Losing Your Figure During the Holidays? Four Tips to Surviving the Holiday Pounds

| November 19, 2013 | 16 Comments

Belly Busters

So it’s that special time of year again! The holidays are now upon us. I’m a little late for Canadian Thanksgiving, but I’m American so I can be a little late on getting this one out. You always get one freebie for the year right?

Now is the time for festive holiday parties filled with little treats and goodies. I can still see the pile of donuts and frosted sugar cookies cut out in little bat and pumpkin shapes set on the decorative orange and black napkins for Halloween. And before you know it they’ll be holiday Christmas parties and celebratory lunches and dinners with the changing seasons. The cakes, the pies, the Boston Cream pies especially! All those yummy treats that everyone has to bring in to share in seemingly limitless quantities. It’s a joyous occasion nearly everyday! So let’s eat, drink and be merry right?

Of course to follow this time of year you also get a grand change of weather, which generally makes exercising that much more difficult, outside of course. Those brisk fall mornings slowly turn into bitter frosts and flurries of snow. To exercise outside you’re probably going to have to invest in a serious wardrobe of neoprene underlayers, overlayers, and windproof coats.

So how do we have our holiday feasts and festivities and avoid the extra weight gain that is generally associated with the holidays?

Well you could just say “stuff it” I’m going to eat, drink, be merry and then accept the consequences upon New Years morning, when everyone else starts their New Year’s Resolution –which generally last about a week before succumbing to life and abandoning those stray ten to fifteen pounds of weight gain to the pattern of life through the ages. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

When you’re first starting out on your holidays there’s a couple of tricks that I’d like to share with you so that you can make it through the holiday season winding up even leaner and more fit than ever before, while enjoying your holiday parties, festive night outs and even the occasional bottles of wine.

Tricks for Treats

  • So to start off, let’s just say you’re already resistance training at least three to four times a week. That’s a great start already to help keep those holiday pounds away! Why?

Because resistance training adds muscle tissue which burns calories. The more you have the more you burn. This is a simple equation. However, did you also know that an hour of hard resistance training helps burn more calories at rest.

That’s important because it lasts up to 24 hours post exercise. So you continue burning those extra holiday treats after you’re done with them.

  • Now let’s talk about some timing considerations. When is the best time to eat those sugary sweets we all crave? If you’re conscious of how you look and feel you’re going to want to shoot to have a sugary treat right after a workout.

Now I’m not talking about a light run in the park. I’m talking lifting some heavy weights and doing a couple rounds of prowler or sprints and then pounding some extra sugary goodness within about three to four hours later.

Why do you say consume carbs after training intensely? Because the muscles have been activated enough to absorb those extra calories. The muscles are an active tissue that will absorb those extra sugar calories before they get converted to fat (simplified version of course).

You have about a two to four hour window when your absorption of calories won’t be turned into that nastiness around the middle and will be devoted entirely to building that hard earned muscle tissue you’re so desperately trying to keep.

  • Now let’s talk about fat storage in specifics. How do we store fat? Just by eating tons of it right? No, not really. We store fat when we over consume on calories and stimulate a large amount of insulin release. The bodies key storage hormone is insulin. Without a lot of insulin we’re not going to store a lot of body fat. You can see this a lot in diabetic patients who inject insulin into their abdomens, where they develop a large fatty deposit surrounding the injection site. Hmmm, funny huh?

No not really, just simple endocrinology.

So how do we lower our insulin response while going to our favorite holiday dinners?

How about eating a good serving a protein before you go out or before enjoying your holiday treats? This helps curb the appetite and slows the secretion of insulin.

You can also have a good portion of fibrous vegetables to slow the secretion of insulin. Although I didn’t mention anything about the judicious quantities that we tend to eat on the holidays this will help control the damage a bit.

  • How about the fed-fasting window. This tends to be a good way to control your body fat year round. The body really only has one of two states, a fed state and a fasted state. In the fasted state we tend to burn more calories from stored sources, like bodyfat. When we’re in a fed state we’re always in a storage mode.

