Here Joy McCarthy tells us about a common health problem she’s seen in her practice and how she came to a solution.
The Client: Anna, 35, art director, mother of one.
The Problem: During the holiday season Anna gains 5-7lbs, but each year it was getting harder to shed her overindulgence weight once January rolled around.
Anna came to see me at the beginning of November because she wanted some strategies for the coming holiday season to stay healthy, happy and in control. She was feeling very anxious about her calendar which was booked up every single weekend in December with holiday parties and many weeknights as well.
She knew based on previous years that there would be excessive consumption of alcohol and too much food. Every year, she gained on average of 5-7lbs but what bothered her most was that she always felt like she had no control over it and felt depressed in January because of her muffin top.
This is an all too common scenario for many people during the holiday season. Consciously or not, most people eat more and drink more, and the calories do add up — especially if all your party food choices are poor and you are exercising less. However, don’t get stressed about holiday season indulgence, just keep a few of these strategies in mind and you will breeze through it with success (and feel lighter and happier in January).
Five Tips for Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain
1. Watch your alcohol intake — Let’s break it down: alcohol is sugar, and excess sugar in the body will eventually convert to fat. Holiday weight gain will happen fast if you regularly indulge in a few too many. Getting completely “hammered” was the norm at social events in Anna’s industry, so she felt social pressure to drink. I suggested she drink a glass of sparkling water with lemon or lime in between each alcoholic drink. No one will know the difference and she will drink less alcohol overall and stay hydrated.
2. Don’t starve all day to save your calories for the big meal — Anna did this every year for her seven-course festive family Christmas dinner. This is a big mistake. When you skip meals, not only does your blood sugar fall too low (giving you cravings), but your metabolism goes into super-slow mode to conserve energy. Result? You end up eating twice as much later on than if you had eaten healthfully all day. You will make better food choices when you avoid doing this because you won’t be “starving” by the time food gets to your plate.
3. Eat smaller portions and chew chew chew — This is my personal secret to staying in control throughout the holidays. I try a little of everything I like, even dessert, but I chew my food slowly. My rule of thumb to not deny myself of anything, but to have less and not go back for seconds. Remember, it takes 20 minutes for your stomach to signal to your brain that you are full. In Anna’s family, it was tradition to feast and feast and feast. She felt good about this tip because if she put less on her plate and ate slowly, no one would harass her to eat more (her family members were notorious for this).
4. Get off the couch today — Don’t wait till January to start an exercise regime. Aim to exercise 30-45 minutes every day. Exercise can be cumulative — so park further away from the shopping mall, take the stairs, walk to your holiday party. Exercises boosts your mood and your metabolism. Anna wasn’t exercising but she told me she felt her best when she did and was excited to start slowly by going to the gym in her office during her lunch hour at least two times per week.
5. Fill up on fiber rich snacks — Choose the party snacks that are richest in minerals, vitamins and fiber. Fiber keeps you fuller longer and slows the rate at which sugar enters the blood stream (preventing the crash later on). Good choices are veggies and dip, whole wheat pita and hummus, salsa and blue corn chips, unsalted nuts and seeds. Avoid trans fat-laden mini quiches, sausage rolls, bread with mayo-based dips and sugar-packed treats.
The strategies I gave Anna were enough to inspire her to stay on track. She felt confident about the upcoming holiday season and ready to bring in the New Year with a healthy new attitude.
Joy McCarthy, Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Health Coach of Joyous Health, loves to inspire others to eat well and live well. Co-creator of Eat Well Feel Well a holistic nutrition & yoga program in Toronto.
Please note: This advice is not meant to treat or diagnose, please consult a certified practitioner or your family doctor for any serious health issues.