10 STEP PLAN TO SURVIVE THE HOLIDAY WEIGHT GAIN
By: Simone Gisondi, RHN
November marks the beginning of the holiday season celebrations, ushering in endless company holiday parties, “happy hours,” get-togethers with co-workers and traditional family gatherings. It’s only normal that during this time of year there’s a lot of eating and drinking being done. And what comes with this kind of eating and drinking? The dreaded holiday season weight gain that sends people to gyms in droves come January, so that they can get started on their New Year resolutions.
Let’s demystify the holiday weight gain. It’s typically more attributed to the empty calories and processed sugar ingested via alcohol and dessert than it is to eating actual food. Food provides nutrients that the body can use for its functioning and for its maintenance of health. Alcohol is simply just sugar that’s nutritionally void and serves no actual health purpose. In fact, it’s detrimental to health and if any nutrients are ever found in it, it’s usually in trace amounts.
It’s common knowledge by now that too much processed sugar contributes to Type 2 diabetes, obesity, stroke, cancer, heart disease, anxiety and depression. And if you’re thinking of substituting sugar with an artificial sweetener, you should know that all artificial sweeteners are just as horrible if not more so, since they are first and foremost artificial, not natural, linked to cancer, cause liver issues, metabolic disorders and therefore weight gain.
Back to alcohol.
Do you know how much sugar is in a bottle of alcohol? The full nutritional profile and ingredient list is very rarely posted on alcohol bottles because manufacturers aren’t required to disclose the amount of sugar the alcohol in the bottle contains — so ultimately people don’t really know how much of this processed sugar they are actually consuming.
Alcohol does a real number on blood sugar, which initially spikes, especially if you’re consuming mixed drinks. Even moderate amounts of alcohol can cause blood sugar to rise, but once your body starts to process the alcohol, the blood sugar plummets and you feel like you “crashed”; alcohol is a depressant after all.
The reason why you hear that alcohol is bad for the liver is because alcohol prevents the liver from releasing glucose (what regulates internal blood sugar). Drinking enough alcohol could actually lead to hypoglycemia — low blood sugar. That’s what actually leads to waking up feeling “out of it” and shaky after a night of drinking!
Being health conscious and eating right during the holidays is just as much about making good choices, as it is about the amounts we consume. Remember, that one glass of wine, that beer, that Martini or rum and coke is not only contributing to your sugar intake, it’s also disrupting the body’s blood sugar and the body’s ability to process the sugar.
It’s completely unrealistic to expect anyone not to have any drinks at this time of year. But as long as we approach the holiday season armed with a plan of action — a plan we follow by making good, sound choices — I promise you the damage will be minimal.
10 RULES TO ALWAYS LIVE BY — BUT ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT
DURING THE HOLIDAYS:
1. DON’T STRESS — It’s the holidays after all, a time of celebration, fun and joy, not stress. Stress is not only a contributor to disease, it’s also a contributor to holiday weight gain. So, accept that during the festivities you will eat more than you usually do and since alcohol and food go hand in hand over the holidays, you will also drink more alcohol than any other time of the year. Don’t obsess over the number of calories and grams of fat. Be reasonable but let it go and just enjoy — after all, it’s only 1 day out of 365.
2. WORK OUT BEFORE AND AFTER THE BIGGEST MEAL — You know that big Christmas feast you’re going to that happens once a year? A great workout before that feast will deplete the glycogen stored in muscles and will cause microtears in the muscles worked during the workout. The meal will provide all that the muscles need to repair, grow, stay strong and healthy. That same meal will also provide the energy for the workout after the feast (and by “after” I mean the next day). While the workout itself will torch some of those extra calories you ingested and help you flush out the alcohol, it will also eradicate the horrible guilt most of us feel after all the eating and drinking we do at Christmas get-togethers.
3. DRINK LOTS OF WATER — …But most importantly, ensure you have a glass of water between each alcoholic drink to combat the dehydrating effects of alcohol. Consuming water not only hydrates, it also leads to less drinking and in fact even to less eating. A win-win win.
4. BRING A HEALTHY DISH TO THE PARTY — If you’re health conscious like I am (while the rest of the family eats Christmas dinner like it’s their last meal!), bring a healthy dish, so that in the event that there’s not much you would eat there, at least you can eat what you bring. I love salad, so any time I go over to my family’s home for any get-together, I always bring my famous salad.
