There is a social media meme featuring a pumpkin, a turkey and Santa that declares “Merry HallowThansMas.” It makes fun of the way that October/November/December blends into a month-long holiday celebration...complete with the rich food and drink, more social obligations and less time for healthy eating and working out.
Clients often bring me their worries that these holidays will ruin all of their hard work in the gym and wreak havoc with their eating plans. They ask me how I handle the holidays.
My answer surprises many of them. I enjoy the holidays by eating and drinking whatever I want.
The key is I enjoy these things on the actual holidays -- not all of the days in between.
The in-between days, I follow my usual eating plan, get my strength workouts in and when I do cardio, I look ahead to the week. If I know I am not going to make it in on a usual day, I tack an extra 10 minutes on when I am there.
It would be very difficult for a single meal or even a weekend to derail months or years of progress. It is generally accepted in the nutrition world that 3,500 excess calories equal a pound of weight gain.
In order to actually gain the “5 pounds” that clients swear to me they gained after a holiday meal, they would need to eat an extra 17,500 calories ABOVE AND BEYOND what they normally eat.
Although this sounds fun, it would be extremely difficult to do. It is the equivalent of 8 large Domino’s pepperoni pizzas, or over 26 BOTTLES of red wine, in addition to your regular meal consumption (PLEASE DO NOT take either of those examples as a challenge - I know there is one in every crowd).
The more likely culprit behind your 5-pound weight gain is water weight. Every gram of carbohydrate that you consume holds onto 2-3 grams of water. Most holiday foods are very high in carbs and therefore pull in and hang onto excess water.
As soon as you return to your regular routine you will lose that.
Food is food and shouldn’t have excessive rules or restrictions.
However, there are a few tricks I follow to stay on track with my goals during the holidays:
- If it is something I can get any day or time of the year, I skip it. For that reason, Halloween holds no sway over me. I am not tempted.
- Conversely, if it is a special holiday food that only comes out once a year - I am all over it! Orange cranberry relish, my mother-in-law’s intricately decorated gingerbread people, and homemade stuffing are all things that I enjoy liberally and without any guilt at all. I know I won’t see them again for a year. I want to enjoy them and get my fill.
- I am not a big drinker but when I do drink I make sure it is not an excessively sugary cocktail. I have also gotten into the habit year-round of asking for seltzer water with my cocktail and mixing the two together. It still tastes great and takes twice as long to drink.
- Every holiday article states this but it bears repeating...fill up your plate with protein and vegetables first and then fill the rest with your indulgences.
- Sneak in exercise whenever you can. Many people feel that unless they have an hour it is not worth trying to work out. Nothing could be further from the truth. I could get a full-body strength routine or a butt-kicking HIIT workout finished in 15 minutes flat.
- When you have a little more time, do a longer workout.
- There are lots of regular old Mondays and Thursdays in the holiday season. On these “regular” days try as hard as possible to stick to your “regular” routine. Save the splurges for parties and gatherings. You’ll feel better, have more energy and enjoy the treats more.
The holidays should be fun and festive, not full of guilt or obsessive calorie counting.
Do you have any tricks for the season that I did not mention? I would love to hear them and share them on Fitness Evolution’s social media.
You can reach me at
firstname.lastname@example.org or 763-439-3191
Have a wonderful, blessed holiday season!
Megan Leipholtz - CPT