Do you want to know how to stay lean and healthy over the holidays without sacrificing great food, new memories, and fun? Of course you do. But here’s the thing. Holidays are hectic and a bit crazy. Your best intentions can fly out the window.
Four years ago, I took a Christmas family trip to Costa Rica and hated how I looked and felt. It didn’t start well. I ended up in one of those airport sprints (with two bags in tow) in a race to catch a connection after a flight delay.
I didn’t make it. I was fast, but not fast enough. I wound up at the gate 30 seconds too late. I was covered in sweat and my head was throbbing from a holiday party hangover.
My stomach was wrecked (hello, choke-worthy airplane farts.) Could it possibly have had something to do with what seemed like a MONTH-LONG holiday party and going back for seconds at each meal? I was carrying seven more pounds than usual, my pants fit tighter, and most of my muscular definition was gone. Quite simply, I felt out of shape.
I’d fallen short of the expectations I had set for myself. When I finally got to Costa Rica (after 17 fun-filled hours in the airport) I was at a low point. I felt disappointed and self-conscious, particularly when it came to taking my shirt off at the beach.
This is the feeling you may experience during or after the holidays, and frankly, I’m sure you would nod your head in agreement that it sucks balls. Let’s prevent this, shall we?
Right now, we’re in the messy middle between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s prime indulging season and far too easy to pack it in and worry about being healthy once 2020 comes around.
But you and I know how that goes for most people. Seven to ten pounds heavier than average, you drag your butt into the gym feeling gross, sluggish and out of shape.
Maybe you try to hit it hard over the next couple of weeks. But then Christmas hits and it’s pretty much game over.
Well, this year is going to be different. The best course of action is to have a battle plan, and preemptively carpet-bomb fat gain to prevent (too much) weight gain over the holidays.
The best advice I can give you while still having FUN and enjoying the holidays follows below:
1. The Reality Check
The deck is stacked against you losing fat over the holidays. Own this and think about using this as a period to build muscle and enjoy yourself. When you build more muscle, your body’s resting metabolic rate (RMR) increases, which leads you to burn more calories even at rest. If you’re coming off of months of attempted dieting, this can upregulate hormone levels for a bit before jumping into a more serious fat loss diet in 2020.
More importantly, this simple mindset shift can prevent the “all or nothing” mindset that can lead you to pack it in until 2020.
2. Workout the Day of the Feast
Minimalist Muscle style workouts burn calories and increase insulin sensitivity. By priming your body to handle the calorie barrage you’re able to unleash, you can build more lean muscle and store less “extra” fuel as body fat. To sweeten the pot you’ll also have some ease of mind. You’ll know you did something good for your body before indulging, allowing you to enjoy your meal stress-free.
3. Practice Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting (IF), or refraining from food for a specific time (say, only eating between 12 PM – 8 PM) allows you to enjoy your most significant meals and social events without over-consuming calories by a mile. Remember, calories are king for fat loss. By limiting calories early in the day, you can each more in the afternoon and evening when social events are likely to occur. Stack the deck in your favor and leverage the power of intermittent fasting.
Grab your FREE Intermittent Fasting Guide here
4. Limit Desserts
I enjoy pie, ice cream, and cookies as much as the next guy. The key is to enjoy these things in moderation. Stick to one serving once a week. You can enjoy your cake and eat it too, but it must be in moderation. Come on, tough guy…you know you can do it. Now execute.
5. Implement the 20-minute Rule
Have you ever devoured 1-2 plates full of food or, heck, too much pizza in 20 minutes…only to realize you’ve overeaten and can hardly move? Research shows it takes 20 minutes for fullness signals to reach your brain. This is where mindless eating can be so tricky. If you eat too fast, not only will your digestion be impaired, but you’re likely to dramatically overeat and go into a food coma. Take your time. Give yourself 20 minutes to crush your first serving of food before going back for seconds.
6. Walk After Your Meal
A 2016 Dutch research study found leucine levels for only 75% as high post-meal for men who laid down for a meal compared to those who went for a walk or stood up. The plasma amino acid levels were only 62% as high.
Translation: Crashing on the couch after a big meal impairs the absorption of nutrients and negatively impacts nutrition. The result is fewer gains in muscle despite the calorie barrage, more digestive issues, and, yes, even poor health.
Take the dog out or grab a family member and go on a 10-20 minute walk. The goal here isn’t to “push yourself:” it’s simply to move.
7. Ditch the Unhealthy Leftovers
I’m the youngest in my family and happen to be the one grandma always wants to “fatten up.” Hello, delicious leftovers! The more calorie-dense foods in your house, the more likely you are to eat them and gain fat.
Navigating the leftovers game is a slippery slope. You may say “no thank you,” but we both know how persistent family and friends are.
So…oblige, or at least pick and choose what you want to bring. Try to grab the most nutritious foods, like those with a protein or vegetable focus.
Sneaky Trick: if you end DO end up with a giant tupperware container of mashed potatoes smothered in gravy, consider tossing it out. (Your secret is safe with me!)
Looking great naked and operating at peak performance come with trade-offs. You can enjoy your favorite foods, but not for 30 days straight.
8. Conservative Cocktail Consumption
I like hand-crafted cocktails more than I should, even though I know alcohol is a toxin. When you drink, your body shuts down fat-burning and muscle protein synthesis to eliminate alcohol from your body.
Sadly, this means the third plate of leftover dinner or dessert you’re crushing after too many old-fashioneds is more likely to end up around your waistline than alcohol consumed earlier in the day or by itself.
Now, you can still drink during the holidays. Heck, I was nursing a hangover myself the other day after too much Caymus and Woodford Reserve, but the best option is to separate alcohol intake from ultra-high calorie meals, or at least cut down on consuming them together.
9. Get Some Sleep
Getting 7-9 hours of sleep improves dietary control, insulin sensitivity helps reduce stress and improves anabolic hormone levels like testosterone. Getting quality sleep over the holidays upgrades all your body’s underlying physiological systems that make it easier to build muscle and lose fat. But if you neglect sleep? Well, you stack the deck against yourself, making it much easier that you’ll gain more weight.
Like you, I’m busy. I’ve got two cross-country trips over the next month for work and holidays. I like to practice what I preach, but implementing the above tips won’t be easy for me. And it won’t be easy for you either.
But the tips can be your secret weapons to kicking off 2020 without an extra 7-10 pounds on your gut.
The holidays are meant to be enjoyed.The way I see it, you have two options:
Carry on and as usual, go downhill and accept 7-10 pounds of weight gain that’ll be much harder to lose in 2020…
Take the nine tips I’ve shared with you above, put them into action, and minimize fat gain, get a head start on 2020, and still enjoy your holidays to the fullest.
If you want to take a shortcut and leverage the extra calories into building bigger arms and a faster metabolism for 2020, check out these muscle building workouts.
Andrew M. Holwerda, Kaatje Lenaerts , “Body Position Modulates Gastric Emptying and Affects the Post-Prandial Rise in Plasma Amino Acid Concentrations Following Protein Ingestion in Humans.” Nutrients 2016, 8(4), 221.