The holiday season is a great tradition: year after year, people gather around, travel great distances; friends, families, generations come together and for a few days they share stories, memories, fun times, but most of all, drink and eat like there is no tomorrow.
It may start early, in the office, with a pre-Christmas party. You’ve got to start adding indulging early apparently – chocolate candy, pies everywhere, and PUDDING, oh God no, PUDDING! How can you resist?
On average, people gain around 5 lbs (2 kgs) around Christmas time. For someone who has weight-gain tendencies, that number is usually more than 10 lb.
This is how it usually works: If you have been on a weight loss program and put some effort in it, you got some results, and now you’ve made it to Christmas, a bite here, extra dessert here, three main courses at lunch, staying up late drinking and eating more snacks, you sober up after New Year’s to find you gained back all you lost, plus interest.
We do sometimes misunderstand traditions. Food is a really easy tool that we use to display hospitality; to show our friends and family that we love them, we serve them food, and every year we want to show them we love them more, with more food. Every year we want to best last year’s party, we want to do better than the party we were invited to, and sometimes it becomes a weird game of my party is bigger than yours!
Speaking of traditions changing over time, a study done at Cornell University by two brothers, Brian Wansink from Cornell University and Craig Wansink from Virginia Wesleyan College. They teamed up to analyze the amount of food depicted in 52 of the best-known paintings of the Last Supper of the last millennium.
The paintings were analyzed for content of the meals to determine changes in the kinds of food and size of portions over time. The sizes of the loaves of bread, main dishes, and plates were compared to the average size of the heads shown in the paintings. A computer program was used to allow sections of the paintings to be scanned, and calculated with more precision.
The largest Last Supper was the most recent, according to Wansink’s analysis.
As was expected, the size of food in these paintings increased with time. From 1000 A.D. to the present, the ratio of the main course entrée, size of the bread, and size of the plate have increased by 69.2%, 23.1%, and 65.5%, respectively.
Then there is the tradition of setting a New Year’s resolution. The number one most mentioned resolution has been to lose weight, and the second is to join a gym and start a fitness program.
So obviously health is on people’s minds, but I do find it funny that they only make this decision around the time they had just about 21 glasses of eggnog (with about 21 grams of sugar per glass), a bunch of brownies, cheesecake, chocolate cake, chocolate cheesecake, strawberry chocolate cheesecake, and tried all 12 Quality Street chocolate flavors three times, just to make sure it’s the one they like!
In my lectures and seminars I talk about sugar consumption going up from 5lbs to 200lbs per year – I would like to see how much of that sugar is consumed in December alone!
I am talking about this with a bit of humor, but in all seriousness, a lot of people seem to miss the real tradition part of the holidays. It’s about being able to be with your family, being able to enjoy the company of friends, and being able to do it year after year.
When you ask yourself or someone you know to share their favorite Christmas memory, no one will share a story about eating 20 different desserts.
They share stories about their grandsons, about meeting relatives from another country, about their kids who graduate, newborn babies, new jobs, new businesses, life achievement stories!
I have clients who, in their 40s, tell me that they are starting to feel like they are in their 20s and 30s again, they are starting to enjoy life more, enjoy playing with their grand kids, who they could not keep up with before.
You see, in your 20s, you might decide to lose weight for ego, and in your 30s, you may be doing it for better health reasons. In your 40s, it’s usually doctor’s orders, because if you keep putting on weight, you’re heading for disaster. In your 50s, if you are overweight, life is really hard, and if you do not lose weight, you will have to rely on someone to help you move around, and do basic life activities.
It does not have to be this way. This is something that you can change, pretty easily, with the tools and resources available today. Weight loss is becoming more of an exact science; there are still quacks and snake oil salespeople around, as well as magic weight loss pill claims, but none of that is really useful. If someone pays attention to the research like I did, they would find that weight loss is easy if you follow a few simple guidelines, watch your energy levels, and take a few basic vitamins and supplements relative to what your body tells you it’s missing.
And day after day, it gets easier. You’ll start seeing pounds fade, you will look in the mirror and see someone different, someone a bit younger, and healthier. At the next Christmas party, people will notice it and they will ask you to share your story. How did you lose all that weight? Then, you’ll tell them about Brent the Weight Loss Guru of Orange County.
As promised, here are my top strategies for weight loss this Christmas. I can guarantee you could lose weight or at least prevent a weight gain if you follow these practical tips.
I recommend you print this out, keep it with you and read it again in the next few days to refresh and refocus on your plan.
1- Bring your own food to the party
If you follow one of my programs, you are supposed to know exactly what you are eating ahead of time. Bring food with you; don’t show up hungry to a party with food traps everywhere. Instead, be smart: if it’s a short party, you can eat at home before you go, and if you know you will stay long and might get hungry later, bring your own food with you, and eat your food first to fight off hunger and to avoid being vulnerable to overeating.
In other terms, this is just another day where you take steps towards your goals. If you stop, or go backwards, you are not moving towards your goal.
2- Go for low calorie drinks instead of wine and creamy drinks
I always recommend my clients learn to enjoy water – it’s calorie-free, available everywhere and very nourishing, but you may say, it’s Christmas, I’ve got to have a few drinks!
Here are a few better options:
Water or sparkling water (yes, I still think this is the best option)
Set a limit for number of drinks per day (2 to 3, not 17)
Low GI drinks such as clear alcohol + soda water + lime.
Alternate drinks with a glass of water – this will fill you up
If you have to have wine, add some fizzy water to it, make it a spritzer with no extra calories
3- Become a food critic
My favorite character from the movie Ratatouille was the food critic. He makes his living eating and reporting on food, yet he is tall and skinny. What’s his strategy? If he does not like the food, he won’t swallow it!
Yes, he is a cartoon character, but the thing to learn here is to be selective.
Select fresh foods, stay away from processed foods
Select foods that you can see and recognize the ingredients
Without mystery, go for slices of turkey, chicken, and lean meat
Stay away from mysterious stews with apparently innocent vegetables swimming in a high-calorie, MSG-filled creamy pool, and pies with random ingredients
4- Don’t nibble
Be deliberate about eating, you are there to enjoy the party, mingle, talk to people. If you start nibbling here and there, you will lose track, and might go on a binge without even noticing it. Instead, be deliberate about food, set exact times for meals, and eat only at those times.
Dancing is one of the most enjoyable ways to burn calories and get a good workout, without even noticing it.
I actually do not require my clients to exercise on a weight loss program, but for Christmas, I recommend it, and there are good reasons for this.
It helps you refocus, maintain a good energy level, feel good, and keep your weight loss goals clear in your mind throughout the holidays. Most people forget about weight loss for four weeks and then sometime in January they remember they were on some weight loss program but it’s kind of blurry by now! And they have to fight back the 10 lbs of weight they gained to get back on track.
It gives you time away from food pushers. If you’re sitting on the couch, I guarantee someone will show up with food and try to talk you into a few thousand calories of something they baked. Instead, if you are out on a walk, a short run, or doing a few body weight exercises at home, you will burn fat instead of adding it, and it will communicate your seriousness about your goals to everyone observing. They will support you instead of trying to talk you out of your weight loss plan.
7- Walk it off
It may not be as glorified as exercise but it still serves our purpose: time away from food and fat burning. Go shopping, and take a walk in your favorite store.
Bottom line, I hope you enjoy your Christmas parties. Most of us have two or more to go to, so have fun, and remember, there is more fun to be had in enjoying the company of friends than there is in eating everything on the table.
I would like to hear back from you, so write in the comments below and let me know what non-food fun you had, and what are your favorite seasonal moments.