As we’re currently in the swing of the holiday season, with a little over a week until Christmas day as of the time of this writing, I wanted to share a few of the strategies I have been recommending to clients as they begin their travels and their preparation for what to do when confronted with a seemingly limitless number of high sugar, high fat treats and desserts, whether it be at the office, at social gatherings, or at family dinners.
Strategy #1: Re-Allocating Your Food Intake
While how you spread out your food intake can have an impact in the long run on your body composition, at the end of the day, your total intake is going to have the largest contribution. So, the simple act of shifting the majority of your intake into “high pressure” situations can make a huge difference.
For example, let’s say I’m a 40-year-old male who is eating about 2,200 calories per day to lose fat. All I need to do is ensure that I try to stay as close to that number as possible so that, even though it may not be optimal for fat loss, it won’t encourage any significant amount of fat gain. Again, using some hypothetical numbers, let’s say that I usually split my intake up over 4 meals relatively evenly, which would break out to about 550 calories per meal (2,200/4 = 550). Instead of continuing on my normal pace and then adding a bunch of holiday food, I want to simply replace my normal food choices with whatever I want.
So in this case, let’s say I’m meeting my family for a late lunch at my parents’ house and plan on staying until late evening. My plan for the day might look something like this:
Meal 1 – Breakfast
4oz ground turkey burger patty
1 hardboiled egg
2 cups sauteed peppers
Calories = 200
Meal 2 – Mid-Morning Snack
1 scoop whey protein
12oz almond milk
1 large whole cucumber, chopped
Calories = 150
What I’ve done is still make sure that I’m giving myself adequate nutrition (protein, vegetables) without a huge calorie impact. In fact, at only about 350 calories before lunch, I’ve left myself a pretty solid amount of wiggle room for the later meals.
I should note that it’s not incredibly important to track the calorie intake at these meals specifically, although you definitely can. Just understand that the goal here is to keep your body fed with the bare essentials and prevent any significant hunger from accumulating. No extra fats (cooking oils, nuts, avocados, high-fat meats) or sugary or starchy carb sources (fruits, sweet potatoes, rice, etc) at the early meals since there will be plenty coming later in the day.
So now I’m left with around 1,900 calories to do with as I want the rest of the day. While 1,900 is definitely a lot of food, it goes by pretty quick with processed and refined foods, so you’ll still want to take a few steps to help regulate your intake later in the day. Here is what I would suggest:
Meal 3 – Late Lunch
For your first plate, split it 50/50 with the leanest protein you can find (fortunately, things like turkey and ham are pretty easy to come by at holiday parties) and whatever green vegetables you can find (salads without a ton of dressing, green beans, whatever is available). Finish that, and then drink a big glass of water – around 16-20 ounces.
Then, for your second plate, eat (and drink) whatever you like. By getting the protein and greens out of the way first, you know that you’ve done a few things:
- You made sure you fulfilled your basic nutrient needs for the meal
- You took in food that digests more slowly to help keep blood sugar reasonably stable compared to if you hadn’t
- You filled up on dense foods so there’s less room overall for the high-sugar, high-fat stuff
You can simply repeat those same steps at your next meal if you so choose, or you can simply switch back to a regular meal composition based on personal preference and how much you ate at Meal 3.
Strategy #2: Feast & Fast
This particular strategy works very well either on its own, or paired with the above steps from strategy #1.
The concept is pretty straightforward – all you are going to do is fast for approximately 14-16 hours after your last meal before eating again. So if you eat your last meal around 8pm on Thursday night, you wouldn’t eat again until 10am-12pm on Friday.
Why is it valuable to fast? There are a few reasons.
- You just ate A TON OF FOOD. Your body needs time to digest and to cope with the excess. Eating before your body has had a chance to work its magic with all those fatty acids and glucose just increases the odds of some of it being stored as fat.
- You’re re-allocating some of your calories. By pulling back on overall intake on Friday, you can again limit or even prevent fat gain.
Now, why can’t you just cut your calories for the day by, say, 500, and eat your normal meals? You could do that. The problem is that, especially after coming off of a high-calorie day, your appetite might be up a little bit. Cutting 100-200 calories out of each meal might leave you feeling unsatisfied at the end of each meal, leading to a higher likelihood of giving in to additional temptation and binging on more than you need. By fasting, you still get to enjoy a few pretty decently-sized meals and get the feeling of fullness, which can be a huge mental key in controlling your urges for more treats.
Strategy #3: Burn As Much As Possible
The premise here is pretty simple – if calories in are going to go up, you need to make sure that calories out are increasing as well.
The idea is simple – before you go crazy at the dinner table, sneak off for 15-20 minutes and get some work done. You can do sprints, you can go for a run, if your gym happens to be open you can head out for a good workout before heading to your family gathering, whatever works. You don’t have to do it literally right before you eat – not everybody feels comfortable sneaking off to the guest room at Grandma’s house and grinding out a few bodyweight Tabata circuits. Just do it whenever possible.
No equipment? No problem. I have a few of my clients doing this:
20 reverse lunges
20 bodyweight squats
60 second front plank
Keep rest as limited as possible. Repeat for 15-20 minutes.
Hell, I even have a few guys doing 100 pushups before every meal. Not only do you burn extra calories, but how many guys are satisfied with their chest development anyway? Two birds, people. TWO. BIRDS.
As you can see, there is plenty that you can do to keep fat gain at bay. It just takes a little planning, and you’ll be able to avoid having to burn off an extra 10 pounds that you gained over the holiday season. Whether you end up ultimately losing some extra fat, or even just maintaining your current composition, ultimately that’s much better than developing a belly that’ll rival Santa’s.