Did you stuff yourself full on Thanksgiving? Are you now in panic mode about how your body is going to handle all those holiday parties, not to mention the upcoming Christmas feast? Or perhaps your waistline survived Thanksgiving relatively unscathed but threatens to rapidly expand as the holiday season progresses.
Here are five reasons for holiday weight gain -- and what you can do about it:
Holiday Weight Gain Reason #1: Schedule Changes
Once the holidays arrive, a strictly-scheduled world begins to unravel. Suddenly there are three- and four-day weekends with ample opportunity to sleep in and be lazy. Not to mention, those holiday parties with heavy eating and drinking, health clubs that close early or have new, unpredictable hours, and travel that takes you to new places where exercising can seem like a hassle.
The best way to handle these schedule snafus is to plan ahead. For example, you can check with your gym in advance to find out what the holiday hours are, and on days when your gym may be closed or unavailable, plan on outdoor walks or runs or home body weight exercise sessions. On long weekends, set exercise goals that get you moving before you get too busy, such as squeezing in 20 minutes of exercise before 9 a.m. If you're traveling, you can easily use Google maps to search for gyms near where you're staying, or you can pack elastic bands and running shoes and check out "How to Stay Fit While Traveling."
Holiday Weight Gain Reason #2: Stress Increases
At the same time that your schedule changes, you also suddenly have added pressure of shopping, family obligations, and changes to your daily routine. As a result of this added stress, your blood pressure and heart rate can go up, your motivation to exercise can go down, and you can gain weight and retain fluid as your body produces more cortisol.
Ironically, of the best ways to control stress is to exercise. For this reason, even during the holidays, I start every day with a simple set of jumping jacks, push-ups, body weight squats, and a full body stretch. Because this only takes about 10 minutes, there is a very low barrier to getting it done -- and I find that it decreases stress enough to where I am motivated to squeeze in a bigger exercise session later in the day!
Holiday Weight Gain Reason #3: Food Everywhere
As if it weren't hard enough that all this added stress makes you want to eat more, it seems that there are usually cookies, pies, snacks, and drinks in constant view during the holidays. It's no secret that when tempting treats surround us, we're far more likely to eat them.
The solution to this is simple: Hide the treats and snacks during the holidays. Keep cookies in opaque, non-transparent containers. Cover and place pies or other desserts back into the refrigerator immediately after you're done with them. Put alcohol in a closed cupboard. Avoid putting dishes of candy or chocolates out on tables and counters. Watch this video for some other calorie control tips.
Holiday Weight Gain Reason #4: Cold Weather
Cold weather can also be a reason for holiday weight gain. After all, who wants to go out for a brisk morning walk or jog when you have to spend all that extra time putting on multiple layers, gloves, a hat, and your sturdy snow boots? Even driving to the gym can be annoying when the roads are covered in snow or you spend the first half of your workout just trying to warm up.
A good solution for this problem is to keep your body as warm as possible throughout the day. For example, when it's cold outside, I never let myself go for more than an hour without trying to squeeze in a handful of body weight squats, push-ups, or jumping jacks. Just this small amount of activity can keep your body warm and ready to exercise when it actually is time for a workout.
Holiday Weight Gain Reason #5: Peer Pressure
You probably wouldn't be reading this article if holiday weight gain wasn't an "accepted" societal norm. "Santa belly," "festively plump," and "food coma" are terms that are freely thrown around during the holidays. And if all your friends accept something as normal, it's less likely to bother you. For this reason, it's easy to feel less guilty about overindulging, or combing gluttony with laziness, during the holidays.
But wouldn't it be much better if you could arrive at Jan. 1 with a New Year's resolution other than "lose weight"? What if you were already as trim and fit as you want to be and could instead set a goal of learning a new musical instrument, making more money, or spending extra time with family?
This season, consider not succumbing to peer pressure and societal acceptance of holiday weight gain and instead stay physically active and avoid unplanned eating. Your body will thank you when the New Year rolls around.
Ben Greenfield is a fitness and triathlon expert and host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast on the Quick and Dirty Tips network. His latest book is Get-Fit Guy's Guide to Achieving Your Ideal Body: A Workout Plan for Your Unique Shape.
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