Let’s face it: There is a general acceptance you will add few extra pounds during the holidays. But so what? You have worked out the entire year so any indulgences are backed up by your higher total energy expenditure (TEE). It sounds unfair, but no matter how active you are pre-holiday season, you will end up packing on the same extra fat as someone with a lower TEE.
At least this is what a study found when testing whether holiday weight gain was reduced in participants with high baseline total energy expenditure during the pre-winter quarter. Among 449 women and men who participated in the study, high TEE did not protect them against increase body weight gain during winter, concluded the research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Before you think the sweat and effort at the gym is a waste of time, keep in mind this study did not look into two important issues: exercise and diet during the winter months—and not just pre-season. Indeed, the authors commented that the findings were the result of people who exercise less and/or eat more during this time of the year.
Avoid the Diet Missteps
Between random schedules, which make it harder to stick to a workout, and the holiday food bombardment everywhere you go, it’s easy to cut back on exercise and ramp up your daily caloric intake. However, you can avoid beginning the New Year with a resolution to lose weight by following these tips to avoid common diet missteps.
First off, avoid classifying the indulging days, meals, and/or events as “cheats.” “When we feel like we are cheating, we go big! We feel like this is the only time in the week I can have chocolate, so you think, ‘I am going to take advantage and eat two slices of cake with ice cream instead of having a small piece of candy,’” says Alexandra Caspero, R.D, owner of weight-management and sports-nutrition service Delicous-Knowledge.com.
Losing or maintaining the body weight is not about when or how to cheat, rather than following a lifestyle diet. “I encourage people to choose small portions of foods they desire, which may be a glass of wine, a small dessert, etc. Choose it, eat it with full mindfulness and presence, and don’t think of it as forbidden,” says Georgie Fear, R.D, nutrition expert and physique coach at askgeorgie.com. “It’s part of the plan. You may find that when you allow all foods, you stop wanting the junk food as much and find you really do enjoy the healthy items 90 percent of the time.”
Whether you are trapped in the never-end agenda at work or endless holiday get-togethers, you may face situations in which savoring a good wine can turn into gulping the entire Pinot Noir bottle. What can you do? Here are some common traps and how to escape them:
At dinner you couldn’t resist stuffing yourself
Why? When this happens, you have to go back and evaluate how you ate during the day. If you had been avoiding food or undereating because you were saving your calories for mom’s pecan pie, you will devour not just the pie, but every morsels of food in front of you.
In a study in which the effect of short-time undereating was followed by overeating—a meal high in carbohydrates and fat, which is the most common overeating food composition—subjects showed a decrease in the amino-acid tryptophan and an increase in insulin levels. What does this mean? The production of serotonin will be compromised. (Serotonin is a neurochemical synthesized by this amino-acid that keeps you calm and relax among other functions.) So when serotonin levels are low, the appetite for carbohydrates increases, while the insulin spikes will stimulate fat deposition.
What to do? Prevent this from happening in the first place by keeping a healthy meal pattern throughout the day, so you will feel less hunger and more content come dinner time. One of the most important: never skip breakfast. You don’t need to eat much either. Some of the more popular breakfast items, such as bagel, all-fruit smoothie, and cereal, offer carbs with a little fiber and protein; both fiber and protein increases satiety and prevents sugar swings. Instead, have meals rich in fiber and protein like an oatmeal with 1 tablespoon peanut butter mixed in; all-bran cereal with berries and an egg; Greek yogurt with fruit and Go Lean cereal, a smoothie with yogurt, or protein shake, suggests Caspero.
Happy hour turned into a full drinking night
Why? How does an after work drink turn into a full tequila night. Aside from the most commonly perceived culprits, like skipping meals to social peer pressure, check your stress thermostat.
For instance, more than 200 women, who were part of a study in which work-related stress levels were evaluated in relation to emotional and uncontrolled eating, showed that “those experiencing burnout may be more vulnerable to emotional and uncontrolled eating and have a hindered ability to make changes in their eating behavior, according to a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
In other words, being under a chronic stress will make harder to keep up with a healthy diet unless the stress is managed.
What to do? Reduce the drink binge situation by eating something before you head to the pub, especially something high in protein and fiber like a low-fat string cheese, a hard boiled egg, or even veggies with a low-fat or fat-free dip. Then after one drink, order a club soda with a lime. This will help you to slow your drinking pace so you don’t overdo it, says Erin Palinski, RD,CDE, LDN, CPT, author of the new book, Belly Fat Diet for Dummies.
If you do binge drink focus on rehydrating the next day, and make fruits, vegetables, and broth based soups your best allies. “Also, if you are hangover, you may crave less healthy food options. Resist this urge since you already overdid the calories last night,” adds Palinski. “Choose healthy ‘junk’ foods like air popped popcorn, baked French fries, or making a “pizza” with low fat cheese on a whole grain tortilla versus ordering take out.”
The office gingerbread cookies, chocolates and other sweeties were too hard to resist
Why? Office snacks are mainly sugar and saturated fats. Both nutrients spike the serotonin and dopamine neurochemicals, which makes you crave more of these feel-good foods. This becomes more of an issue if you skipped an earlier meal, or during your previous snack time you ate food high in both simple carbohydrates and saturated food, or are dehydrated, under stress, and/or didn’t sleep well.
And the problem gets worse because once you begin munching on the cookie plate you can’t seem to stop. A recent study concluded that after prolonged exposure of energy dense snack foods ,such as hazelnuts, chocolate, and potato chips, participants experimented a decreased in sensory-specific satiety meaning they will need to eat more of the same food to feel satisfied.
What to do? Stock your office with healthy finger foods, such as fresh fruit, air popped popcorn, and dry roasted nuts to help curb your appetite and prevent splurging on sweets.
The late night snack was too sweet and salty to pass
Why? You may have had a dinner too low in protein and fiber, which keeps sugar levels under control, or watching TV for anywhere from 25 to 45 minutes, which studies have shown is the second most common cause of increasing appetite after alcohol and before sleep deprivation.
What to do? When subjects were given a snack either high in protein or high in carbohydrates, approximately two hours after having a full meal—like after dinner—neither type affected the intake of the following meal. In other words, there was no benefit of the snack. The authors of the study attribute the results in part to the participants were not hungry because they were still digesting their previous meal.
Since the type of food won’t stop you from snacking, Caspero recommends to keep your late night food on the light side, such as whole wheat toast with peanut or almond butter, Greek yogurt with some grapes, airing popped popcorn with a handful of nuts or a low sugar and high fiber and protein cereal. Watch out the portion size though. Remember, it’s a snack not a full meal.
Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning coach and master trainer, who teaches as an adjunct professor at Florida International University. Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website, martamontenegro.com, combines fitness, nutrition and health tips, exercise routines, recipes and the latest news to help you change your life but not your lifestyle. She was the founder of nationally awarded SOBeFiT magazine and the fitness DVD series Montenegro Method.