Holidat Weight Gain

How to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain – Don’t Gain Weight Over Holidays

Holidays are around the corner, and with it comes social reunions, family time, company dinners, alcohol, and a lot of food. A field of temptations and cravings that often lead to "Holiday Weight Gain". But this can be avoided easily.

Holiday weight gain is a thing. People suffer through the entire year dieting and throw everything away when it comes Christmas. Months of suffering and cutting calories, and now you are there, eating your second round of sweets and thinking about the third one.

In this post we'll go through how to avoid holiday weight gain from a scientific point of view. Stay tuned and now and you'll stay lean after Christmas.

HOLIDAY WEIGHT GAIN AND BINGE-EATING

Holiday Weight Gain is the final product of almost a month of binge eating and bad eating behaviour. Binge eating is a pattern of disordered eating consisting of episodes of uncontrollable eating. Often related to restricted diets and very low calorie regimes, it creates a bad relationship with food.

To see it more graphical, think about it as a balloon:
You inflate it a blow every day you crave something and resist to it. The balloon starts being bigger and bigger. It starts to be so tight and big, that one day, a simple blow (another normal craving) makes the balloon to explode and you cannot resist anymore.

Restricted low calorie diets are the main cause of binge eating (study). If prolonged over time, it may lead to severe health consequences such as neurological disorders, anxiety, food disorders,.. (study)

Christmas and any other holidays may contribute negatively to this behaviour. Temptations during this season are very high and prominent, and it's so easy to get out of track and go crazy with food. Before we get into how to avoid it, let's see what causes this binge eating and holiday weight gain.

WHAT TRIGGERS HOLIDAY WEIGHT GAIN?

Most people does gain weight over Christmas, but none of them know how they got there. In fact, it's only at the end of the night when they realize how much they ate and all the food they put in their mouths. And not only the food, but also the few (and not few) drinks coming after, the sweets going around the table,...

It's totally fine to do it if you are aware of it, but not being conscious of what you are eating leads to misconceptions and misunderstandings with your own body. In this study, they showed how health consciousness affected food choice and behaviour towards food and diet (study).

This behaviour is controlled by our 'desire and reward system'. It drives our emotions and behaviours towards food and other types of pleasure. It's formed by a 'want' and a 'need'. When we trigger the 'want' dopamine peaks and motivation is high, which makes us action to complete the 'need'.

Reward System

Triggering a bad behaviour is multifactorial. There are many aspects to consider when evaluating the binge-eating, but for the sake of our understanding we can divide these in three: psychological, social and chemical.

Psychological triggers

Binge eating is sometimes simply caused by a bad relationship with the inner you. Depression, anxiety, discomfort,... all these require of some kind of reward to make you feel better (study).

And holiday meals are the best for this. You are with your family, a bunch of food on the table.... and two hours later you are sick of eating but still holding a piece of chocolate and waiting for the second one to come.

Social Triggers

Everyone is eating 'normal' and you don't want to be the one choosing the salad on the table, restricting the chips and croissants, or not eating dessert. In some way, peer pressure influences your behaviour (study).

To feel 'normal' and get in the vibes of the night, we force ourselves to eat whatever they put us in the table, without even thinking if we really want it or not. One thing leads to the other, and peer pressure has a big influence in drinking behaviour as well (study), which usually comes after the big meal.

Chemical Triggers

Our biochemical environment and metabolism are also able to trigger binge-eating behaviour and holiday weight gain. Dopaminergic systems and opiod receptors, for instance, are involved in these actions (study), ultimately driving our desire and need to eat more.

In this paper it was seen how opioid receptors in the brain increased as binge-eating became more frequent (study). These receptors are involved in addiction behaviour and pleasure.

Similarly, dopamine peaks when we need or crave something (like food). This dopamine peak leads us to the need of binge-eat, and it's when we do it when we feel satisfied (study)

TAKE-HOME MESSAGES:


  • Holiday Weight Gain is influenced by our history and what we've been doing in prior months

  • The behaviour of binge eating is controlle by ourĀ desire and reward system

  • Binge Eating can be triggered by psychological, social, and chemical aspects.

NUTRITION AND HOLIDAY WEIGHT GAIN

Now we know to some extent why and how we can end up gaining weight and establishing a destructive relation with food during holidays. Now the idea is to implement different tools to ultimately avoid this behaviour and stay on track. But how?

Overall Eating Behaviour

The main aspect to consider when trying to avoid holiday weight gain and binge-eating is our nutritional habits (study). To implement this and improve your eating behaviour, there are some tips you can use:

Don’t continuously binge eat

If you want to avoid holiday weight gain, your nutritional habits should be as normal (assuming that you follow health recommendations) during the rest of the days. During Christmas, only 3-4 meals are excused due to social events. However, we take advantage of that to get out of track and continously cheat on our 'diets'.

To avoid this, simply eat what you usually eat during the rest of the meals. And when the big meal comes, enjoy it and prioritize 'more interesting' choices (E.g: between turkey and fries, wait for the turkey to come)

Christmas is only one night

In general rules, "one day doesn't influence the rest of the year. It's the continuous behaviour and repetition what makes the difference". This being said, enjoy your Christmas meal, but don't consider every meal of that week an opportunity to go crazy with food.

