The Skinny on Preventing Holiday Weight Gain: How to Have Your Cake and Eat it Too

by Jordan Syatt November 22, 2011

As we move closer towards the holiday season, our society’s collective angst over holiday weight gain becomes more and more prevalent with each passing day.


Personally, I love the holidays and look forward to spending them with the individuals who have a consistent positive influence in my life. As such, the last thing I want to be worried about at Thanksgiving, New Years, or any other holiday event is how many calories I’ve eaten or how many hours I’ll need to be in the gym to make up for getting slightly too drunk and inhaling an entire apple crisp.


As my readers know, I consider success in fitness to be more or less dictated by the individual’s ability to adhere to a training and nutrition program in the long-term. Therefore, in order to be successful it’s important for trainees to learn how to incorporate flexible dieting as part of their lifestyle.


As the most successful flexible dieters will attest to, it’s necessary to understand that moderately indulging in your favorite foods during holiday events will not radically effect your body composition, and may even provide numerous benefits.


However, I completely understand that the holiday’s in general tend to produce a certain amount of anxiety, especially for the physique conscious individuals among us (which let’s be honest, is pretty much everyone). Therefore, in an attempt to make this and subsequent holidays as enjoyable as possible, below I will outline a number of simple and general guidelines that my clients and I follow which allow us to indulge in our favorite foods without obsessing over holiday weight gain.



1)      Get On a Training Program


In the context of today’s article, not adhering to an individualized training program creates an added and entirely unnecessary component of stress during the holiday season.


During this time of year we inevitably tend to worry about our lifestyle choices and how they may be impacting our body composition. As a result, following an intelligent training program eliminates any guess work and gives us the ability to stick to our normal day-to-day schedule, while simultaneously working towards our pre-determined goals.


In terms of training on and around the days of the actual holiday, many people assume they should drastically increase the volume and intensity of their workouts.


Personally, however, I recommend sticking to your current training routine exactly as is. Why complicate things further by adding more time spent in the gym, wondering if you’re doing too much/not enough, and adding more variables to an already confusing process?


Stick to your current training routine and work towards your pre-determined goals. The less variables there are, the less you have to worry.



2)      Don’t Count Calories


Counting calories at a holiday event sounds like one of the most difficult and unpleasant tasks I could possibly imagine. I consider myself to be very good at eyeballing how many calories might be in a specific piece of food or individual meal, but attempting to keep track of calories at a holiday get-together is tricky, anxiety producing, and quite honestly a distraction.


If you meticulously track your calorie intake and are overly concerned about gaining a significant amount of weight over the course of one holiday evening, I would seriously consider finding a specialist as that is a clear indicator of disordered eating. Regardless, if you do keep track of your calorie intake I strongly encourage you to give yourself a diet-break and use the holidays as an opportunity to learn how to listen to your body.


Instead of trying to add up all of the numbers in your head while simultaneously attempting to hold an intelligent conversation with your Aunt Judith, try paying attention to your body and listening to when it says it’s full. As a result of massively oversized portions and consistent overeating, our society as a whole doesn’t understand when it’s time to say “I’m full.”


Enjoy yourself and the foods you love, but when your body says “enough,” put the fork down.



3)      Protein and Veggies


One of the biggest mistakes I see at holiday events is individual’s purposefully saving room for dessert.


If your goal is to limit fat gain while indulging in your favorite treats it would be prudent to, first and foremost, fill yourself up on the least calorically dense foods that also cause the greatest amount of satiety.


As numerous studies have shown, vegetables and protein are the superior macronutrients for reducing appetite, thus spontaneously reducing total caloric intake. Whether you fill-up on protein and veggies before you go to the party or decide to do it while you’re there is more or less irrelevant and largely based on personal preference.


Regardless, filling up on protein and veggies is a simple strategy that may quickly reduce hunger and aid in preventing any drastic overeating


4)      Drink Zero Calorie Beverages


Piggy-backing off of number 3, finding little tricks to aid in reducing hunger and spontaneously reducing calorie intake can be extraordinarily helpful during the holiday season.


