The Holidays are here and once again you are going to be faced with an abundance of opportunities to blow your diet and gain the typical 1 to 2 (or more) pounds of fat.
For some reason, people often adopt an “all or nothing” attitude towards their diet and exercise at this time of year. Maybe it’s because most of the popular strategies surrounding avoiding holiday weight gain leave you feeling left out from enjoying the festivities.
Well not this year! Below you will find some effective but unusual methods to keeping those holiday slabs of fat off that won’t require monk like sacrifice;
Choose fat based foods over carbohydrate based
This may comes as a bit of a surprise but glucose is not the preferred fuel of muscle cells- fat is. At 9 calories per gram, fat is more than twice as energy dense than carbs providing your body with an excellent source of energy. The usual carb heavy foods found at your typical holiday meal can wreak havoc on your blood sugar and insulin levels setting you up for fat gain. Forgoing carb selections (pastries, cakes, bread etc) in favour of fat and protein options (nuts, meats etc) will leave you feeling more satisfied and eating fewer calories. Worried that more fat may have a negative impact on your health? Don’t be- research shows that swapping out those carbs may actually improve cardiovascular risk factors such as insulin resistance, weight gain, high cholesterol and high triglycerides. In a study published in the International Journey of Obesity researchers discovered that eating a high-fat diet in the morning turned on fat metabolism but also helped mice respond more efficiently to carbs during the day. High-carb breakfasts, on the other hand, made it hard for them to use fat efficiently later in the day.
Skip some meals
We have all heard it and many of us are still living by it- “eating small, frequent meals throughout the day increases metabolism”. This is, in fact, false. There is no evidence to support that skipping a single meal or even a day’s worth of meals does anything to metabolic rate. Your body’s metabolism simply doesn’t operate that fast and recent research into fasting even shows a slight (~5% or so) increase in metabolic rate during the initial period of fasting! Other studies suggest that eating 3, high protein meals per day is better for maintaining levels of satiety compared to eating 6 times per day. If you happen to have a meal where you really indulge simply forgo eating the next meal or skip eating altogether by simply fasting until the following day. You won’t lose any muscle and the reduced calories will help ensure you don’t gain any extra body fat.
Eat more calories LATER in the day
For years we have been told that, in order to lose fat, we should “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper”. This is also known as “calorie tapering”. It turns out that the reverse may be true. A recent study compared two meal patterns- one group eating more calories earlier in the day and the other group eating most calories later in the day. Researchers discovered that those who ate more calories in the morning lost more weight however, the extra weight was in the form of muscle mass. The subjects who ate in the late evening had less muscle loss and this resulted in a greater decrease in body fat percentage. The truth is if calories are equal, meal timing will have no impact on body composition.
Exercise BEFORE you eat to activate GLUT4.
Glucose transporter type 4, also known as GLUT4, is an “insulin-regulated glucose transporter”. It is found primarily in both muscle and fat tissue and is responsible for insulin-regulated glucose transport into the cell. When activated Glut4, moves to the surface membrane of muscle cells and allows for nutrients to be absorbed and stored inside. Muscular contraction activates GLUT4. Because of this, calories that are eaten immediately following muscular contractions are more likely to be shuttled towards fatigued muscles to help facilitate recovery leaving fewer calories available for fat storage. GLUT4 activation appears to last for several hours after a workout (depending upon the amount of muscle contractions performed). Because of this it is always advisable to exercise prior to indulging in your favorite foods. Keep in mind that this does not mean that you have to go to a gym- quick, whole body workouts using exercises such as squats, pushups, step-ups and pull ups will do the job nicely.
Drink some booze (just follow these rules)
During the Holiday festivities wherever food can be found there is also booze. Traditional holiday beverages such as Liqueurs, Baileys and eggnog can really pack a punch in terms of sugar, fat and calories. This doesn’t mean that you have to pass on the festivities (unless you are the DD of course). The truth is the belief that alcohol makes you fat is not entirely correct. Alcohol alone cannot cause fat gain by itself as there is no metabolic pathway that can make fat out of alcohol with any efficiency. It’s all the mixes and junk food people eat in conjunction with alcohol intake that causes fat gain. If you still want to tie one on over the Holidays here are some rules for you to follow;
Limit carbohydrate-rich alcohol sources such as drinks made with fruit juices and beer.
Choose dry wines which are very low carb, instead of sweet wines.
Cognac, tequila, rum, scotch, gin, vodka and whiskey are all good choices due to their low carb content.
Don’t mix alcohol with regular soda- use diet soda or tonic water instead.
Dramatically reduce your intake of fats. Never consume fatty foods and alcohol together. Instead, eat as much protein as you want. Just make sure to get your protein from lean sources such as low fat cottage cheese, protein powder, chicken, turkey, tuna, or egg whites.
If you follow these rules you can drink freely once (or twice) per week with no fear of fat gain. To be clear I am not advocating alcohol consumption. However, I do enjoy an occasional drink or two and when consumed responsibly alcohol poses no threat to your health or waist line.
Weigh yourself daily
I am normally opposed to obsessive weight checking but I make an exception during the Holidays. It is difficult to see small changes in body composition. Sometimes you may not notice that you have gained any fat until you pass an aesthetic threshold- that place where it becomes painfully obvious to yourself and others that you really have gained weight. To avoid this I recommend keeping close track of your weight. Weigh yourself each morning upon waking and write this number down on a wall chart. Post this where you will see it every day. This daily reminder will help keep you honest about any weight gain that may occur and allow you to make the necessary adjustments before those 2 pounds become 5 or 10.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy Hanukkah!
International Journal of Obesity, March 30, 2010