6 Strategies to avoid holiday weight gain

Avoiding holiday weight gain

Avoid holiday weight gain this year with a few simply strategies that you can apply year round.

What if you could go through the holidays while:

  • Avoiding the year end holiday bloat meltdown? 
  • Feeling like you need to overhaul your life come January?
  • Enjoying the festivities without nagging guilt, shame and social anxiety over your food options?
  • Hanging out with your friends and family without being the odd ball out who's on a diet?
  • Feel great, in control of how you look and feel?

Sounds like good times? Cool. This one's for you.

My personal holiday weight-gain record is 37 pounds. So I like to think I know a thing or two about eating.

Squirrel stuffing mouth

Eating expert level unlocked

I might even just consider myself an expert...

Alas, though I enjoy food, I also enjoy looking like I lift (and not just the fork to my mouth). I've spent enough years as a bloated mess to know the holiday free-for-all isn't worth the trade-off. 

Many years in a row I'd vowed to do better with my own holiday weight gain conundrum only to wake up January first in a haze of booze and powdered sugar feeling like I need to rethink my life choices. Knowing you've ruined months of work in a span of weeks or even days and understanding the daunting road to get back to where you were is deflating.

It took me a number of years to find an approach that had me stop trying to do better, and actually do better.

You see like most people I want to live my life without obsessing over my plate, I don't think it's fun to count calories, or gram of protein, I love to eat pizza, and like to train but don't live to train.

Shocking I know considering what I do for a living...I'm just...like...you.

After enough trial and tragic (yet delicious I do say) failure, I eventually figured out some winning strategies to making the holidays fun without needing a new wardrobe come boxing day (that's what we here Canadians call the day after Christmas for my international friends).

Canadians drinking maple syrup

Prepping for boxing day...

A nice by-product of taking these actions was it actually made me enjoy my time more.

When you feel you're in control, not stressing about what you're doing or not doing, and feel physically good in your body funny enough it makes life better...who knew?

6 Strategies to avoid holiday weight gain this year

Big Picture Planning

Break out the calendar, literally.

Let's look at the month as a whole. Which days are you going to be knowingly getting together with people, eating without regard, and doing the holiday things. Now how many meals does this affect? Try to be objective about this, leave the self-conscious guilt at the door, no one is judging, I just want you to count them.

If we're being honest you realistically only have 5-8 meals like this. If you eat 3 meals per day on average, that's 93 meals in the month of December. That's only 5-8% of your meals. In the grand scheme of things that's a drop in the bucket.

Doesn't seem that bad right? It shouldn't. 

So where does it all go wrong?

Avoiding holiday weight gain is more about avoiding the holiday by-products. Typical things to look out for are:

Leftovers - Unless they're conducive to your goals give them away, don't take them home, freeze them or compost them.

Extra snacks throughout the day - Practice moderation and a level of mindfulness, you don't need extra snacks daily just cause it's the holidays.

Stuff you have around the house or at work - Make this stuff harder to get to if you need to have it around, top shelf, bottom cupboard, basement, just throw some obstacles in the way.

Letting free-for-all holiday meals turn into free-for-all days  - Just because you're a little salt and water loaded doesn't mean you broke anything, get back to normal next meal I promise you'll be back in no time.

Mapping this out allows us to see that's there's plenty of space in the month to do better, it shows us where our focus should be (the free days/times) and it also gives us real guidelines of what time isn't available or realistic.

This is a habit you can use anytime of year not just to avoid holiday weight gain. 

Often times we set overly ambitious plans to do something, but then get surprised that we don't have the physical and mental capacity to do it simply because we had a bunch of "unexpected" stuff come up.

Often though the reality is those things were always coming we just didn't step back far enough to see the big picture and we didn't plan it with the same diligence we do things like our work. 

Keep Moving

Going back to that plan we just made it's time to find spaces in that calendar where you can keep your workout routine going.

The one good thing the forced isolation of COVID-19 has reminded us is that exercise is possible in a number of different ways, and places.

If you're travelling it's a fun opportunity to explore a new gym wherever you're going or crush a home/hotel workout.

Why is this is so important?

Ever hit a great workout and feel more motivated to make better choices? Yep that feeling is what we're looking to keep in our lives.

Continuing some form of exercise routine isn't about curbing holiday bloat by burning extra calories. Though it helps, it's more about creating more positive inputs in your week that reflect the type of person you are or want to be.

