On average most adults will only gain between 1-2 pounds between Halloween and New Year’s Day. Now that doesn’t seem like much cause to panic, but the truth of the matter is that those pounds are hard to lose. In fact, approximately 75% of annual weight gain, (weight that does not come off) takes place during the holiday season. Flash forward and 10 years of seemingly insignificant weight gain over the holidays can equal between 10 and 20 pounds of hard to lose fat on your body in what Ellington Darden calls “Creeping Obesity.”
But fear not! You can take control over the “Creep” during the holidays and it doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to enjoy some of your favorite seasonal treats and drinks. I’m not advocating that you turn your holidays into a season of self-denial and avoidance, but with a little moderation and some pre-planning, your physical and mental health doesn’t have to take a hit and should remain intact for many years to come.
It’s All About Preparation
The holiday season can be tough with office pot-lucks, parties, seasonal blues, and late nights, but with the right preparation, we can get you through it. Try these tips to stay healthy when it’s so easy not to be.
Create a Plan and Stick To it
One my favorite sayings is “Plan your work, Then work your plan.” During the holidays this philosophy can be a critical weapon in your health & wellness arsenal. One way to fight the “Creep” is to sit down with your calendar and list out the “Must Attend” events of the season. At the same time, make sure you’re scheduling some type of exercise activity before or after each event. On the day of the event, eat a healthy, high fiber snack before you go, and if you can prepare a healthy alternative to the regular fare, do it. This method works for me because when I get there, I’m not hungry, I can try my favorite dishes without overindulging, and I don’t run the risk of offending the host/boss, or co-workers by seeming to be standoffish about the food. Remember, the holidays are just as much about building and strengthening relationships, so don’t damage them over food. One final tip. Sit as little as possible while at the event and make it part of your goal to mingle and keep it moving. I always find it disconcerting walking into a happy hour where everyone is sitting down. It makes it hard to meet new people and exchange ideas when a table can act as a barrier.
Don’t Go It Alone
No woman or man is an island and it’s always better to go into battle with a trusted friend. So why not enlist someone with similar goals as an accountability partner? Make sure you both sit down and work out the details. What are your goals, how often you will you check in with each other, and how will progress be measured? Make it fun and put a small prize on the line. You can do this one on one, as a family, or as a challenge at work.
Dress Well Every day
Let’s face it, the holiday blues are real and anything that you can do to help your mental state is well worth the time and effort. Dressing well makes me feel better and puts me in a different frame of mind. It also invites positive energy into your life as people see the effort and send compliments your way.
There is also another method to the madness. Good looking, form-fitting clothes will act as a deterrent to over-indulgence. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to walk around the entire holiday season feeling like I’ve eaten a Thanksgiving dinner every day with uncomfortable clothes on. (Just a note, it is the height of oafishness to push back from the table at the company holiday party and unbutton your pants to make room. Just so you know.)
Eat 6 Small Meals A Day
This should be part of your plan. If you’re eating 6 clean, healthy meals a day coupled with some physical activity, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator at work, you won’t run the risk of being hungry and having a couple of slices of whatever it is Mr. or Mrs. Coworker has graciously brought in that day. I come from the healthcare world and it always struck me how unhealthy the employees, myself included, are during the holidays. Starting in October you had to run the daily gauntlet of high calorie, sugary snacks that assaulted your senses the minute you walked in the door. In no way am I saying don’t have a nibble or two. Plan ahead, have a healthy, high fiber breakfast and come to work with your meals already prepared. Do this and you won’t be as tempted to overindulge.
Drink More Water
Dehydration is the enemy of the body. What most of us don’t know is that being dehydrated sends the same signal to our brains as being hungry which can lead to overindulgence. In a routine day, you can lose 3-4 liters or 10-15 cups of fluid in the forms of sweat, urine, exhaled air, and other activities. If you’re thirsty you’re already dehydrated and your body is not performing at peak efficiency. Since the body is 60% water it is critical that you keep your fluid levels balanced. For maintaining a healthy weight and promoting weight loss, water serves some critical functions. When you substitute water for high-calorie beverages and eat a diet filled with “water-rich” foods, it can be more filling and help trim caloric intake. Water also helps keep muscles healthy and energized. It takes more energy for the body to maintain muscle than fat, so for every pound of muscle on your body, even at rest, you’re burning an additional 5-6 calories a day which can’t happen if the muscles are shriveled from dehydration. Water – get it in you!
Get Some Rest
Another reality of the holiday season is that there are more opportunities to be out later due to after-work parties and events. Now just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. Being sleep deprived has the same effect on the body that being dehydrated does. Fatigued muscles send out chemical signals that mimic being hungry which can lead to overindulgence. Fatigued muscles also slow down the body’s metabolic rate. This “metabolic grogginess” means you’re not burning those extra calories, and we all know what that means. According to a study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 35% of people are sleep deprived, which is almost the same rate of obesity. That can’t be a coincidence. So go out, have fun, but leave early enough to get plenty of sleep and fight the “Creep.”
For most of us, the holiday months are the coldest time of the year, which could be another reason why 75% of all annual weight gain happens during this time. If you have a regular exercise routine, stick to it, and augment it in direct correlation to how much you’re hitting the holiday party scene. If you work out 2-3 times a week make sure you get some additional activity during the weeks that you have an event. This could be walking stairs during lunch, substituting your regular office chair for an exercise ball, or setting an alarm to remind you to get up and move around for a few minutes every hour or so. Keep it simple, but make it happen.
The holiday season is a time for enjoying family, friends, and indulging in some guilty pleasure. However, we don’t have to surrender our physical and mental health to it. Try these simple tips, or search for others that work well for you, so that you can enjoy many holiday seasons to come.
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Photo courtesy iStock.
This post previously published on Huffington Post and is republished with the permission of the author.