‘Tis the season for holiday gatherings and travels. From the Halloween costume parties, to Thanksgiving dinners, to Christmas celebrations; the months from October to December are piled with various social events. As much as we look forward to joyful reunions, these occasions can be worrisome for those who are dieting.
Do we let these occasions as an excuse to “relax” and potentially backtrack all the hard-earned progress we have made? Or do we become the odd ones and not participate in these events? With proper planning, we can three rabbits at once: enjoy social events, indulge in our favorite snacks and food, and still stick to our dieting plans.
In this article, we will examine seven smart strategies and mental cues we can use to mitigate the potential weight gains from holidays and continue with our fitness goals.
Bring your own lower-calorie entrée to the party
By making and bringing a diet-friendly entrée to the party or dinner, not only will you come off as a generous guest but also you will make sure you have lower-calorie choice to eat. My personal favorite diet-friendly entrée to bring is low-fat cheesy sausage dip. It only takes about 10 minutes to cook and it will be one of the best dips you’ve ever tried. Here is an easy, three-step recipe for the dip:
- Chop up low fat sausages into small pieces. Heat on the pan until brown.
- Melt in 8-16oz of fat-free cream cheese. Add cayenne pepper to taste.
- Enjoy this dip with low fat chips and/or fresh vegetables.
Throw in a whey protein shake before starting a meal
Studies have consistently shown that protein is the most satiating macronutrient among fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. In other words, protein helps you feel the fullest and the most satisfied when compared to other macronutrients calorie per calorie.
In a 2010 study, participants were asked to ingest whey protein in 300mL water 30 minutes prior to an all-you-can-eat pizza meal. The result showed that 20-40 grams of whey protein ingested 30 minutes before a meal significantly (P<0.0001) suppressed food intake by increasing satiety . Moreover, pre-meal consumption of whey protein also reduced post-meal blood glucose concentrations, helping mitigate cravings that are due to spiked blood glucose concentrations.
Fill your first plate with lots of lean protein and vegetables
Rather than relying on your willpower to portion-control on high caloric food, you can employ this first plate strategy: Before indulging in your favorite dishes and desserts, fill your first plate with as much lean protein and vegetables as possible. There is no limit to how much of lean protein and vegetables you can have. In fact, the more the better. By using this first plate strategy, not only will you ensure that you get enough protein intake for the day but also you will naturally eat less of high caloric food even if you want to eat more of them due to high satiety effect of protein.
Utilize Intermittent Fasting (IF) style of eating on the day of the event
Intermittent Fasting (IF) is a dietary strategy that involves fasting for an extended period of time (usually 14-18 hours) per day and having a short eating window that lasts roughly 4-10 hours. Although IF is certainly not some magical way to burn more fat, it can be used as a tool to reduce overall daily food intake.
If you know that you have a dinner party coming up at 7pm, you can simply skip your meals (or have 1-2 small meals that consist of lean protein and vegetables) until the dinner. This way, you can “save” your calories for the day and have more buffer when it comes to eating yummy food at the dinner.
Don’t try to be perfect. Make “better bad choices”
When it comes to fitness and dieting, we tend to think in terms of black or white. In other words, if we are not perfect with our diet, we tend to mentally give up on our diet all at once and turn into the I might as well stuff myself as much as I can today and start dieting tomorrow mode.
Instead, reframe your thinking from having to be perfect to making better bad choices. This can be done very simply. Grab a diet soda instead of regular soda. Instead of a full bowl of chips, have a half bowl of chips and a half bowl of fresh fruits. Get a good taste of your favorite foods and enjoy every bite of them. Then simply move on and continue with eating lower calorie/fat choices to help you feel full.
High-volume training prior to the event
By “high volume training” I mean performing more sets and higher reps than what you would normally do with your weight training. The primary purposes for doing a high volume training prior to the event are two-fold: (1) It will increase your overall energy expenditure, (2) It will deplete your muscle glycogen stores. By depleting as much muscle glycogen as possible, you will increase fat oxidation, and the greater portion of the incoming carbohydrates from yummy desserts will be used to replenish muscle glycogen instead of promoting fat storage. The last hidden bonus is that you’ll look more “swole” at the event!
Focus on training bigger muscle groups such as legs and back for the majority of your training session. You are more than welcome to use supersets, drop-sets, cluster-sets, etc. in order to increase overall training volume while minimizing rest periods in between sets.
Stay off the scale
Higher carbohydrate intake along with increased sodium intake from the dinner will most likely result in a spike in the scale weight for the next couple days. Although most of this weight spike is due to your body holding a lot of water, actually seeing this weight spike with your own eyes can easily make you think that all those weight gains are all from the fat gains – then you may find yourself “making up” for those weight gains with excessive cardio exercises and significantly lowered food intake.
Unless you are a professional competitive eater, you cannot eat enough in a single meal to put on that much fat. Unless you have eaten 10,500 calories over your maintenance caloric level in a single meal, those 3-pound weight gains are not purely due to fat gains. I repeat: most of the weight gain is due to water weight is due to your body holding a lot of water, and it will come right back off in 2-4 days. No matter what happens, do not weigh yourself for 2-4 days after the event.
As much as taking care of our bodies and being goal-oriented are important factors in our lives, so are our friends and family. After all, these holiday events are not just about foods. Enjoy every second and every conversation you have at these holiday events and also enjoy your yummy foods. I hope that these seven strategies will help you enjoy the holidays even more.