You’ve heard the usual advice to eat slowly, limit snacking, eat small portions, etc. – standard health tips that are repeated ad nauseum. Sure, those tips may have a time and place, but Christmas dinner is not one of them, right? When you’re gathered with friends and family, there’s nothing ‘holly jolly’ about counting calories.
Even when individuals follow multiple conventional strategies to avoid weight gain, they still gain an average of 1.5 lbs during the holiday season (r).
Unconventional, yet Effective, Strategies
For those who don’t want to feel like they’re being nagged by their calorie-counting conscience, here are some strategies to help you enjoy the holidays without feeling deprived.
1. Get plenty of sleep. Sleep deprivation tends to make us overeat and make poor food choices (ref), so aim to be well-rested going into a busy holiday.
2. Do a pre-meal workout. Fire up your muscles to make room for any glucose load that you might drop on your system. It doesn’t have to be an extensive workout. It could be as simple as a set of pushups, pullups, or bodyweight squats.
3. Eat low carb. Elevated glucose levels trigger a spike in insulin, which turns off fat burning, and drops in glucose levels trigger hunger. Thus, stability of glucose levels is important for regulating metabolism and hunger.
4. Prioritize the protein. Don’t you dare touch the salad or potatoes until after you’ve devoured some prime rib! Meat is the most nutrient-dense food on Earth, significantly richer in micronutrients than plants. The timing of macronutrient intake matters – eating proteins before carbohydrates is a useful strategy to reduce total energy intake and better regulate your glucose response to your meal.
5. Separate alcohol consumption from mealtime. Like it or not, your body views alcohol as a toxin. As such, when alcohol is present in your body, your metabolic machinery focuses its efforts on metabolizing and eliminating the alcohol (ref, ref). That means that the carbs and fat in your meal don’t get metabolized until that work is done. All that extra energy from the carbs and fat can’t just sit around in the bloodstream, though – it gets stored as fat. This preference to metabolize alcohol suggests that alcohol is better consumed at a time separate from the main meal, except maybe a few sips of that full red that pairs so well with the prime rib.
6. Understand the Dessert Effect. Remember when you pushed yourself away from the dinner table at Thanksgiving, repulsed at the thought of taking even one more bite of turkey, and then you miraculously made room for pumpkin pie an instant later. That’s your brain rejoicing at the novelty of a highly-rewarding combination of ingredients – sugar and fat – and explains why we always have room for dessert. Take your time to savor small bites of dessert.
7. Move your body after eating. Before sinking into the couch for hours watching football on TV, do some sort of physical activity to mitigate the glucose response of the meal. Even light physical activity for just 10 minutes performed after a meal is effective to reduce the glucose excursion from carbohydrate consumption, ideally 30 minutes after the beginning of the meal (ref).
8. Monitor your glucose response to food. Consider using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to learn how your body responds to food, activity, etc. in terms of the impact on your glucose levels. The real-time data available from the CGM is priceless and can alert you to harmful spikes in your glucose levels.
9. If you’re going to feast, you need to fast. If you repeatedly pour excess energy into your body, you will inevitably gain weight, unless you do something extra-ordinary to counter that input. Thus, you must create some form of energy deficit in order to make up for an indulgence. That can take the form of skipping meals or engaging in physical activity. Take advantage of the “metabolic boost” – a revving up of your metabolic rate following a large meal.