It happens every year. Commencing with trick-or-treaters in October and concluding in the new year, the approximately six-week holiday season stretch is simultaneously festive, celebratory, indulgent and stressful — a perfect cocktail for accelerated fat gain. Come January 1, after attending countless parties, work events and family gatherings, it’s still somehow a little surprising to find that a favorite pair of jeans have “shrunk” yet again.
It’s no secret that holiday weight gain is common. What’s more concerning, however, is that it’s cumulative. Despite the initial wherewithal of typical New Year’s resolutions, most people do not typically lose the weight gained during this season, and it’s a major contributor to a steadily increasing waistline over the decades.1 When thinking about the holidays in the context of an extra 10, 20 or 30+ pounds (versus just a few extra uninvited ones from this year only), the seasonal coffee-shop drinks, cocktails and cookies seem a lot less innocent than once thought.
With that being said, hope is far from lost. With the rejuvenation and blank-slate motivation that come with the new year, there are a few tried-and-true strategies to keep you out of the weight-gaining status quo. Your metabolism can and should be different this year, and it starts by focusing on the most important areas for a reset. Read on to learn more.
WATER AND FIBER: YOUR HANDS-DOWN STARTING POINT
When it comes to things that feel boring to talk about but are too important to skip, both water and fiber intake top the list. Be leery: it’s easy to get sucked into the latest diet crazes while ignoring these non-negotiable basics.
You have no doubt heard that water is our most important nutrient. At the risk of belaboring its importance, hydration is at the crux of maintaining energy levels, detoxification, appetite management and more. As a general rule of thumb, aim for half of your goal weight in ounces of water per day. To switch things up, try sparkling water, unsweetened organic herbal teas or your own infusions at home. A few favorites include pineapple and mint, raspberry and lime or simply lemon and orange wedges.
Once you’re consistently hydrated, begin increasing fiber intake. If you’ve never used an online food tracker before, see how you stack up. Most Americans are getting half (or even less) of what their needs are, which sets the stage for hormone imbalances, lipid (cholesterol) issues, challenges in moving bowels regular, and increases in appetite. Once you’re tracking your fiber grams, slowly increase your intake by about 5 grams per day each week until you’re getting 25 grams per day at a minimum. Many of us need more. Aiming for 6 to 8 servings of non-starchy vegetables each day, 1 to 2 scoops of a prebiotic plant fiber blend and 1 to 2 tablespoons of chia or flax mixed into a shake will yield you about 37 grams.
Be careful not to underestimate the power of water and fiber; hitting the goals for these two consistently can be a total game changer.
GO ALL IN WITH 2 WEEKS (OR MORE) OF UNPROCESSED FOODS
Sometimes, going cold turkey with nutrition is the way to go. The truth is, the concept of moderation does not work for everyone. And if you’ve ever found yourself shocked to find the bottom of a bag of chips, box of cereal or pint of ice cream, a black-and-white approach may be a great catalyst for you in the short term.
Having a predefined, realistic period of time (2 to 4 weeks) to include only what your body optimally needs (plenty of non-starchy vegetables, some fruit, healthy fats such as nuts and seeds, ample protein and unprocessed starchy carbohydrates), and to remove common sensitivities and triggers (added sugars, refined carbohydrates, alcohol, gluten and dairy, to name a few) can mean not only metabolic benefits, but a sense of confidence about implementing a healthier nutrition program as well.
The best part? We have a free D.TOXSM class to guide you. It’s kicking off on Monday, January 8, and is hosted by Coach Anika. The optional kit helps support your reset efforts (and your protein and fiber intake). Get more information, listen to an invitational podcast and sign up here.
BE STUBBORNLY COMMITTED TO YOUR SCHEDULE
Holiday festivities, travel, time off from work and skipped workouts can really throw a wrench into our routines and rhythms. Because so much of health and functioning is tied to circadian rhythm and routine, now is the time to set some boundaries and parameters to maintain a schedule that works for metabolism, not against it.
