If you’re trying to maintain or lose weight over a holiday (hello Thanksgiving turkey and Mom’s stuffing), use these strategies to savour every one of your favourite dishes – without hitting the screw it button just to feel bloated, up 5 lbs and off track afterwards.
You can have anything, but not everything:
The increase in what we eat, combined with being less active on those long rainy weeks typically means a calorie surplus > even 200 calories per day is going to add up when we do it all month long, meaning extra pounds, and feeling tired, defeated and bloaty by the time Thanksgiving, Halloween and then Christmas turns in to NYE.
But this commonly touted strategy is backfiring, here’s why:
Skipping meals or eating SUPER clean before a party, drinks or holiday meal does two things that we absolutely don’t want when you’re about to be in front of a bunch of delicious treat foods.
1. A big calorie deficit in one day increases hunger hormones as the day wears on, which lowers impulse control AND ramps up your brain’s reward pathways for treat food. So, when you do go to eat both what you choose and how much will be driven by that dopamine fuelled pleasure part of your brain, not your rational goal based one.
2. Increases cognitive restriction, the effect on your brain and food choices is that once you go to vent the pressure, that elastic band of control snaps and again that feel good part of your brain is now in the driver’s seat of what you choose, how much you eat, and whether you heed your fullness cues.
Don’t sweat it if you’ve done this – I hear it as advice often, and it’s well-intentioned but doesn’t take into account how our body, brain and biochemistry responds to that big drop in food early in the day when we’re most active.
Here’s what to do instead:
I’ve helped 100’s of clients over a decade plus maintain or lose weight despite Turkey dinners, rainy nights in with red wine and appies, food heavy holiday parties and all-inclusive escapes.
Focus on your weekly calorie average instead of daily.
This doesn’t mean you have to track in an app, but you may want to save/skip some smaller treats you’d usually have over the week to make room for something big on the weekend. Things like your usual mocha or holiday latte, weekly sushi lunch with colleagues, or pizza night on a Friday can be replaced or scaled back with something lighter and more balanced to make space. Think lots of protein and non-starchy/lower carb plant foods. Sub in sashimi + edamame + spinach gomae for that work lunch, 1 slice off pizza instead of 3 and a big salad, and a regular unsweetened or sugar free latte.
Plan for some intentional movement each week. Now I don’t want you to start “working off” every calorie extra you think you eat for two reasons.
One, it sets up a really unhealthy dynamic of earning food, guilt and obsess-y thoughts.
Two, calorie estimates from even the best watches are terrible, they usually overestimate by quite a bit. What I do want you to do is make sure you are doing at least as much exercise as you would have in September, October or November.
Often biking, hiking, and walks outside go down when the weather turns > schedule your usual workouts and find alternatives if outdoors just doesn’t appeal to you. Virtual personal trainers, a yoga subscription or sign up for an in-person class/membership if that external accountability and social time motivates you! Do not wait until January to sort this, it doesn’t have to be perfect > just schedule and plan for what is doable right now. Even if that’s meeting a friend twice a week at the gym to side by side walk on the treadmills.
Choose your extras thoughtfully and go into each party with a plan.
Holiday treats, drinks with friends you haven’t seen in awhile and family dinners are special and should be enjoyed! The trick here is to mindfully choose what YOU love, and skip the rest. Not a sweets person, decline dessert or have a really small slice just to taste it. Love pumpkin pie? Go easier on wine, dinner rolls and balance your plate out with some veggies to make space for a few days of extra pie carbs. Not a huge fan of stuffing? Skip it and fill up on turkey, potatoes or whatever part of the holiday meal you love the most. The rule – if you don’t love it, don’t eat it.
This may mean leaving some food on your plate, and prioritizing your body and preferences over someone else’s feelings – but you shouldn’t be eating something you don’t really love or won’t agree with you just because Great Aunt Sharon might be offended. That’s about her, not you.
And if having some external accountability to stay true to your plan for a mix of healthy choices and holiday treats would be helpful, apply here and let’s chat! I still have space in my 12 week group fat loss program and we talk strategies for navigating these practical challenges every week (plus, how to get back on track if things go off the rails).
Need some help getting your meals for the week balanced and prepared? If you’d like to receive our free Meal Planning Getting Started Guide AND get in on our weekly emails about all things nutrition so you can get clarity and confidence on what you’re eating, join us here!