining their weight, keeping fitness a part of their routine in some capacity, and emerging from the holidays feeling in control of their choices and their body.
To do this, here are five very basic tips to keep in mind.
1. Make your workout routine easier.
If you’ve maintained a consistent workout schedule until now, don’t let the holiday season derail you. But accept that workouts are going to look different. Many of us just don’t have the time for an hour-long workout right now. So instead of trying to commit to a time-consuming plan that doesn’t end up happening, pick a workout plan that works for you in this season. Want to squeeze in walks? Craving some yoga? Only have the time for 10-minute HIIT workouts? It may be less activity than you’re used to, but what matters is that you are moving and helping to counteract the extra food intake this month.
2. Mark your calendar — and plan meals and workouts accordingly.
Look at your calendar at the start of each week and note which days you have plans that will have you indulging — like a cocktail party with friends, a holiday cookie swap, or a dinner with family where you can’t control the menu. On these days, adjust your diet and workout plan accordingly. Lighten up breakfast and lunch and fill them with lots of produce and lean protein. And schedule workouts on these days, too. Exercising — even if it’s just a walk or short strength routine — will burn some extra calories, boost your metabolism and put you in a healthy headspace to make choices you feel good about later in the day.
3. Eat what you want, but pay attention to portions.
When eating something you really love, it’s easy to go overboard and eat more than you actually want or need. So when you see a platter of your favorite food or dessert, pay attention to your portions. This is key to allowing yourself to enjoy your favorite foods (and not feel deprived) without feeling bloated, too full or guilty. I recommend having one serving, enjoying it, and then getting up from the table and moving away from the food. Have a glass of water, take a short walk or enjoy the company wherever you are. If you still want a second helping later in evening, then go for it! But more often than not, the craving to overindulge will have subsided.
4. Slow down.
When we see one of our favorite foods, especially something we only eat this time of year, it’s easy to start gobbling away. But eating too quickly is what leads us to overeat, since we aren’t giving our bodies time to register that we’re full. Eating slowly helps our brain catch up with our body, so we’ll feel full before we’re able to overeat. There are a few tricks you can employ to slow yourself down. Try putting your fork down between every bite or counting ten chews of each bite before taking another one. This will also allow you to actually savor and enjoy the food while you eat.
5. Drink lots of water.
Hot cocoa, wine, apple cider … who has time for water? Most of my clients forget to drink enough water when they get busy (which we all are this time of year!), but this is the easiest way to prevent overeating. Treat yourself to a reusable bottle that you can easily carry with you. If you have one on hand, you’re much more likely to sip mindlessly and stay hydrated. In addition to drinking water all day long, make water your beverage of choice at meals. Cutting out excess calories in liquids will help balance out some of the extra calories you may be consuming from your foods (and those liquid treats when you enjoy them).