A quick search on Google for “how to avoid holiday weight gain” will give you about 2.3 million results on the subject.
Granted, not every single result is an article that has the same message as all the others. In fact, one might give you 10 tips while another just 5. Hell, why not 31?
All jokes aside, my point is that we don’t need 10, 20, or 30 different ways to keep the fat off during the holidays. It’s good to have a list of things to keep in mind but the truth is we probably won’t remember to do half of them.
Last year I wrote a 2-step guide on how to prevent fat gain during the holidays (note the key phrase “fat gain” and not weight gain because you’ll most likely gain some water weight, all of which will go away). The tips in that article were useful, yes, but there’s an even simpler and more effortless approach that I want to share with you.
It requires zero brainpower and will allow you to enjoy the foods you want to eat, drink the alcohol you want to drink, and enjoy precious time with your family without feeling any guilt.
Actually, it has nothing to do with food.
An Effortless Way to Avoid Fat Gain During the Holidays
I’ll get right to it.
So what do you do to prevent gaining a single pound of fat during the holidays?
Don’t slack off and skip your workouts.
I’m serious. If you were expecting something much more complex, I’m sorry. I’ll explain more in a second, though.
This obviously doesn’t apply to everyone, but here’s what tends to happen during the holidays.
Sometime around mid-November: Get excited for the upcoming month of December.
Early-December: The holiday mood starts to kick in. Christmas music starts playing everywhere. Laziness is slowly creeping in.
Mid-December to the New Year: The laziness REALLY starts to kick in. Instead of continuing to eat mindfully, you start to eat mindlessly. You also contemplate working out because you’re having too much fun spending time with family, friends, and your TV. You end up skipping workouts and think to yourself, “Fuck it I’ll just get back to my fitness after the new year”.
Morning of January 1st: You’re super hungover, feel terrible about yourself because you haven’t exercised in about 2 weeks, and can’t wait to get back into the gym.
If it doesn’t, good. You’re already ahead of the game.
If this sounds like you, here’s what you’re going to do: continue on with your workouts as you normally would at any given time of the year.
But really, though. Don’t skip out on your workouts.
Notice how I didn’t tell you to avoid mashed potatoes. Or to avoid cheesecake. That’s not what this is about. I’m not hear to tell you to eat less. That’s definitely another approach you can take. But it’s the freaking holidays and I guarantee you that avoiding your mother’s brownies is the last thing on your mind.
It’s just food — eat it.
The Simple Science
It all goes back to calories.
As you probably know by now, calories matter. It’s the main determining factor of weight loss.
If you’re unfamiliar with how it works or just need a refresher, the basic premise is this:
- When trying to maintain your weight, you have to consume the same number of calories that you expend — or caloric maintenance.
- When trying to lose fat, you need to be consume less calories than you expend — a caloric deficit.
- Lastly, when trying to build muscle, you have to do the opposite — a caloric surplus.
So when trying to burn fat you need to be in a caloric deficit. There are three ways to do this: through your diet, exercise, or a combination of both. In other words, you eat less, exercise more, or do both. Nine times out of ten, most of us would go on a caloric deficit by doing the third option. Diet and exercise simply go hand-in-hand. We all know that.
But what happens when you take “eat less” out of the equation? What if, during the holidays, keeping your calories down would become a near-impossible feat with all the food and drinks that’s just waiting for us?
Well, that’s where exercise comes in handy.
You see, it’s still very possible to eat what you want while still staying in shape. You’d just have to aim at maintaining a caloric balance. If a deficit isn’t possible, a calorie maintenance is at least more probable. You might not lose any fat by doing so, but you’ll at least not gain any.
To better explain this, here are the three different paths your fitness can take during the holidays:
Scenario #1 (extreme): You OVER-INDULGE but also work out MORE than usual
Let’s put the math and other specifics aside, and just take a look at my awesome seesaw diagram above. By “matching” the calories you consume with the extra activity that you’re doing, you’re essentially sustaining a caloric balance.
An example: you normally work out 3x a week. To offset the extra calories you consume, you decide to work out 5x during the week. Simple enough, right?
I’m being very general here, but I hope you can see where this is going.
Next, we have the second scenario.
Scenario #2 (realistic): You eat SLIGHTLY more than usual but MAINTAIN your regular activity level
In this diagram, let’s say that you eat slightly more than usual and still follow your regular 3-day workout routine.
What do you get? A caloric imbalance, but a minor one.
Is it such an imbalance that you’ll gain fat? Most likely not. It would take more than just a night or two of over-eating to gain the extra fat.
So now we have the third scenario.
Scenario #3 (not recommended): You OVERINDULGE aaaaand SKIP your workouts
You just enjoyed a big ass meal and now you’re relaxing on the couch with the fam. Big deal? Not really. Where the trouble starts is when this becomes the norm throughout your holiday season. One big meal isn’t going to throw you off your game if you’re maintaining regular physical activity.
It’s when you overindulge and decrease your physical activity that the imbalance becomes a problem. When the Netflix marathons on the couch replace your workouts, or even light activity like a walk, the holiday weight gain starts.
The goal is to stay balanced — and if that’s not possible — to have a minimal imbalance.
The bottom line: if you plan to enjoy hella good food with your family, stay active. It doesn’t even have to do with anything relating to dumbbells and barbells. Just do something that will keep you off the couch.
Now, there is one thing I want you to understand. It’s something you want to keep in mind for the rest of your life: do NOT use exercise as a punishment. Don’t go to the gym for the sole reason that it makes you feel better for mistreating your diet. That’s the wrong idea.
On the other hand, exercise shouldn’t be a reason for you to look at food as a reward. That’s also the wrong approach, and definitely not the message I am trying to get across.
What I am saying is that your body is always counting calories whether it’s through expenditure or consumption. So if you know that the consumption part of it will get out of hand, you can at least control the expenditure.
1. Make physical activity a part of your holiday routine. I know it’s easy to just sit around the couch and do nothing. But just because everyone else wants to be lazy doesn’t mean that you do too.
2. Eat the damn food. Just be mindful about what you eat and don’t stuff everything in your mouth.
Finish the year strong, and enjoy your holidays.
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