"Limit the Damage"
By Ed Halper, M. Ed., C.P.T.
The Holidays are fast approaching - season of family, merriment, and for most Americans, a 3-5 lb. weight gain - that it takes all year to work off. Here are my annual tips to limit the damage:
Take advantage of off-times: Yes, everyone's life is a little busier with gift-buying, office parties, etc. But there are more off-days from work this time of year as well. Take advantage of every day off to get a workout in. I always say, your body doesn't realize if it's Thanksgiving, Christmas, or a random Monday in March. It needs some type of activity every day!
Mix it up: For runners, cyclists and other warm-weather athletes, this is the "off-season." It doesn't mean you exercise less, necessarily, but mix in different things that aren't priorities during your competitive season. As a runner, my last race is usually early November. Over the winter, I'll do some weighted squats and lunges, leg presses, and other "meat and potato" lower-body exercises that are somewhat counter-productive during racing season. It builds muscle in my legs in different ways than running, and I enjoy it!
Brave the cold: While I am a warm weather person (I'm the one you see running in gloves in May!), exercising outdoors in the winter is invigorating, and burns up more calories (with equal effort) than working out in warm weather. Your body must expend a lot of energy to stay warm against the elements.
Hit the weights: Weight-training keeps the bones and muscles strong, as well as the connecting ligaments and tendons. While you're usually not as drenched in sweat as after a good cardio session, the "after-burn" is longer, so it's also a great way to keep your weight under control. Try to incorporate balance into your strength training, too, by using things like the bosu or stability ball, or by standing on one leg when executing an exercise like the lateral shoulder raise. Not as easy as you'd think!
Save your calories: If you know Thanksgiving dinner is going to be a killer, eat light (but don't starve yourself) the day before. Try to exercise on Black Friday morning, before the food has all settled in, and again, eat lightly the rest of the day. Also drink a lot of water. By Saturday, your weight should be back to normal.
Beware the liquid calories: Americans now get 30% of their calories from liquids. Substitute water or club soda for sugared or diet sodas. When drinking alcohol, have one drink, then sip a full glass of club soda before having another. It will cut down your alcohol consumption considerably, saving you calories and the other potential hazards of over-doing it.
Tips before you feast: Back to the water theme. If you drink three full glasses of water before a big meal, your stomach will have a sense of fullness that will cut down on your appetite considerably. Salad is also filled with water, nutrients, and fiber. A healthy salad before a big Holiday meal will save you calories, not add to it. The acidity and fiber in half a grapefruit will have a similar effect.
Remember your vegetables: A third of the plate should be covered by something green, nutritionists always say. Also, opt for the vegetables in the pre-meal snacking. Healthy, and again, the fibrous content, will cut down on your cravings later.
Don't be a food "martyr": I love stuffing, and I also really enjoy pumpkin pie. I will have both with my Thanksgiving meal. Psychologists dealing with eating issues say that when someone sacrifices on something they really love and don't regularly eat, they will "feel deprived" and maybe drown their sorrows in a bag of Oreo's when no one is looking. Recognize what your one or two "must have" treats are and enjoy them!
Remember your math: It takes 3600 excess calories to put on a pound, and the same deficit to take one off. Try your best to retain equilibrium during this six-week period. Maybe you won't lose weight, but don't resign to yourself that you will put it on, either. Just keep exercising, and stay healthy to enjoy many more Holidays!
Ed Halper is the proprietor of Mountain Fitness and feature writer of the "Eye on Health" column for The Showcase magazine, in which this piece appears.
He holds a Master's Degree in Physical Education from Trenton State College and is a Certified Personal Trainer through SCW. Ed is also recognized as an IDEA Master Trainer.