If nothing else, consistent bedtime and wake-up times are powerful moderators of how well we feel and function. If possible, focus on staying within similar windows of time for sleep both during the week and on weekends. Additionally, keeping a consistent schedule with exercising and eating may be beneficial.
Specifically related to eating patterns, you may find that limiting the number of hours per day that food is consumed to an 8- to 12-hour window may be better for metabolism than grazing the entire time you’re awake. In one study on mice, it was found that restricting feeding to less than 12 hours per day showed metabolic benefits, and some additional research on time-restricted eating has even shown support for certain blood markers and fat loss.2,3,4 If you’re considering this approach (a form of intermittent fasting), be sure to work closely with your healthcare practitioner, as it may not be appropriate for everyone.
Outside of sleeping, eating and exercising during routine times, other tips to support a healthy circadian rhythm (and therefore metabolism) include ensuring you get midday exposure to sunlight and limiting evening screen time which can fool your brain into thinking its daytime and disrupt your sleep.
PRIORITIZE WEIGHT TRAINING
After the holiday season, most of us are ready to hit the workout routine pretty hard. It’s common to think that creating the largest caloric deficit possible by eating less and moving more is the ticket to success. All too often, those with New Year’s resolutions are found to significantly cut their portion sizes and ramp up the hours put in on a favorite piece of cardio equipment — only to give up by mid-January. What gives?
One of the biggest post-holiday workout mistakes is not incorporating strength training. Strength training is important for building lean tissue (a must-have for anyone desiring a lean and toned look), supporting healthy blood sugar control and boosting metabolism. If someone is focusing only on daily caloric deficits, metabolism (which is programmed for survival, not jean size) will hormonally compensate to “save” the person from a perceived lack of food and perceived need to be on the run. The result? Slow fat loss, sluggishness and lightning-quick weight regain when returning to a previously normal caloric intake. On the other hand, building lean tissue and fueling with adequate nutrition revs up metabolism and sets the stage for long-term success.
Strength training in a progressive program often is the biggest piece of a weight loss approach that gets overlooked by those going at it alone. If you’ve never done any strength training before, this year is your year to meet with a fitness professional, get an evaluation, and determine the best program approach for you. Three days per week of strength training, when done properly, can yield more results than 6 days per week of random workouts, no matter how taxing they might feel.
DON’T LOSE WEIGHT TO GET HEALTHY — GET HEALTHY TO LOSE WEIGHT
That’s a mindset shift worth reading again. Don’t lose weight to get healthy. Instead, get healthy to lose weight. Listen, there are a thousand different ways you can lose weight for the short term, but if your underlying health is not improving during the process, it’s just a matter of time before the fat re-accumulates (and then some). It’s probably safe to say that during those short-term fixes, fatigue and crankiness are rampant.
At Life Time, we think a bit differently. We believe in optimizing your underlying health to set you up for long-term success. Excess fat, along with other common issues like cravings, poor sleep and low energy, is a sign that points to your underlying physiology. The better your physiology and health, the better you feel. The goal is to make fat loss one of the many positive “symptoms” of getting healthier — along with freedom from cravings, more restful sleep and soaring energy levels. It’s a paradigm shift, and it is possible.
My clients always love starting the year off with a full check-in on their blood work to learn more about their unique levels of inflammation, check on their blood sugar regulation, evaluate their status of important nutrients like Vitamin B12 and iron, and get a reading on their balance of thyroid hormones, cortisol, and sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen. By tracking these over time, you’re able to customize your nutrition and exercise approach to better suit your body and how it functions.
You can’t improve what you don’t track, and looking under the hood with thorough blood work can provide you with the data you need to build a smarter program.
As always, the year flew by and we have a full calendar of fresh opportunities and goals ahead. Despite past successes or challenges, make this year different by marrying good intentions, hard work and a plan to truly reset your metabolism from the inside out.
Thanks for reading! As always, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or need support.
In health, Samantha McKinney – Life Time Lab Testing Program Manager
This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.