5 Ways To Avoid Holiday Season Weight Gain

When the holiday season gets into full swing, its easy to let go and undo some of the hard work you’ve put in throughout the year. You want to enjoy yourself, but at the same time you don’t want to waste your last month or so worth of training and being food conscious.

Studies showed that the holiday season is the most common time of year for weight gain. They also show that what contributes to people putting on a hefty amount of the weight is them continually putting on weight at this time each year but never losing it. Someone may gain 1kg over this period. This doesn’t sound like much, but if someone does this for 10-15 years, they’ll end up a lot heavier than they were in their 20’s (if they don’t lose it of course).

As coaches, we still like to enjoy ourselves too. I love a big Christmas lunch, I enjoy having dinners out with friends and socialising with a few drinks. It’s all part of the festive season and a great opportunity to spend time with friends and family, to relax and to live a little.

I agree it’s difficult to lose body fat over this period (if that’s your goal). You’re probably not preparing meals as much, there’s more social outings, less structure in your day, trips away etc. Don’t worry I’m with you! However, the key here is to do your best to maintain your current weight. If you do maintain your current weight then you aren’t starting next year behind, you won’t be feeling a little down on yourself for going backwards and will be ready to pick up where you left off without playing catch up. I believe this is just as much of a win at this time of year and the way I like to think about it is — a goal saved is sometimes as good as a goal scored.

So how do we do that exactly and get the balance right between enjoying yourself and not undoing that hard work? There’s a number of strategies I like to use to help achieve this maintenance, so here are 5 tips which will help you avoid unwanted weight gain over the silly season:

1. Exercise as much as you can

It’s a no brainer that exercise burns calories. Increasing energy expenditure through exercising means you can afford to eat a little more than if you didn’t exercise at all, so that’s a win right? You may add in some extra power walking, gym sessions, a jog, bike ride, swim, walking the dogs – whatever it is, something is better than nothing! I personally recommend weights as much as you can as not only will weights training help maintain your strength for when you get back into your normal gym routine, the extra calories you’re consuming may even help you gain a little bit of strength and muscle!

2. “Save up” your calories for outings

Think of your calorie intake as your budget. For you to maintain your body composition, this requires you to consume a certain amount of calories. You may choose to spread this out evenly over a handful of meals or you may like to have less meals that are more calorie dense.

Now if you’re going out for an occasion with dinner and a couple of drinks, you’re generally going to be having more calorie dense food. This requires more calories from your budget. Let’s say for example on this occasion you may be having 1800 calories for this dinner. That’s an expensive chunk of your budget if your maintenance calories are – lets say for this example 2500! But just like saving money whilst on a budget, you can do the same with calories and save your calories for your dinner out by eating less calorie dense meals early in the day. For example, you may have 3 meals that day including your dinner out, where meal 1 and 2 are only 350 calories each – to allow you to have that remaining 1800 calories for dinner and a couple of drinks without spilling over.

I recommend consuming high protein, low carb, low fat meals containing fibre throughout the day in order to save up these calories. These types of meals will also keep you fuller so that you aren’t starving by the time that dinner comes round. These meals may include a large serving of lean proteins such as skinless chicken breast, fish or kangaroo accompanied with a large servings of veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, green beans and spinach etc.

Below is a comparison table demonstrating what someone’s daily calorie intake may look like if they’re applying this calorie saving method, as opposed to not applying it.

Normal Day of Eating Followed by Dinner Out
Meal Food consumed Calories
1 Eggs and Bacon wrap
2 2 cups of brown rice, Atlantic Salmon Fillet, garden salad 800
3 2 glasses of red wine, Sirloin steak, chips, salad, chocolate mud cake 1800
Daily total = 3400 calories
Maintenance = 2500 calories
Spillover = +900calories
Calorie Saving Method Followed by Dinner Out
Meal Food consumed Calories
1 Egg whites omelette with chopped spinach, mushroom, onion. Protein Shake and black coffee 350
2 3 Grilled basa fillets, 250g cauliflower and brocolli 350
3 2 glasses of red wine, Sirloin steak, chips, salad, chocolate mud cake 1800
Daily total = 2500 calories
Maintenance = 2500 calories
Spillover = 0 calories

As you can see, in both days the 3rd meal being the dinner out was the same. The only difference in the days was what they ate prior in meals 1 and 2. The calorie saving method allowed for the meal to be enjoyed within the calorie budget, however the normal day of eating resulted in the large spill over.

3. When eating out choose the option on the menu with the highest amount of protein

When it comes to calories protein should be your highest priority macronutrient. When eating out choose an option on the menu containing the largest serve of protein, whether it’s chicken, fish, pork loins, steak etc and this will generally ensure you’re on the right track to hitting your protein target. The other plus side to this is that these options generally fill you longer and tend to be lower calorie meals. When choosing where to eat out, it might help to look up the menu in advance to see if the place has high protein options. That way you still get to eat out and socialise, you get to eat a nice meal and it’s not going to blow you miles over your calorie count.

4. Eating beforehand

This strategy may be helpful if you know there’s a lot of high calorie food at the gathering ahead. It’s also useful if you have a large appetite and you know you can’t control yourself when it comes to tasty foods being in front of you. This may be a good option especially if you’ve barely eaten all day and you feel as though you’re hungry enough to eat a horse before going to your outing. Eating beforehand (low calorie, nutritious foods of course such as some suggestions in point 2) will decrease that starving feeling and limit the amount of treats you may be able to stomach. That way you still get to enjoy some of the nice stuff but you’re less likely to be eating a day’s worth of calories in just one meal.

5. Choosing Lower Calorie Alcoholic Beverages

If alcohol is likely to be part of your festivities, you should try to be as calorie friendly with it as you can — especially if you’re going to have more than a couple of drinks. Alcohol is often referred to as empty calories due to it not carrying any nutrition benefits with its consumption.

Try avoiding beers, ciders, sweet wines, cocktails and spirits mixed with sugary drinks and find substitutes for them that are a little lower on calories when you’re having more than 1 or 2 drinks. These may include substituting drinks such as vodka lemonades for vodka, lime and soda’s, or scotch and cokes with scotch and diet coke.

These substitutes really do make a substantial difference over the course of the night to your energy intake if you are going to have more and more drinks. This is illustrated in the table below:

Alcoholic Drink Calorie Comparisons (generic)
Alcohol Vodka+
Diet Scotch+
(355mL Corona)
Red Wine
Calories in
1 drink
174 70 173 69 148 127 300
Calories in
2 drinks
348 140 346 138 296 254 600
Calories in
5 drinks
870 350 865 345 740 635 1500
Calories in
10 drinks
1740 700 1730 690 1480 1270 3000

(Note: Drink sizes are based on Australian standards where spirit based drinks contain 1 30mL shot)

As you can see, the calories really do add up and you can save hundreds if not thousands of calories with just your choice of drinks — and that’s not even looking at food!

That’s a wrap! Hopefully some of these tips may be helpful for you to avoiding the silly season’s weight gain. Keep in mind, these methods don’t just apply to the Christmas period! They can be used over many of your standard weekends and when you have social outings year round.

With all that said, enjoy the festive season with great food and drink but make a few smarter choices here and there and you’ll thank yourself later.

Seasons greetings and all the best from me and the Miyagi Fitness Team.

Gabriel Lattouf
Miyagi Fitness Coach

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