There are a bunch of handy damage control diet strategies that you should employ to best prevent yourself from overdoing it at the dinner table this holiday season. Use the tips below to allow yourself to stay social and to be able to indulge in moderation without splitting your pants before the New Year:
1.) Perform High-Intensity Activity Before and/or After a Big Meal or Holiday Feast
I know, I know. I promised diet strategies, but I simply cannot go without recommending some activity. Your body is most receptive to higher calorie and/or carbohydrate meals within 30 minutes before and within three hours following high-intensity activity. Ideally you would want to workout out before AND after a big meal, but if you can only do one, that will suffice. It is less important when you do it and more important that you do it. Your best options will be 20-40 minutes of circuit resistance training or cardio interval training. Even a 20-30 plus minute walk a few hours afterwards can serve as a bit of damage.
2.) Do NOT Fast in Preparation for a Big Meal or Holiday Feast
Fasting in preparation for a free meal will not only lead to overeating, but worse: overeating foods that are extremely high in sugar, fat, or both! Your body is a survival mechanism. If it hasn’t had food in a while it anticipates a famine state. This means that the next time that you eat your body will use as much of the incoming food as possible to store as body fat (survival energy) in anticipation that it won’t see food again for another long period of time. Do yourself and your body a favor by eating every two to four hours as you normally should to prevent yourself from becoming a ravenous, fat-storing beast this holiday season!
3.) Do NOT Gorge Yourself
Eat until the point of satisfaction, not discomfort. Remember this: binge eating is not the habit of lean individuals. It is imperative to understand that that holiday meals are not a ticket to eat as much as you can in as little time as possible. However, listen to your body and make sure to enjoy the foods you are craving in moderation and only eat when you are hungry.
4.) Eat a High-Fiber, Protein-Rich Meal An Hour Before a Holiday Event
A meal high in fiber and protein before a big holiday meal will help prevent overeating by making you feel more full which in turn means less calories consumed during the ensuing feast. My favorite strategy is to drink a protein shake with added fiber and healthy fats (e.g. 2-4 Tbsp. flax meal) and 1 liter of water before such a meal to help keep me nice and full upon arrival. This way you won’t lose any friends by eating their entire dinner platter and you’ll save your midsection from a fluffier existence!
5.) Eat Leans Proteins and Fruits and Vegetables FIRST
Just because it’s a holiday meal doesn’t mean you can’t eat any nutritious food. Make sure to load up on healthier food choices first and try to eat as much lean meat, fish, and fruits and veggies as possible at the start of each holiday event. This will leave less room for the unhealthier, higher calorie treats. At least this way you know your body is getting in some good nutrition and you are not putting yourself at excessive risk for sickness and/or other health concerns.
6.) Drink, Drink, Drink Water!
Water competes for space in your stomach and truly helps decrease appetite. For every plate you eat, try to drink at least 1-2 glasses of water. After that second plate, when you have 1 full liter of water in your stomach, I bet you might just throw in the towel!
7.) Do NOT Eat Again Until Hungry Following a Large Meal
Now I know I already told you to eat every 2-4 hours, but there is one exception to this. If you eat a huge meal, it is important not to eat again until you are hungry and/or no longer full. If your body is not used to eating such a big meal, then it will take a much longer time to digest all that food and the worst thing you can do is put more food into an already full stomach, unless you goal is to do the stop, drop, and roll drill. Only when you are hungry again should you resume your normal eating plan following a big holiday meal.
8.) Immediately Resume Your Normal Eating Schedule at the Next Meal
What’s done is done. Now it is time to get back to your regular eating plan. Remember weekly caloric intake is far more important than daily caloric intake. For example, let’s say that you need 3,000 calories per day to maintain your current body weight. Well, all that you need to do is make sure the average daily caloric intake each week is 3,000 calories per day. This means that you can fluctuate your daily caloric intake and yield the same results as if you ate that same amount each day. So if you have one day of big eating where you eat 9,000 calories (just an example, not a recommendation), but you only eat 2,000 calories per day the rest of the week, you will still end up at the same caloric balance. Again, I am not recommending that you eat in such an extreme manner; rather I am suggesting that you do not have to obsess about being perfect. Enjoy some indulging in moderation at your various holiday festivities knowing that the week in review trumps a day in review, even when you are particularly naughty on any given day.
9.) Never Eat Junk Food for Breakfast or Before Bed
Eating a highly refined carbohydrate meal first thing in the morning will make your blood sugar levels go crazy for the rest of the day resulting in greater junk food cravings and uncontrollable hunger. On the other hand, eating a big meal before bed will result in a bunch of unused energy that will be stored as body fat and you very well may have trouble sleeping with all of that extra food volume in your stomach!
10.) Control your Portions
Try to eat only half of all the servings of unhealthy food that you choose. Half of the portions equal half the calories!
11.) Avoid Empty Liquid Calories and Alcohol
One can easily consume over 1,000 calories per day from liquid calories alone. This means that in one week, you will gain 2 lbs of body fat from just fluids! Opt for regular solid food calories versus empty liquid calories (e.g. juices and soft drinks), for at least the food will fill you up and provide some nutrition where as liquid calories, particularly alcohol, have no such effect.
Rather, sugary and/or alcoholic drinks tend to make you hungrier in general and often hungrier for junk food in particular. Furthermore, your body cannot burn fat until the alcohol is processed out of your body in addition to the fact that alcohol consumption actually lowers leptin levels thus defeating one of the main purposes of this flexible eating (decreased leptin levels increase hunger and decreases your body’s use of fat for fuel). Thus over-consumption of alcohol can prevent the fat burning process from resuming until several days later and/or even cause unwanted fat gain and thus set you back as little as a few days to as long as a full week!
12.) Use Lower Calorie/Carbohydrate Substitutes Whenever Possible
Instead of using sugar, opt for zero calorie alternatives like splenda or stevia. They can deliver a similar taste without all of the extra sugar and calories. Even try replacing yeast with protein powder when you bake. The extra protein and reduced carbohydrates will result in a slimmer you while still providing some great tasting treats! Your goal should be to find the minimal amount of calories that can provide the same great taste that makes the holiday treats enjoyable rather than simply overdoing it because you can!
13.) Avoid Eating Meals that are High in Both Fat and Carbohydrates
The absolute worst thing that you can do is to eat a meal that is high in both fat and carbs. The high amount of carbs will lead to a rapid increase in blood sugar levels and thus large increases in the potent fat-storing hormone Insulin. The high amount of fat will lead to a large increase in free fatty acids in your bloodstream. Since Insulin is already present in large amounts, in addition to there being a large amount of free fatty acids now available in your blood, the stage is set for all those free fatty acids to be gobbled up and stored by your fat cells. This is the equivalent of becoming the next Goodyear blimp, so it is imperative to use caution at your holiday meals when it comes to combining fat (particularly saturated and trans fats) and carbs (particularly starches and refined sugars). In general, it is best to choose one over the other. But since most people crave carbs at their free meals, it is essential to keep the fat low at this meal. Want pasta? Instead of alfredo sauce, opt for marinara sauce with whole grain pasta. Want pizza? Make your own pizza with whole grain crust and low fat-cheese. Want mashed potatoes? Well then be sure to skip the gravy and go easy on the butter. These small changes can literally save you hundreds, even thousands of calories, and more importantly will prevent your holiday feasts from creating the optimal fat-storing environment that will set you back from achieving your health and fitness goals.
Let me know if you have any strategies that have worked for you during the holidays!