It starts out just like any other day. Except it’s not. It’s December. Which means a holiday breakfast at the office (where you may or may not have chased a bagel with a sugar cookie) turns into noshing on a bowl of leftover Chex Mix at your desk all day before you head out for a happy hour where you wash down pigs in a blanket with sugary cocktails…if they’re mini the calories don’t count, right?.
This sequence of events is far too common this time of year. And while it should be “a seasonal transition punctuated by a handful of celebratory events,” for many it’s a six-week sabbatical from reason and responsibility, especially when it comes to choosing what to pop in our pie hole,” at least according to Dr. Mike Fenster, a cardiologist and author of The Fallacy of the Calorie: Why the Modern Western Diet is Killing Us and How to Stop It.
Most of us throw up our hands and succumb to the overwhelming temptation of the buffet table. “We eat and accumulate the baggage that we will resolve to rid ourselves of with the turning of the calendar,” said Fenster, “although, research shows that the weight gain is generally not reversed.”
Implement these eating rules to prevent entering the New Year five pounds heavier. Those resolutions will be way easier to tackle when you aren’t out of breath from carrying your spare tire up one flight of stairs.
- Eat all day long. “This may seem counter intuitive: How can eating prevent weight gain?” said Fenster. “But it’s about the quality of food and the timing. A little constant snacking throughout the day allows us to control two very important variables: the quality of the food we choose to eat and our satiety levels.” Lightly snacking on whole foods (read: fruits, veggies, nuts, whole grains) ensures that the majority of the food we’re eating is high quality (as opposed to the Slim Jim reindeer that Marjorie from HR made). And “by being at least partially satiated when we show up at the buffet we are less inclined to overindulge on potential junk food offerings. During the festive season shoot for the 80/20 rule; no more than 20 percent of what you eat should consist of the typical holiday fare.”
- Force down one plate of the crudité … and then go to town. When you do get to the party, beeline for the veggie tray (the upside? There won’t be a line). “Always fill up first on the most natural choices—fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, cheese and proteins—before reaching for the refined and processed stuff like candy, cookies, cakes and chips,” said Dian Griesel, PhD, Co-author of TurboCharged. “You’re going to be able to eat them, but you just won’t have as much room. Everyone gets full at a certain point no matter how good that cookie is; so fill most of your stomach up with the veggie platter.”
- Don’t be basic. Take off your UGGs and step away from the pumpkin spice latte. “Do your best to avoid the eggnog and all those special holiday lattes because they contain more calories than most meals, are loaded with sugar and have no nutritional value,” said Tom Griesel, co-author of TurboCharged. “Make moderate and smart choices and stick with lower-calorie, no-sugar drinks.” You’ll make more room in your calorie bank for the things that matter, like grandma’s famous pumpkin roll.
- Apply “hara hachi bu.” No, this isn’t a special cream that will hinder the formation of stretch marks as you gorge yourself all month. “This is the ancient Confucian concept of stopping when you are about 80 percent full,” said Fenster. “What you will find is that within about 10 to 15 minutes of stopping, you will feel pleasantly satiated without the pains and weight gain that accompany overindulgence.”
- Drink as many cocktails as you drink water. This one should be a no-brainer (and we see you rolling your eyes), but do you actually follow it? From the shenanigans that ensued at the last holiday party (and the number of people in sunglasses and hats at their desks the next day), we’re thinking not. “Water plays a critical role in our health,” said Dian Griesel. Not only will it help ward off the next-day hangover, but “the number one cause of fatigue is dehydration and being adequately hydrated will help to prevent colds and other common holiday ills.” Plus, we often confuse thirst and hunger, so always chug a glass of water before heading to the buffet line. “And try to eat more high-moisture-content foods like fruits and vegetables,” added Griesel. “Studies have shown that these foods can increase hydration levels more than drinking water.”
- Set a December resolution to maintain your weight until New Year’s. We heard the collective scoff at the premise of setting a goal now, but hear us out. “During the holidays, our weight gradually increases, and this might go unnoticed,” said Tom Griesel. “Make a commitment to at least maintain your current weight from now until New Year’s Day, and be sure to get on the scale every morning. If your weight has increased, eat less until you’re back on target.” This strategy will ensure that you enter the New Year without extra baggage—you can get right to tackling your actual goal, instead of spending a month shedding the weight that’s clinging on from the holiday parties.
- Make just one healthy decision each day. Setting the unrealistic goal of completely maintaining your beast-mode routine will only leave you diving headfirst into a pumpkin cheesecake. The key to enjoying the season while maintaining your health is flexibility: “Don’t beat yourself up for not sticking to your usual diet and exercise routine. Making at least one or two healthy choices every day will allow you to keep a positive outlook and not completely fall off the wagon,” said Rachel Begun, MS, RDN, nutritionist and certified natural chef. Conquering small feats like squeezing in a workout or eating a healthy breakfast increases the likelihood that you’ll make other smart decisions. “A short workout is better than no workout and can help you reduce the stress of the holiday season, keep your sleep schedule on track and burn some of those extra holiday calories; and indulging moderately at a holiday party is more likely when a healthy breakfast and lunch have been eaten.”
- Walk it off like you’re a PTA mom: “The season invariably involves a bit of hustle and running about. While that may impinge on workout time and mean less frequent outings to the gym; it doesn’t have to mean less physical activity,” advised Fenster. “It’s important to try and not lose any physical conditioning over the holiday concourse. Otherwise, you spend the first part of the new year just trying to get back to where you were—and that can be incredibly frustrating and discouraging.” The key is to not let your lack of gym time translate to lack of movement. When you’re doing your Christmas shopping, park further way from the store. Sorry bro, you may not be bulking by replacing lifting with laps around the mall, but you will be maintaining your fitness level. “With frequent stops and a busy schedule each little bit of extra walking and physical activity that can be done, adds up,” said Fenster.