The time of year is upon us where we all have at least one gluttonous holiday gathering to attend–and likely several. We offer you holiday eating damage control!
There are all kinds of tips and tricks floating around for those of us hoping to enjoy these holiday get-togethers without simultaneously jeopardizing our long-term health and outgrowing our favorite pair of sweatpants. Tips like these range from healthy recipes and eating strategies to planning activities on and around events that will keep everyone moving instead of sitting around eating. All of these things are a good idea, and I encourage you to implement them, but the purpose of this article is to give you some practical tips for the day of a holiday feast so that you can enjoy yourself while doing as little damage as possible to your health and physique.
But first, a disclaimer: I am absolutely not a fan of the exercise-punishment-for-dietary-crime mindset. I see this philosophy perpetuated throughout the fitness industry, and I really feel it does a lot of damage. Exercise is something that should be done for the sheer pleasure of it as well as to push your body to be its best; not as a way of punishing yourself. Likewise, eating and social gatherings should be about enjoying yourself, building and maintaining relationships, and nourishing your body; not something you should feel guilty for. That sort of attitude casts a healthy lifestyle in a negative and stressful light and makes good habits unsustainable in my opinion.
With that out of the way, on to the protocol! Here’s our scenario:
You have a big holiday gathering tomorrow evening where there will be abundant decadent food, lots of friends and family, and you’d really like to indulge guilt-free while attending, but you’d also like to do everything you can to spare your health and your physique from long term damage. There are several things you can do without too much sacrifice that will help shuttle the extra calories to your muscles rather than your midsection, but that is all within the caveat of energy balance. You can absolutely mitigate the impact of a big meal or two, but not a big day or five! With that in mind, here’s the checklist:
Make sure you’re coming into the event with a baseline of healthy habits. This includes things like getting a full night’s sleep beforehand, drinking 3+ liters of plain water that day (and every day), and managing your stress levels. These are things you really ought to be doing anyway!
Nutritionally, if you’re having a lot of unhealthy food and drinks, one of the best things you can do to buffer the damage on your body is to consume lots of healthy foods beforehand. Most specifically greens, beans, and berries. What you eat beforehand can have a major influence on an indulgent meal for a multitude of reasons. Greens and berries are both packed with antioxidants, which will be in your system for hours afterward helping you fight off the free radical damage of holiday excess. All three, and especially beans, have an insulin buffering effect, lowering the blood sugar spike and subsequent insulin release your body will experience after visiting the dessert table. And additionally, all three are packed with filling fiber, which will hopefully prevent you from returning to the table with third and fourth helpings!
For exercise strategies, there are two things you can do to rev your metabolism before the meal, again increasing the likelihood your food will go where you want it to.
Perform a full body heavy weight session that morning
Perform a short high-intensity interval cardio session shortly before the event.
This tip is obviously for a more serious gym-goer, but even if you only have a basic knowledge of the gym, giving this protocol your best effort will burn a ton of calories, empty your glycogen stores (for you to refill later), and stimulate your metabolism for the next 24 hours!
That covers the not-so-secret tricks for making a blowout meal less fattening and unhealthy. There are of course more traditional tips that would be a good idea to implement as well. Things your mom would tell you as you walked out the door like fill up on veggies, wait fifteen minutes to see if you’re full before eating more’ and ‘take a long walk afterward’ are all good pieces of advice that you should keep in mind. With all these tips and tricks at your disposal, hopefully, you feel ready to take on any holiday gathering with plenty of confidence and minimal guilt!
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