Holiday Weight Loss
The holiday season is upon us! Break out the pumpkin spice lattes, turkey, stuffing, eggnog, holiday cookies, and peppermint flavored everything. Your waistline doesn’t stand a chance, right?
Not so fast. You CAN enjoy the holiday season and not gain weight. In fact, you can even LOSE weight over the holidays, if you play your cards right.
In this series of posts, I’ll detail exactly HOW you can set yourself up to lose weight (or at least avoid gaining weight) during the upcoming holiday season.
The Only Thing That (Really) Matters: Controlling Your Energy Balance
The cold, hard truth is that weight gain and weight loss are determined solely by energy balance – how many calories you consume, compared to how many you burn through daily activity and exercise.
To lose weight, all you have to do is put yourself in a “calorie deficit,” meaning that you eat less than you burn. You can accomplish this one of two ways: eat fewer calories, or move more.
The real “magic” happens when you do BOTH. No, I don’t mean you should starve yourself and become a slave to the treadmill. I want you to enjoy the holidays, remember?
By choosing mostly nutrient-dense foods like lean protein, fruits, and vegetables, you’ll cut down your daily calorie intake. This leaves room for some peppermint-or-pumpkin-spice treats.
Figure out how many calories your body requires for weight maintenance, track your calories, and stick to a slight calorie deficit on most days.
To determine your maintenance calorie needs, multiply your bodyweight by 15. That number estimates your basal metabolic rate (BMR) or how many calories you need to stay alive, plus any activity you do throughout your day.
Eating roughly body weight x15 calories per day will allow you to maintain your current weight. You can expand this to bodyweight x14-16 to find a range that allows you to eat a little more on training days and a little less on rest days.
For instance, a 150-lb person would multiply 150×15 = 2250 calories per day. If we use the range of 150×14 and 150×16, they’d aim to eat 2400 calories on training days, versus 2100 calories on rest days since they don’t need as much fuel to support training.
The next step is to download a meal tracking app like Lose It to keep track of your calorie intake during the holidays.
Tracking will build awareness of how much you’re eating throughout the day and help you keep your energy balance in check.
Eat mostly lean protein, fruits, and vegetables. These foods are “nutrient-dense” while being relatively low in calories. That means you get a ton of nutrition (vitamins and minerals) without breaking the calorie bank.
Here’s a bonus: fruits and vegetables are packed with fiber, which fills you up; protein is highly satiating, meaning it keeps you feeling full long after your meal. Talk about a one-two punch.
Be Proactive (Not Reactive)
Simply tracking what you eat and hitting the treadmill at the gym isn’t enough. That’s like blindly throwing darts at a board and hoping to hit the bullseye. You need to plan ahead!
Being proactive instead of reacting to the demands of the holiday season will set you on a course to lose weight, seemingly against the odds.
Using a calorie app like Lose It, you can plan your meals for the next day to make sure you stick to your calorie budget. You can also “meal prep” so that you have a healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner ready to go when your schedule gets busy. Take some time at the beginning of the week to prepare a big batch of food you can take to work or reheat after a long day.
Plan for treats (and don’t call them “cheats” – who are you cheating on?). By tracking your calories, you’ll see how much room you have to indulge. One Christmas cookie or slice of pie won’t put you over the edge. Tracking helps keep you in check while allowing room to indulge in moderation.
Remember that alcohol counts. At 7 cal/gram, alcohol is more energy-dense than protein and carbohydrates (4 cal/g) but slightly less than fat (9 cal/g).
Plan for this, and log it in your Lose It app. That way, you can enjoy a couple beverages without going over your calorie budget.
How To Navigate Holiday Parties
Recall that weight gain/loss is determined by energy balance, or how many calories you eat versus how many you expend throughout the day. Recall, too, that you should be proactively tracking your calories with an app like Lose It to make sure you eat at or below your weight maintenance calorie needs.
Enter the holiday party. It’s a minefield of tempting cookies, cakes, and tasty alcoholic brews. Waistline beware, right?
You better believe that an un-checked night around the cookie tray will lead to holiday weight gain. But with these tips and tricks, you’ll navigate the buffet without gaining a pound.
- Plan ahead for indulgences. This goes back to the previous post, where we talked about being proactive. If you know you have a holiday party in the evening, dial back your portion sizes at breakfast and lunch to “save up” for treats later in the day.
- Eat a small meal of protein and veggies before the party. Most party spreads are sparse on proteins like meat, fish, and eggs. Eating a small portion of protein before heading out will fill you up because protein is satiating, meaning you’ll be less ravenous and better able to say “no” to that extra helping of cookies or pie. Veggies also help fill you up with high fiber content and contain few calories so you can focus your calorie budget on more fun foods.