It is the linchpin that holds your habits together.

It's okay to throttle back your active training over the holidays, and you likely should but I wouldn't simply stop entirely.

This also gives you an opportunity to explore outdoor activities like walking, hiking, sledding, skiing, snow shoeing which can be a lot of fun.

As a bonus this usually involves others which makes it a great way to connect and spend quality time.

Know what you're eating the other days

Having some sort of meal structure is something I advocate at all times not just avoiding holiday weight gain. It's a foundational habit I teach as part of my coaching program.

It doesn't have to be tedious, it could literally be 5 minutes (Check this out). 

Simply knowing what you're going to eat takes away the majority of those "I was starving so I ate the fridge" and those "I'll just order some slow ass delivery that I'll feel bad about later" eating moments. 

It's especially important during the holidays because it's when many are busier than normal, having a plan of what you're going to eat, and even preparing some of it at a convenient time like weekends can really go a long way to saving you time, frustration, and your waistline.

2 Big Timesavers:

Boring breakfast
Breakfast can be boring, cycle through the same 1-2 things daily or prep a bunch in advance and have it ready to go.

Easy go to's are scrambles, overnight oats, greek yogurt parfaits and shakes. 

Leftover lunches
Lunch should be leftovers from dinner, go back and see my
5 minute meal planning.

High and low days keep the holiday bloat at bay

This one is a more advanced strategy. Using what I call protein fasts (windows of time where you eat little other than lean proteins) you create days where you eat marginally less food than normal (low days), so that you can have days where you eat more (high days).

Calories dictate weight gain or loss (more on this here), if we create a calorie deficit over the course of a week we have a buffer to eat a little more at some later point. The amount we eat on a weekly average tends to matters more than what we do daily.

Using protein only feedings allows us to eliminate some calories in a day but not feel starved, we're simply manipulating total daily calories.

What this looks like in practice:

If you normally have 3 meals per day + a snack then that becomes 2 meals + 1-2 small lean protein (veggies can be added for extra volume, think big ass salad) meals or 1-2 shakes.

This over the course of a week like Monday to Friday creates a calorie deficit which you can reinvest into a weekend or holiday meal.

Why just protein and optionally veggies? Because both fill you up for few calories and protein helps curb cravings and keep you satisfied between meals as well as helping you retain muscle in a calorie deficit.

Don't go in empty

The worst thing you can do is starve all day and expect even a modicum of self control when it comes time to eat.

Too often I hear something along the lines of "I didn't eat at all before the meal because I was saving the calories" and "I didn't have anything before and I just couldn't stop eating once I started."

Starving at the table

No self control to be found in this state

Eating regular meals throughout the day ensures you have the capacity to practice a level of mindfulness at all meals.

Mindfulness is at the core of my coaching programs because it serves you in all eating situations, from avoiding holiday weight gain to business lunches, to busy work days, and even ordering from the drive through.

Eating regular meals means hunger never gets overwhelming so it allows you to eat and be satisfied with regular portions, and be able to stop eating when you're satisfied. 

Not just crushingly stuffed to the point of needing to lie on the ground and undo your your pants to relieve the tremendous pressure on your gut...No? just me?

Progress not Perfection


Look, at the end of the day you do this stuff to enjoy your life more.

You get to decide what you're willing to do or not do and what that's worth to you.

Personally I still usually suffer from a little holiday weight gain but it's usually some water and salt bloating that I can get rid of the next week or two. So not to the point where I'll need to spend the next 6 months undoing the damage.

To me that's good enough. You get to decide what your good enough is.

The goal is to enjoy yourself, be with the people you love, maintain a level of control and feel good in my body without feeling deprived. 

The point is you can likely do better than you have but understand it doesn't mean you need to be perfect. Even if you do 10% better than last year, that means you'll be 10% better going into next. 

That's an attitude you can carry with you year round, Happy Holidays!

Carleton banks christmas dance

About the author 

Coach Jason

Coach Jason Ingham is a personal trainer, nutrition coach, and founder of BID Health and Performance. Jason has spent more than 20 years practicing the art of lifting and coaching, continually refining his skill set to help his clients build bodies they're proud of pain-free while doing what they love.

When he's not in the gym you'll probably find him buried in a book, exploring the city's restaurants, or crushing the latest streaming sci-fi or fantasy series with his partner Bailey.

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