What do the holiday season and the summer months have in common? We are suddenly conscious of our weight. Yes, it’s important to be healthy 365 days a year, but there’s nothing like the threat of wearing a bathing suit or the never-ending schedule of parties and rich foods to make us super conscious of those extra pounds we have hanging around. Scientists have also found those few extra pounds we put on during the holidays tend to linger, contributing to obesity over time. So, here’s how to avoid holiday weight gain and lose weight before the holidays.
One study, published in the Journal of Obesity found that those who were already overweight or obese actually gained the most weight between November and January. In fact, it was during this time that those with obesity actually gained more weight than their normal-weighted counterparts.
Scientists believe this is due to the deprivation mindset so many of us develop when we are “on a diet.” Instead of focusing on other aspects of the holiday season – being with loved ones, opportunities to travel, time off from work – we focus on the cakes, pastries, holiday delicacies, and other rich foods we should only eat in moderation. Add the stress so typical of the holidays and you have a recipe for disaster.
Now is the time to develop habits that will help you manage your weight better for the entire year. Even small changes like reducing your portion size, drinking more water, eating more vegetables and taking a walk in the evenings can reap large benefits for how to lose weight by the time New Year’s rolls around.
Darker days and holidays tend to be associated with higher rates of depression. While it is difficult to tell if depression causes weight gain or weight gain causes depression, the two conditions are inextricably linked. While exercise has long been linked to helping alleviate symptoms of depression, researchers have recently taken those findings one step further.
People experiencing depression, especially women, find that exercising outdoors provides greater relief from depression than performing the same exercise indoors. While more research is needed to establish why this is the case and the exact type of exercise that has the greatest benefit outside, findings across studies conclude that going outside and moving will help lift feelings of depression better than going to an indoor gym indoors. Getting outdoors also helps those who are overweight or obese make and keep intentions to exercise again.
Even if you live in an area where the snow will begin to fall in a few short months, start now to do some form of physical activity outside every day. Not only will you ward off the extra pounds come Thanksgiving, you will stave off any holiday blues. Read this to get a few ideas of how to change up your exercise routine for colder months.
Going meatless does more than reduce man-made greenhouse gases, it is also associated with significant weight loss in overweight, post-menopausal women. Eating more plants has been associated with lower blood sugar levels, better blood pressure and lower cholesterol. But what if you’re not willing to adopt a vegan lifestyle? Can you still have the benefits of a plant-based diet?
Studies have actually shown the Mediterranean diet to be the best for long-term, sustained weight loss. Inspired by the eating habits of Greece, Italy and Spain, this method of eating trends toward lots of vegetables and fruit, the inclusion of healthy fats from olive oil and nuts, whole grains, and protein from legumes, poultry and fish instead of beef or lamb.
Trying to be nutritionally perfect 100 percent of the time is a recipe for disaster, especially during the holidays. In fact, research shows we often crave the very foods we are depriving ourselves of. One study showed people who were deprived of chocolate for just one week ate more chocolate at the end of that week than those who were allowed to eat chocolate at will.
Getting into the habit of eating healthfully 90 percent of the time and indulging in a planned “cheat meal” once in a while can keep your weight on track during the holidays. If you know you are going to a party on Saturday where there will be good wine, crusty bread and decadent desserts, it is much easier to eat vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats the rest of the week in anticipation of that meal. Best of all, you are less likely to overdo it at the party because you are savoring the experience rather than feeling guilt.
Between the gifts, the parties, the charity events, and the family gatherings, the holidays are often synonymous with stress. But stress has been linked to excess belly fat, even in women who are a normal weight. The hormone cortisol is mostly to blame. When you experience stress, your body’s “fight or flight” response is activated. The brain produces large amounts of cortisol which stores fat around the vital organs – your heart, kidneys, liver, stomach, and intestines – to protect them from starvation. Prolonged exposure to cortisol caused by chronic stress can lead to fat storage around your middle.
While it may not be possible to avoid all your holiday stress, now is a great time to get the jumpstart on your holiday planning so you can keep belly fat at bay.
Ultimately, getting a diet head start on party season has less to do with how to lose weight and more to do with developing habits that will serve you all year long. Starting now to eat well (most of the time), reduce portion size, get outside and exercise, and manage stress can leave you with the New Year’s waistline you want and a party season full of enjoyment.