It’s that time of the year again. Christmas and New Year are fast approaching, and you know that means – lots of food and drinks!
As much as we all enjoy eating during the holidays, it’s for that reason that many of us associate this season with excessive weight gain and the regression of our fitness goals.
In fact, the average person consumes up to 5,373 calories during Christmas dinner leading to weight gain, much higher than the 2,000 and 2,500-calorie per day diet women and men respectively consume on average.
Overeating during the holidays, in turn, leads to a weight gain of around 0.21 kgs following Christmas, according to a 2021 study, while another 2014 study estimated weight gain from mid-November to mid-January at around 0.5 kgs.
This, in turn, leads us to place our training and nutrition on hold and “make up for it” in January next year.
IS Holiday Weight Gain Inevitable?
This now brings us to the question – is weight gain just unavoidable and something we should accept?
The holidays are a time to enjoy and bond with family and people that matter to you, and there’s no reason to withdraw from dinners to feel self-deprived.
The best diet is the one you can stick to long term, which will require flexibility.
You can still enjoy the food you love while still practicing mindfulness, as shown in a 2018 study where monitoring one’s weight combined with weight loss tips and calorie tracking prevented weight gain over the holidays.
Should I skip meals?
Let’s say you’re anticipating an event later during the day where you know you’ll be served a lot of food. Do you cut your calories now to “save up” for later?
While this may vary per person, the strategy may be helpful when done right based on 2019 study done on the topic; wherein those who skipped breakfast ate 260 calories less when compared to the study participants who didn’t skip.
Now, does this mean we should all do this and skip meals? Not really. Some of us may, in fact, compensate for those missed meal/s and end up taking in more calories, in which case you should still stick to your regular eating schedule.
Just as certain diets aren’t for everyone, neither is this. Pick the approach you believe works best for you and stick to it.
Eating during the holidays: your gameplan
Now that you got to pick which approach you want to follow leading to your Christmas and New Year’s feast, let’s get to the actual tips. These are tips you can use during the days themselves if you choose to skip meals or something you can even apply to your prior meals if you chose to stick to your normal eating schedule.
#1 Load up on protein
While protein is usually associated with bodybuilding and muscle gain, this can also reduce your caloric intake since this helps keep you full a lot easier, as shown by the current research on the topic.
Eating at least 0.8 grams of protein per kg of your body weight should allow you to take advantage of this effect, which will be a lot easier with lean protein sources such as chicken, turkey, low-fat cheese, lean cuts of beef and even non-meat options such as tofu and Greek yogurt.
The immediate benefits of loading up on protein go beyond just filling you up easier. Protein also has the highest thermic effect – meaning your body has to burn more calories just to digest it! As much as 20 to 30 percent of calories you consume from protein is burnt of by your body!
#2 Load up on fiber
Remember when you were told to eat your veggies? Increasing your fiber intake is another great way of keeping yourself full even when trying to reduce your caloric intake.
High fiber combined with high protein intake makes you much less likely to overeat. Just make sure to find fruits and vegetables you enjoy!
#3 Prioritize less calorically-dense food
We should be aiming to cut down on our calories and not necessarily on our food intake. Picking foods that naturally have fewer calories allows us to actually eat more while losing weight!
This brings us to the topic of calorie density, which is crucial when reducing your total daily caloric intake. Since fibrous carbohydrates such as fruits and vegetables tend to have far fewer calories per gram, this makes them an excellent choice to go for – another reason to eat them!
This is also something that’s been confirmed by existing research on calorie density affecting caloric intake. Even eating an apple can naturally lead to taking 15 percent fewer calories per meal, which can add up. The same goes for other less calorically dense foods, which can reduce your caloric intake by 16 percent!
#4 Stay hydrated
Drinking water isn’t something we typically think of when trying to reduce calories, yet it is one of the most effective things you can do to curb hunger. Just like food, water fills up your stomach, which then leads you to eat less when done before a meal.
This is another simple but very effective trick you can use, as shown in a more recent 2018 study looking at the effect of pre-meal water consumption. Drinking just before eating led to the participants taking in fewer calories – showing how this could be a valuable strategy.
#5 Take advantage of low/zero calorie drinks
Notice how every tip is interconnected with the other? This makes sticking to each one a lot easier!
While water helps keep you full, low and zero-calorie drinks can keep you satisfied while not packing on the calories you’d get from sugar-sweetened drinks. This may help reduce caloric intake by up to 239 based on the findings of a 2016 study.
This, however, is only an effective strategy provided it doesn’t cause you to compensate and snack more in effect, as the effect may vary from person to person.
You may even extend this rule to alcoholic drinks when done right, where you pick the “light” alternatives to popular beverages you enjoy.
This might not be the season where most people think about training and nutrition, but there’s no reason to put these priorities aside, either.
You don’t need to feel forced to place fitness in the backseat out of peer pressure and just “let loose” and ruin your progress.
You might ease off a bit, but that’s not to say you’ll regress during the holidays. There’s nothing wrong with staying consistent this season while still enjoying this time of year with your loved ones.