Holiday Hoopla Without the Heft

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Illustration by Miles Sanguinetti.

‘Tis the season! Classes are almost over, so that means Thanksgiving feasting and Christmas gorging is just around the corner. Pumpkin treats and Christmas cookies abound, big hefty meals and delicious eggnog are sure to leave you in a stupor for days and your waistline is sure to expand a bit.

The average person gains seven to 10 pounds over the holidays, but you can prevent that holiday spread by taking a couple of precautions. By no means is the Vanguard telling you not to indulge; we simply want to encourage you to be smart in what indulgences you partake in. It’s so easy to fill up on delicious food every day for the next month, and it’s super important to limit your caloric overload to one day a week at most.

It ultimately comes down to making a plan and sticking to it. For one, make sure that you eat fairly healthily at every meal except for the indulgent ones. If you are planning on attending a holiday lunch, eat a healthy breakfast and a light dinner, or a healthy breakfast and lunch with a lot of fruit and vegetables before a holiday dinner. In general, you want to follow the 40–40–20 rule: 40 percent of calories should be from lean protein, 40 percent from complex carbohydrates and 20 percent from fat. This is the optimal combination to keep your metabolism going strong. Make sure you drink a lot of water as well. This will ultimately reduce the amount of water your body retains during high-sodium binge-fests.

If you are preparing your big dinner or baking some delicious sweets, it is wise to chew gum while cooking. This will limit how much cookie dough “accidentally” falls into your mouth. If you have some time to kill (Note: Even a small turkey takes approximately 3 hours to cook), it’s not a bad idea to go for a walk with the family, take Fido for a run or go on a chilly bike ride.
If you work out for at least an hour, you can significantly offset the consumption. If you can’t (or won’t) do an hour, even 30 minutes of exercise before eating helps.

With all that said, it is not a bad idea to lightly graze throughout the day (the key operative word here is lightly). There’s this funny little hormone called leptin that is produced in your fat tissue. This hormone signals to your brain that you are full and satiated. Eating slowly gives your body more time to produce enough leptin to signal your fullness. This will regulate your hunger signals, and you won’t feel the need to binge like no tomorrow when dinner finally rolls around. When everyone is seated for dinner, don’t let others set the pace. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Control your portions. Eat more turkey and sweet potatoes (without the marshmallows), but limit fluffy carbs like dinner rolls and stuffing, which just pack on the calories without really filling you up.

The real struggle comes after dinner in the form of sugary desserts. Be choosy about what you eat. Eat one piece of pie or a small amount of cookies. However, don’t beat yourself up if you eat more sweets than is “appropriate;” it’s only one meal, and one meal won’t make you gain weight. It’s the constant binging all month long that will make you take up more real estate. If you eat healthily during other meals, you’ll more than make up for your lack of oversight.

It’s worth noting for the over-21 crowd that choosing your alcohol wisely will go a long way. Spirits have an average of 64 calories per 1.5-ounce shot, which doesn’t include the sugar and empty calories in the mixer (eggnog, anyone? Yum!). A 12-ounce beer is easily a couple hundred calories; a 5-ounce serving of wine is anywhere from 110 to 300 calories. All this adds up incredibly fast. It adds insult to injury that you’ll eat way more while under the influence than sober. You’ll just pile calories on top of the calories. Before you know it, your drunken munching has added up to 1,000 extra calories. You can combat this caloric landslide by never going to a party hungry. Snack on some fruit and vegetables or lean protein before going, and you won’t eat as much junk.

It’s not too difficult to avoid gaining weight over the holidays. It just takes some classic planning and execution maneuvers. However, if you do pack on a few pounds, there’s always your New Year’s resolution to pick up the ball you dropped, because you’re totally going to stick with it this year. Totally.

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