October is upon us and with it brings another holiday season. Everything will come in “pumpkin spice” or “gingerbread,” jars of mini-size chocolates and cookie trays will abound. The break room will be filled with cupcakes, the bake sales wafting fresh-baked aromas that taunt us, and supermarket aisles will overflow with economy size bags of individually wrapped sugar bombs.
Time to batten down the hatches! We got a storm coming called Hurricane Holiday Weight Gain!
According to a New York Times article, the average holiday weight gain can be as high as five to ten pounds by the New Year. But the trouble isn’t the weight gain, necessarily. One report in the New England Journal of Medicine found that holiday weight is often not lost in the spring. In fact, the average person (and keep in mind, the “average” person is now overweight) who gains a few pounds this season will not lose it… unless they do something about it.
You shouldn’t resign to the statistics and accept that weight gain is collateral damage of the season. You can and should do something so that you can finish the year with some good memories and none of the fat.
So why do we gain weight during the holidays? Is it because we’re inside roasting chestnuts as opposed to being outside? Is it because we eat too much and move too little? There are a few reasons but here’s a surprising truth: You don’t gain weight because you eat too much. You gain weight because at this time of the year, you eat food that triggers your body to store fat.
Sugar and refined carbs – It’s not groundbreaking news that sugar makes us fat but few understand why. From October to January there’s an abundance of breads, pastries, and sweets. When you eat these foods they enter the bloodstream as blood sugar. This triggers your pancreas to release insulin. Insulin directs traffic, it determines where your food goes: to the muscles, liver, or fat cells depending on where it’s needed. If it’s not needed, it goes into storage (i.e. abdominal fat). This is generally a smooth process in sensible diets but when you eat sweets, there is a huge influx of sugar into your bloodstream, much more than your muscles or liver require, so insulin has to get it out of your blood storing it as fat. Quite simply, your body stores fat easily when you consume refined carbs and sugar. So knowing this what can we do?
Set Some Boundaries – For the next three months, sugary food will be everywhere: at work, your child’s school and at parties. Most of it will have sprinkles, and well-intentioned people will be trying to send you home with baskets of it. Decide ahead of time when you will indulge. Eating what you crave doesn’t become worrisome until it becomes habitual. My advice is reserve confections strictly for special occasions.
Start Resistance Training – Resistance training increases your muscle, which means more fuel can get stored there and not as fat. This is why people who regularly exercise tend to not gain weight during the season, and if they do, they bounce back quickly. Their bodies have higher demands for food and less need to store it. Don’t think exercise gives you license to eat terribly but understand your body either uses or stores energy. Give it reasons to use it.
Stop Approaching Your Health and Fitness as Seasonal – As a trainer, I’ve noticed the yearly cycle seems pretty consistent from year-to-year for a certain segment of people. They generally eat better and exercise in the spring only to fall off the wagon come winter. Health is not a place we can arrive at and then neglect. We have to constantly nurture it.
I’ve put together a Holiday Guide to staying lean with workouts and grocery lists. Email me at email@example.com if you’d like to receive it. spt
Ricky Magana is an Elite Fitness Coach and co-owner of CrossFit Heyday (220 8th St. Downtown San Pedro). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.