5. EAT FOODS IN PROPER ORDER — Yes there is an order in which foods should be eaten because they digest differently. So go easy on those appetizers, especially if they involve empty carbs (read: chips) and heavy, fattening sauces and dips. It’s also important to follow proper food combining — it will help you digest your food easier. If you’re a meat eater, eat the meat with veggies first; there’s no sense in eating bloating foods that will prevent you from enjoying the rest of what’s there. Always mix proteins with vegetables, NEVER with starches like bread, pasta and potatoes. Proteins and starches wreak havoc on the digestive system — it’s the surest way to getting bloated. Vegetables, being the superheroes of any diet, can be combined with pretty much anything — meat, pasta, rice, potatoes. So always load up on veggies — not only do they satiate, but they also provide a multitude of vitamins, minerals and fibre. Why do you think mom always said “eat your vegetables”
6. EAT MINDFULLY — Slow down and be fully present as you eat. Chew your food thoroughly; your digestive system will thank you for it. Enjoy the taste and texture of the food, don’t just shove it in your mouth for the sake of eating because that’s what you came to the Christmas party to do. Remember, someone put effort into making this food, so give it the importance it has. A surefire way to keep yourself present and in the moment is to switch the hand with which you hold your fork — so if you’re right handed, try eating your entire meal with your left hand. Not only will it keep you present, it will also slow you down and you will eat less.
7. EAT ONLY HOMEMADE DESSERT — I am a sucker for homemade dessert because I know what it takes to make one (I make a mean Tiramisu — both traditional and vegan), so to honour the time and effort that someone put into making one, I always have that over something store-bought. Anything homemade will always be better than something bought ready-made in a store. Why? Well, anything store-bought contains additives to extend its shelf life because let’s be honest, things sit on store shelves for some time. Something home-made never has chemical additives because whoever made it made enough just for that event.
8. STEER CLEAR OF DRINKS LOADED WITH SUGAR AND/OR FAT (especially since the alcohol itself already has sugar) — I’m talking carbonated drinks (soda/pop), eggnog, daiquiri, rum and coke, Bailey’s Irish Cream, mojitos and the like. All these drinks do is spike the infamous insulin hormone, which results in holiday weight gain. And remember, alcohol has zero nutritional value, so if you absolutely must drink liquor, choose clear liquors mixed with water, like a vodka water. Darker liquors like brandy, whiskey and dark rum contain more sugar and additives like congeners (chemicals created during fermentation) that cause headaches, hangovers and of course, holiday weight gain.
9. DON’T EVER MIX ALCOHOL WITH ENERGY DRINKS — The weight gain associated with the sugar in these energy drinks is actually the least of your worries. The damage this mix does to your health is more worrisome. The high level of caffeine and other stimulants energy drinks are loaded with will affect your blood pressure and heart rate and may result in permanently altering the rhythm of your heartbeat. Mixing a stimulant (energy drink) with a depressant (alcohol) will confuse your central nervous system. Add the dehydration effects of both alcohol and caffeine and you have a disaster waiting to happen.
10. FORGET THE BEER — Yes, this is one of the most popular alcoholic beverages, no matter the time of year or the get-together — it’s no wonder that it’s responsible for holiday weight gain in both men and women. Women typically store fat on the abdomen and in the lower body (butt and thighs) while men will store it on the abdomen and chest. Interestingly, the reason why the weight finds its way on the abdomen AND the chest in men, is because beer contains hops (from the hop plant). Used as a preservative in beer, hops is a plant-based estrogen. Let’s talk about estrogen quickly. Estrogen, being a female hormone, is closely linked to menstruation which is what allows women to get pregnant. Women produce more estrogen during pregnancy than any other time. And since women usually gain fat around the abdomen and chest when pregnant (due to the rapid increase in estrogen), men will gain it in the same areas, since they consume the estrogen-mimicking additive.
Erectile dysfunction, hair loss and testosterone issues are just a few of the additional problems this particular additive may cause in men, while in women, it can lead to increasing the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, irregular periods and mood swings.
So go easy on those high-sugar, nutritionally void alcoholic drinks, work out, drink water and remember: good food is your friend, don’t even worry about calories. Implement the plan above and you will be ahead of the game… you don’t want to have more work ahead of you come New Year Resolution time.
And most importantly, DON’T STRESS.
~Simone Gisondi, RHN