Don't counter any 'cheating' on following meals

If you've done it, you've done it. Don't regret it. You've enjoyed an amazing meal, with your dearest and with a lot of good food. Next morning you wake up (hopefully not too hangover) and run to the kitchen to make your usual breakfast.

And if you are not full because of the large amounts of food you ate, skip that meal and start your normal nutritional habits whenever you get full. In this paper, it was seen how intuitive eating after a binge could potentially improve our eating behaviour (study).

Holiday Weight Gain

Eating Behaviour during Christmas Dinner

Now it comes theĀ Real Deal. It comes the 24th and 25th and I don't know how to perform during the meal to avoid binge eating and weight gain....

However, there are some tips we can use to still enjoy the meal while minimizing the 'cheating' part.

Prioritize 'calorie-free' drinks

Liquid calories are often what leads to sudden weight gain (study). Christmas holidays come with a lot of drinking, but it has some disadvantages when it comes to eating behaviour:

  1. Alcohol before eating leads to higher food intake (study)
  2. It decreases fats oxidation and transport while increases fatty acids synthesis (study)
  3. It provides calories with no nutritional interest (study)

Because of these reasons, start the night with water (or a 'zero' soda on its defect) and stay hydrated. And of course you can enjoy one or two drinks, but be aware of the consequences if you go beyond that.

Fill you up of veggies

There are always good food choices on the table. Vegetables are high in fibre and low in calories, making them one of the best choices you can make to start your meal.

The fiber intake is associated with slower digestions and lower calorie intake (study). It also provides less calories than most of the foods, which leads to a lower calorie intake and lower risk of weight gain.

Prioritize protein sources

Protein is the most satitating macronutrient (study) and is highly involved in muscle homeostasis (study), inducing muscle growth and avoiding muscle loss.

Due to the satiety effect and the metabolic importance on body composition and overall health, a good start point for you Christmas meal is to go for protein sources and veggies. Ensure your daily protein intake, and from there enjoy the rest of the meal.

Leave the 'cheating' for the end of the night

Sometimes we just binge because of the ocasion, even we don't need it. However, if we leave the cheating options for the end of the meal, we might find that we don't need it, and we'll skip it.

As a rule of thumb, out of three choices, make two of them 'recommended' and be more flexible on the third one. You'll still enjoy the meal, and it won't feel like you are restricting yourself to dieting.

Propose to be the cook

If you want to have more control over the food choices and ensure healthy options while still being tasty, the best option is to get the apron and get involved in the cooking. This will 1) prioritize healthy options and 2) minimize binge eating and weight gain. In fact, homemade food and cooking your own meal has been linked to higher weight loss and better relation with food (study).

So, avoid fryings, fast foods and excess of high-calorie dense sources. Instead, go for veggies, lean protein sources and recommended cooking methods (baking, roasting, grill, boiling, steam,..). And remember to still prioritize flavour and make it tasty!!

Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

EXERCISE TO AVOID HOLIDAY WEIGHT GAIN

We have gone through nutrition and how to behave regarding food when it comes to avoid holiday weight gain. But what do I do with my training routine? Should I stop or keep going? Should I take one week off and enjoy holidays?

Overall Recommendations

From experience, you should keep training as you usually do, even on the same Christmas Day. And this is why:

  • Increases energy expenditure (study), leaving more spare calories to intake on your holiday meal
  • Creates an anabolic environment for muscle growth (study)
  • Makes you more satisfied and accomplished (study)
  • Counters all sleep deprivation taking place during holidays and regulate circadian rythms (study)

Physical exercise and resistance trainings are the best you can do to avoid holiday weight gain. It increases energy expenditure and creates a better relation with food. Not only that, that it makes you more accomplished and happy with yourself, which ultimately leads to less binge-eating due to psychological aspects.

For the sake of your understanding and practical implementation on your daily life, these are some tips you can follow to keep going to the gym during christmas:

Organize your trainings in advanced

Organization creates commitment, and commitment leads to action. Write down when you are going to go to the gym. As James Clear says in his book Atomic Habits, you should organize your habits by following the format:

I will do [habit needed] in [space] at [time]

This way you'll be conscious of when you have to go train and you'll make sure you have nothing else that impedes that to happen.

Go with your family

Holidays are for spending time for family; why not at the gym?

Go hit a workout with your cousin, brother or father. Enjoy the time together while keeping up with your workouts. In terms of adherence and stickness to training, this meta-analysis shows how group training was better at improving exercise adherence during a training program (study)

Plan activites involving physical exercise

Physical exercise is not only resistance training. In fact, any kind of physical activity and an active lifestyle will contribute to avoiding holiday weight gain, and more important, stay healthy and improve overall health (study). To give you some ideas, here are some plans for you and your family:

  • Go for a hike to your town's forest
  • Hit some winter sports with your family
  • Go spend the day outdoors and have a picnic
  • Plan a bike tour around your town
  • Visit surroundings of your home town and have some family life

CONCLUSION

Holiday weight gain is a reality, but you shouldn't be afraid of it. Bad food behaviours are often created by what you've been doing on prior months to holidays. If your diet has been restricted and very low in calories, risk of binge eating is higher. But you still can avoid it.

In this post we've gone through the main aspects to avoid holiday weight gain and improve relation with food. However, you may come up with some others that work for you. If this is the case, please leave it below in the comments section!

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