The eating season is upon us. You'll see and hear statistics suggesting people gain as many as 10 pounds during the holidays. Likely you won't put on double-digit weight, but a recent study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that devourers of turkey and Christmas cookies gain an average of 2.2 pounds from mid-November to New Year's Day. Obese people were even more likely to gain extra weight.
The problem is compounded because the bulges accumulate over the holidays and the years. This season, though, can be different. Here are four steps to avoid the belly-ballooning this holiday season and start January 1 ahead of the game.
|Exercise in the Morning|
Instead of losing track of your exercise program among all the festivities, get your training out of the way well before party time. One study from Appalachian State University showed that a vigorous morning cycling workout helped average guys burn an extra 190 calories over the ensuing 14 hours—on top of the 500 calories they burned during the workout. Researchers credit the post-exercise metabolism boost to the workout using more fat and less carbohydrates for energy. (Try this intense 4-minute cardio routine to really kick-up your heart rate.)
Need more motivation to get going Thanksgiving morning? Sign up for a local Turkey Trot. T-Day is the most popular holiday for road racing (676,000 finishers in 2011, according to Running USA, a nonprofit organization that tracks road racing trends) and it's a great addition to your holiday gameplan.
|Dissect the Buffet|
Whether it's a work event or a party with friends, there's usually a buffet. Rather than blindly grabbing a plate and heading to the front of the spread, survey the scene first to decide what you really want. Otherwise you'll just heap everything on your plate as you come to it.
And if you're the one putting out the food, keep the healthy options together and place them front and center. A new study from Cornell University found that when healthy foods like fruit, yogurt, and granola are offered at the head of a breakfast buffet line, only 39 percent of eaters grabbed higher-calorie dishes like cheesy eggs and bacon. When eggs, bacon, and potatoes were positioned first, 78 percent of people tossed them on their plate.
You have to set yourself up for success by having the right food to nosh on while waiting for the main events. I personally love Wonderful Pistachios, especially the salt and pepper variety. You get a little salty flavor and crunch, while also providing your body the protein, fiber, and nutrients needed to keep you away from the less-than-ideal snacks. And according to a 2011 Eastern Illinois University study, munching on in-shell pistachios can help decrease the amount of calories you consume by more than 40 percent. Why? Researchers say opening the shells is a reminder of how much you've already eaten.
Pomegranates can be a great snack as well, and their deep, red color makes them festive this time of year. The problem is until recently they were a pain to eat. You had to open the fruit, remove the seeds, and discard the excess. Now, POM POMs are easy, conveniently packaged pomegranate arils (the technical name for the seeds) that are great for munching. Plus, these antioxidant-rich fruits have been shown to fight inflammation, boost immunity, and suppress the growth of prostate cancer cells.
|Keep Each Holiday to One Day|
Thanksgiving to New Year's is called the Holiday Season, but the key is to avoid a six-week vacation from healthy eating. Enjoy the food on the holiday, but return to your normal routine the next day, including an easy run or gym workout. A recent review in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that the longer it takes you to get back to your usual workouts, the more your enthusiasm to reach those regular physical highs is dulled—meaning one day won't hurt you, but taking a week off can completely throw you off. If you stay inactive until January 1, entering the gym could be daunting.
Following these tips will surely help you stay on track. Don't beat yourself up when you do enjoy a splurge—or two—in the coming weeks. But if you focus between all the shopping and feasting, you won't have to make another resolution to find that disappearing six-pack.