Constantly sipping on some form of zero-calorie beverage, be it water, tea, diet soda, coffee, etc, is a very simple strategy to increase satiety and decrease the chances of munching your way into a several-thousand calorie surplus.


Those who follow me on Facebook (Jordan Syatt), Twitter (JSyatt), and Google+ (Jordan Syatt) are very well aware that my personal favorite beverage (read: addiction) is coffee, but Diet Dr. Pepper Cherry is a recent find and has earned the rank of a close second.


I’d note that I’m not advising anyone to abstain from alcoholic beverages or calorically dense drinks, rather I’m simply offering this as one strategy that may help fill you up when find yourself in a room chock-full of your favorite cakes, pies, ice creams, and sweets and you’re having trouble finding an excuse not go on an all-out binge.



5)     Try Intermittent Fasting 


Over the last decade or so Intermittent Fasting (IF) has become an increasingly common topic of debate within the fitness industry, and has more recently started to receive a considerable amount of publicity within the general public.


Considering I briefly covered IF here and plan to write significantly more detailed articles on it in the near future, I won’t delve into the specifics in this post. However, what I will do is give you the basics of IF and how you can incorporate it to minimize fat gain on the day of a holiday or event.


Simply put, IF entails a period of fasting followed by a period feeding. While the majority of us have been told eating breakfast is the most important meal for numerous reasons, not least of which is to “boost the metabolic fire,” recent and comprehensive research has completely de-bunked this myth and proven it to be utterly false.


Two of the most popular variations of IF are Martin Berkhan’s Lean Gains Method which entails fasting for 16 hours followed by an 8 hour feeding window, and Brad Pilons Eat Stop Eat Method which consists of several 24 hour fasts throughout the week. Both are extraordinarily effective and have produced fantastic results.


So how might one incorporate IF into their lifestyle to prevent holiday weight gain?


Perhaps the quickest and easiest method would be to fast all day leading up to the event. To illustrate, if the party you’re attending begins at 4PM, simply stick to zero-calorie beverages until you arrive.


Another strategy would be more along the lines of Brad Pilon’s approach and would involve fasting for the entire 24 hours leading up to the party. For example, if your attending an event on Thursday evening at 8PM, try fasting from Wednesday evening at 8PM until the party begins.


Regardless of which one you choose, fasting prior to the event could make overeating significantly more of a challenge thus helping you minimize fat gain in the process.


I’d caution readers to be aware that fasting prior to an event makes getting drunk significantly easier and one would be wise to eat prior to pouring several shots down their throat.


Just saying.



6)      Forget the Leftovers


What many dieters fail to realize is that most of the weight gained during the holiday season has less to do with the individual nights of overeating and more to do with weeks on end of picking and munching on all of the leftover’s.


I don’t care how you do it, but plain and simple, one of the easiest ways to avoid holiday weight gain is to get the damn leftovers out of your site!


Whether you give them to your guests, throw them out, or offer them to your neighbors is totally irrelevant. Enjoy yourself on the night of the event and indulge in all of your favorite foods. However, once the night is over and done with, get back on track and do what is necessary in order to achieve your goals.


7)      Take Everything in Stride


Those highly involved in the fitness industry tend to be extraordinarily motivated and determined to make their goals a reality. While this quality is unfortunately rare within our society, sometimes it can take control and cause us to lose sight of what’s truly important.


The holidays are time to take pleasure in family, friends, and loved ones. I urge you not to forget this and to allow yourself to fully enjoy their company, conversation, and friendship. While sometimes life may appear to slowly drag on, minute by minute, day by day, all too soon we will be turning around and asking ourselves why life passes us by so quickly.


Instead of looking back and wondering, “was it worth it?” I want to look back and know that I enjoyed each and every moment with absolutely no regrets.


Never Minimal. Never Maximal. Always Optimal.



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