This is a big topic nowadays, called intermittent fasting. I’m a big believer in having selective lengths of time for eating and fasting (or abstaining from intaking any calories). When you’re in the unfed state your body has to rely on stored bodyfat and glycogen for fuel. There’s no other alternative. Your body has to run on something.

As long as you’re not completely starving yourself for lengthy periods of time you will burn fat. Combine that with eating a good amount of protein, healthy fats and fibrous vegetables when you’re not on one of your holiday feasts, you’re going to lose weight.

So if you overindulge one night after a holiday dinner or party, just fast for a couple of hours the next day (if you’re accomplished at this you can even go up to a full day, but I wouldn’t recommend anything beyond that). Throw in a small dose of exercise and it will help burn off those extra stored calories and preserve muscle mass.

Too easy right?

Sum It Up

So to get this all over with quickly to avoid adding those extra holiday pounds and still go out and enjoy your holiday feasts…

  • Resistance train 3-4 days a week, intensely to build some muscle tissue and burn calories for up to 24 hours later
  • Control your insulin levels by eating a good amount of protein and fibrous veggies before you go out or eat some while you’re at dinner
  • Try to have your carbs and sugary treats about 4 hours after resistance training or an intense cardio session to prevent fat storage
  • Try fasting for a day to help increase your bodies ability to burned off stored fat (keep in mind, fasting is an individual thing and should be titrated into a program)
  • Have fun this holiday season! Just remember you don’t have to become the victim to the holiday weight gain like everyone else. 

So let’s get this party started off right! I’ve got an American Thanksgiving dinner to plan for…Branding Beans, Cornbread Stuffing, Turkey with cranberry sauce, gravy, sweet potatoes and green beans for everyone!

The holidays are no worse than any other time of year, they’re just increasingly hard to control your waistline. But if you keep in mind these four easy holiday survival tips you’ll be able to not only wear that little black dress on New Year’s Eve, but you can rock it with an even better looking body. And all your friends will wonder how you did it, while eating cookies and fruit cake.
Photo credit: trazomfreak / Foter.com / CC BY

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Category: Nutrition, Tips, Wellness

About the Author ()

Jess Howland is a Veteran US Army Captain serving as Master of Youth Awesomeness and Strength Coach for Hostyle Conditioning in Orleans, ON. Jess holds a BS degree in Exercise Science from Oregon State University, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), among other training and nutritional certifications. A simple country boy turned lifetime fitness enthusiast and passionate trainer, who inspires everyone he meets to be involved in fitness, strength training and optimal nutrition in support of his personal motto Be Strong, Be Fast, and Be Resilient. Known for his high intensity, hybrid programs and never ending pursuit of fitness endeavors his former colleagues call him by his nickname CAPTAIN SMASH (CPT SMASH) or just SMASH. Jess coaches a wide variety of people as he believes in Hostyle Conditioning’s mission of transforming the ordinary lives of men and women into leading extraordinary lives that are improved through a blend of hybrid strength training and dynamic cardio conditioning. Jess has established himself as a lead trainer in Youth Strength and Conditioning, as well as specialty programming for special populations as military, police/firefighter, nurses and strength sport competitors. As a professional coach, Jess loves what he does to provide purpose, direction and motivation to those who feel that they need help in getting to from A (current fitness level) to B (goal fitness level).

Comments (16)

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  1. Coupons Canada says:

    One thing that helps me is to only allow myself one plate of food. No seconds or thirds, as many of the men in my family do. I also fill up on salad, fruit and veggies before digging in to the main course.

  2. Jess Howland says:

    Dear C-Ca,

    That’s a great strategy as most women can’t eat as much as the menfolk anyway, but having a good dose of fibrous veggies and salad will definitely help keep you fuller and slow insulin release.

    The only piece I would add would be the essential proteins that most women don’t get enough of in their diets. Protein is great because it creates satiety, slows insulin, and helps rebuild tissue.

