Battling the Bulge Over the Holidays

I surprised myself when I stepped on the scale the other day to find that I didn’t gain any weight—a miracle, especially with Thanksgiving and not going to the gym last week.

In the past I would have eaten seconds and possibly thirds, but this year, I was barely able to finish my first—not because the food wasn’t good (on the contrary, it was very good—according to the hard-to-please Korean mamas), but because I had been noshing pretty much the whole day—tasting a bit of this and that and eating quite a bit of raw veggies, which was unusual for me. I’d also been drinking ridiculous amounts of coffee, which I’m sure had a hand in appetite suppression. (I needed to keep awake as I prepared a meal for 24.) I was doing a lot of moving as I shopped, cooked, cleaned, and set the stage for the big feast. By the end of Thanksgiving evening, I could barely budge because I was so tired and sore.

We also had had an impressive array of dessert provided by my younger sister, Julia. She brought a cranberry cream cheese pie from Hoosier Mama and a strawberries and cream cake and lemon squares from Swedish Bakery. My weakness is sweets and comfort carbs like stuffing and sweet potatoes. Although I ate well enough of leftovers to hibernate for the rest of the winter, the damage wasn’t bad at all.

I learned from my Zumba instructor that the average person gains between 10 to 15 pounds over the holidays. She recommended that we walk on the treadmill for at least thirty minutes after the class to make sure we avoid being among the gainers. It made me think about other strategies as well.

Here are some tips to battle the holiday bulge:

Keep moving. Every little bit helps. Don’t go driving around looking for that prime parking space. Park wherever and walk. Take the stairs or walk on the escalator. As you wait in line to pay for your holiday purchases, practice balancing on each leg or bop along with the music. Consider using your shopping bags as weights—work on your arms and sides as you wait.

Be aware of your movements and how much (or little) you move—a pedometer might come in handy.

As much as inclement weather might be an excuse for not going to the gym, you can still sneak in a little something at home. During commercial breaks or while you’re watching your favorite program, you can use light free weights (think slow and controlled movements), do some aerobics like jumping jacks, alternating high knee lifts, trunk twist punches with squats, or do some core-building yoga poses like the plank, dolphin, or bird-dog. As you’re cleaning the house, consider using some Swiffer moves.

During work, I’ve found it helpful to try drinking water/coffee/tea at least once an hour to get me out of the chair and away from the computer. Not only does it help me keep hydrated, but it reminds me to move.

Drink plenty of water. So many times we think we’re hungry when we’re really thirsty. For those of us who live in cold regions, we need even more water than ever to combat the dryness around us. Water also helps our bodies break down and flush out the extra sugars, salts, and fats that we’ve been consuming. Also, if you know you’re going to binge, be sure to drink a lot of water before and after.

Get enough rest/give yourself some quiet time during the day. Nothing like cortisol to make the belly bigger, and ’tis the season for cortisol build-up especially with all that stress. Make it a goal to get at least seven hours of sleep. If that’s not possible, then plan on giving yourself a quiet time during the day (aim for 10-15 minutes). Sit or lie down, close your eyes or focus your gaze on a point/object in front of you (drishti), and take some deep breaths, while being aware of the air that’s moving in and out of your nose, lungs, and belly. Count for three slowly for each—inhale, hold breath, exhale. You can do the alternating nostril breathing (holding one nostril and switching), or breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth, while making a “whoosh” sound.

While some folks take a smoking break, think of this as a “breathing break.” You’ll find that you need it more than you realize.

Watch portion sizes and choose wisely. It’s OK to indulge as long as you realize that you’ll need to work it off at some point. Keep a food/activity diary to keep you honest. Let me tell you—I am guilty for having selective memory when it comes to food. Sometimes because I’m not in the mood to record my indulgence, I choose not to eat it.

As Dave Zinczenko says, “Unnecessary weight gain isn’t about eating too much food. It’s about eating too much that ISN’T food.” So fill up with raw veggies, while taking a small sampling of your favorite indulgences. Keep in mind, our eyes are often bigger than our tummies.


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