December 2, 2004

Surviving the Holiday Eats

BY David Bohn ("Fitness")

Yes it is already December and that means lots of holiday parties, holiday shopping, shorter days and more challenges to maintaining your workout regimen. As people begin to eat more in the next few months, one would think people would naturally try to workout more to compensate for the extra calories. However, in the United States, this does not seem to be the case. In fact, in the last four weeks before the New Year, the average American puts on about 4 pounds, or approximately 1 pound a week! Now, it would be good news if that was muscle weight, but unfortunately it’s fat. I’m all about holiday cheer as much as the next person, however, it is enjoying these celebrations with a bit of common sense and moderation that is needed. To help you with your holiday plans, I’m providing you with some information and tips to arm yourself with in advance. Remember, holiday PLANS; preparation is the key to surviving the holidays unscathed. No one hosts a party without planning, so why not add that level of detail to the rest of your daily activities and health?

One of the first things to go during the holidays is one’s regular workout. End of the year projects at work mean people work longer and combine that with holiday parties and you have a recipe for workouts that slim down to the 12 oz. curl. Knowing what’s coming ahead for your schedule means that you need to consciously plan your workouts in advance. Being unprepared for a changing timetable is one of the primary reasons people fall off the workout bandwagon.

If work is keeping you in the office late and you feel too wiped out to head to the gym afterwards, try changing your workout time; if only for the short run. Workout in the morning or at lunch or break up your workout and do weights at one time and cardio the other. This may mean a shorter workout, but most people tend to lollygag when at the gym so you may need to cut out the extraneous chatter. Remember you are in this time-crunch mode because you’re already being more social outside the gym!

If you typically workout solo, perhaps now is a good time to have a workout partner, or several if you have a crazy workout schedule. It is much easier to get out of bed in the morning if you know someone is waiting for you and that you will not hear the end of it for skipping. For every workout session you stand your partner up, agree that you will have to buy the other person lunch. This being the season of tight wallets, that pact should help get you out of bed.

Changing your exercise schedule to adapt to your crazy work and social schedule and adding workout partners are a couple ways to combat the holiday bulge, but the diet (or lack thereof) is just as important. Extra eggnog, holiday beers and sweets quickly add empty calories to the diet. Knowing that you are going out, make sure at the minimum you drink a lot of water beforehand. This tip helps you stay hydrated for starters and does help fill you up initially so that perhaps you won’t be quite as quick to stuff yourself without thinking. At the party (or parties), for every drink you have, have a glass of water, for the same reasons mentioned above. In addition to water, make sure you do not go out hungry. This may mean buying protein bars and carrying extras with you in case you are caught late at the office and are on the run from one function to the next. Again, preparation is the key here. If you end up being super busy and not anticipating it, at least in this case you have something that can be partially filling and actually has some nutritional value.

As an unrelated note, please remember when invited to a party, bring something for the host unless they threaten to break your kneecaps and REALLY don’t want anything. Remember, ‘tis the season for giving, so don’t be a freeloader. In fact, bring a vegetable tray! That is a healthy choice right there to help minimize the caloric damage.

Speaking of caloric damage, every gram of alcohol has 7 calories; protein and carbs have 4 and fat has 9. This explains why alcohol is considered “empty” calories; alcohol provides no nutritional value, dehydrates you and makes you thirsty for more and is almost as fattening as, well, fat. Furthermore, while scientists don’t quite understand why the alcohol molecule behaves the way it does in the body; it does tend to disproportionately end up in the midsection. This fact partially explains the incidence of the “beer belly,” where someone can be pretty fit except for that extra set of rolls in the midsection. Women will be happy to know alcohol goes to the thighs instead. This information should be incentive enough to limit alcohol consumption moving forward! Remember, you can still enjoy your favorite foods, just in moderation.

If you are the host and find yourself doing a lot of grocery shopping, again a plan is a must before you head in the store. A list helps to reduce the incidence of impulse buying (and remember not to be hungry when you shop). Impulse buying tends to be not only calorically expensive, but economically as well. Furthermore, if you can, stay on the perimeter of the store. The edge of a grocery store typically has the staples regularly needed and they tend to be healthier (except for the dessert counter) than the center-store isles; only head to the interior with a checklist in hand.

Remember this holiday season to keep your wits about you. While the in-laws may drive you to drink; go for a run instead! Have that contingency plan in hand for when work functions call, you have to return that gift and get new ones and you have to make extra trips to the grocery store. That frosted Santa may look tasty, but you’re not going to like Kris Kringle when he sticks to your stomach, thighs or butt (get your head out of the gutter). Remember to enjoy the holiday season with friends and family, but if you want to avoid those four extra pounds this month, you have to work as hard as you party. Enjoy responsibly, so you have a little less work to do when the New Year begins! Take care everyone; I wish you all a very joyous holiday season!