    Excellent for active exercisers and weight training moms. Of every nutrition strategy out their, increased protein intake is generally one of the top recommendations for those wishing to improve their body compositions and control their daily food intakes.


  3. Lynn m says:

    I make sure to drink lots of water,it fills me up

  4. Maria says:

    A wonderful article. It’s hard to get started in terms of motivation. But I know I need to start working out.

  5. Victoria Ess says:

    Great tips!! I wish I could put them into action!

  6. Jess Howland says:

    @ Lynn, water is a good strategy to help overconsumption on the holidays.

    @ Maria, yes I agree. Many struggle with motivation, especially during the holiday season; however, where there’s a will there is a way. You can always find a friend to exercise or check out some of the classes at your local gym. Some of our classes at Hostyle Conditioning are awesome, because you see your regular customers and make friends with a lot of members that helps keep you motivated. It’s often easier to get motivated when you have others that want the same thing. To get in shape, lose the fat, fit into those old jeans again, and move better. Basically be more awesome.

    @ Victoria, wishing them into action is nice, but it won’t get you very far. The easiest way to start a fitness program is to take action. If you need help just let me know and I can help you get started.

    Trust me, I work for the government. I’m here to help. LOL.

    Thanks for the comments ladies. I appreciate it. It keeps me motivated to ensure I’m on the right track.



  7. Suzanne G says:

    I enjoyed reading all your tips and really agree how important it is to build muscle. I find since I have been doing boot camp and built more muscle over last year I do not need to worry about what I eat so much any more. As far as sweets I really do not bother with them anymore as it has been proven sugar when eaten causes inflammation within the body.

    • Jess Howland says:

      That’s awesome Suzanne! I love hearing how women have taken control of their fitness and lives through a good dose of resistance training and sensible nutrition.

      That daily dose of exercise and getting stronger overall helps not only control your waistline, but establishes a great deal of mental fortitude which helps in everyday life.

      When you’re strong you don’t have to nitpick about everything that you eat. Your body knows what to do with it–build muscle, burn fat.

      Stay strong, be fast, be reslient!

      -CPT SMASH

  8. Heidi C. says:

    Thanks for the helpful hints! Holidays are such a struggle when it comes to staying healthy but if you go in with a strategy, you can stay on top of things!

  9. Allen @ Judo Sweep says:

    There must be proper check on our diet during holidays. Mostly we eat when we are free. A proper diet chart needs to be maintained.

  10. Jess Howland says:

    Thanks Heidi,

    Glad I can help.


    I’m not sure I follow your track. I’m all about enjoying yourselves during the holidays, but just knowing when and how to do it so it doesn’t sabotage your efforts in maintaining your weight and still being awesome!


  11. Marianne says:

    I’m so concerned about this year. I’m currently 25 weeks pregnant and so worried I’ll be 20lbs heavier once Christmas is through. Yikes!

  12. Jess Howland says:

    Dear Marianne,

    Well, you can look at this several ways…

    If you’ve been exercising lightly and within your means while you’re pregnant you’re going to do fine. That’s always a good start when you’re pregnant, and I highly encourage women to do some form of resistance training and light aerobic activity just to keep themselves strong and moving well. It enables you to have a healthy pregnancy without undue complications. This also helps the weight come off quicker since you’re body is adapted to exercise.

    Exercise will help put those extra calories to good use. Although eating a bunch of sugary treats and holiday junk food fare won’t due you or your baby any good.

    Eating for two sometimes get misused and in reality there’s really only an added 350-350kcals difference in caloric expenditure when pregnant.

    Most women in this situation will do great on a diet rich in proteins (every meal), healthy fats and some good slow burning carbohydrates and fibrous veggies. A simple solution is to just fill up on this ‘good stuff’ so you won’t have so much room for all the junk.

    It’s not that we can’t enjoy these tasty treats. It just in how you regulate them. Everyday they’re a problem. Every once in a while not a problem.

    Does that help you out a bit Marianne?


  13. kathy downey says:

    I so much enjoyed reading this post and all the comments some great tips here for everyday living

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