- If you can’t eat before the party, sip a protein shake. Again, protein tends to be lacking at holiday parties, and this will satiate you before facing the holiday buffet. In fact, studies show that drinking a protein shake before a meal helps cut down on calorie consumption.
- Set a drink limit for yourself. One or two beverages are enough to loosen up and have fun without annihilating your calorie budget. Stick to liquor and low-cal mixers and avoid calorie bombs like eggnog. For each alcoholic beverage you consume, drink a glass of water. This does two things: slows your pace of drinking, and helps fill you up. Ok, three things – you’ll stay hydrated and avoid a hangover.
- Practice moderation. Don’t be afraid of the cookie tray! If you like certain treats, enjoy them. But don’t eat ten mediocre cookies just because “F*** it, it’s the holidays.” That mentality will lead to self-sabotage and weight gain.
Holiday Workouts To Boost Fat Burning
To stave off holiday weight gain, you need to train smarter, not harder. You workouts need two components to one-two punch fat gain in the face: strength training and sprinting.
Strength training with bodyweight, barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, or any other weights helps to preserve muscle mass. The more muscle mass you have, the more your metabolism will burn calories, even when you’re at rest. This leaves you with a lean, mean, fat-burning machine of a body. And that means you can enjoy more holiday treats!
Sprinting involves short, intense bursts of effort, which ignite your metabolism. Further, sprinting sets off a beneficial hormonal response that sets up your body for fat-burning instead of fat storage. And best of all, sprinting takes less time to deliver better results compared to traditional cardio.
How can you incorporate workouts into your busy holiday schedule?
Schedule 2-4 training sessions into your week. Seriously. Grab your phone and plug in two, three, or four thirty-minute blocks. I’ll wait.
…Ok, cool. Now that your training times are scheduled, stick to those times like an important appointment. Set alerts and reminders if you need to.
When you get to the gym, you’re going to want to:
- Warm up (2-5 minutes)
- Lift something heavy (10-15 minutes)
- Sprint (5-10 minutes)
- Go home and eat protein and veggies to recover.
That’s it. Simple. But let’s break it down further.
What’s a good warm up?
Dynamic stretching and movements that mimic what you’re about to do in your workout. Stretches like walkouts, deep lunge rotations, bird dogs, bodyweight squats and lunges, pushups, and pull-ups will all prepare your body for the work you’re about to do in your workout. Spend about five minutes warming up before hitting the weights.
What exercises are best?
Full-body, compound movements like squats, lunges, deadlifts, presses, pushes, and pulls are best. They activate the most muscles, burn the most calories, and build the most strength and power.
Work to get strong in the 5-8 rep range. Great rep schemes include 4-5 sets of 5, 4×6, and 3×8. Rest about 1 minute between sets to recover before tackling your next set, and move the weights with purposefully good form.
Your heavy lifting should take about ten minutes, including rest.
After training compound movements with heavier weights in lower rep ranges, deload the movements and work in a higher rep range (10-15).
Exercises like goblet squats, split squats, lunge variations, RDL’s, incline and decline dumbbell presses, shoulder presses, lat pulldowns, and rowing variations are great here.
Performing 3-4 sets of accessory exercises provides plenty of training volume.
Move quickly through these exercises, circuit-style, resting just long enough to transition between exercises. This will keep your heart rate elevated and help burn more calories.
A sample workout would look like this:
1) Dynamic warm up drills (5 minutes)
2) Barbell back squat 5×5 (10 minutes)
3a) Goblet squat 4×10-15
3b) Standing DB press 4×10-15
3c) DB Romanian deadlift 4×10-15
3d) Bentover DB row 4×10-15
4) Optional finisher (10 minutes)
Finish things off with… well, “finishers”
Finishers are sprints – high-intensity exercises that get your heart pumping and sweat pouring. My favorite finishers are tabata kettlebell swings, jumping rope, rower intervals, spin bike sprints, or pushing a sled. Spend up to ten minutes on your finisher – if you can go any longer, you’re not pushing yourself intensely enough.
All told, the workout outlined above will take 35-45 minutes, depending on how much you rest between sets (or how crowded the gym may be). You should be able to get in and out of there efficiently, leaving you more time to enjoy the holiday season.
Let’s wrap this up
To avoid gaining weight over the holidays, track your food, prepare healthy meals ahead of time, plan for indulgences, enjoy treats in moderation, strength train 3-4 times per week, and ramp up your training intensity using sprints and finishers.
With this approach, you can avoid gaining any “holiday weight” while setting yourself up for a happy and healthy New Year.
Would you like some help sticking to your goals this holiday season?
The best thing you can do to stay on track over the holidays is hire a coach to guide you. Allow me to create a custom training plan that fits your schedule and a nutrition plan that includes your favorite holiday treats. Plus, I’ll provide the coaching and support you need to stick with your plan when life gets crazy.