For most of us, the holidays are a time to cut lose, take the belt out another notch, and enjoy eggnog while grimly listening to extended family tell us stories of last years highlights while grandpa is snoring up a storm on the lazy boy. We equate these next 6 weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas with epic portion sizes, football, gluttony, and commercialism. Just enough to give us a regret filled shame-hangover for the first few weeks of January. Gone are the days of simple home cooked meals and a scratchy “Home Alone 2” VHS. Now if it’s not bigger, brighter, and MORE EXTREME, it’s not trending on #twitter. Think about it – every year the iPhone gets larger, they just added a “trenta” size at Starbucks, and our President elect is a reality TV star. But buying into the “bigger is better” mindset hasn’t gotten us any closer to the beach body we want, although we’ve taken all the supplements and tried all the different diets, looking for the one that’s going to change our lives. Here are some of the things that we as Americans do bigger and better than anyone else, and here’s how you can change these “traditions” and Make America Fit Again.
The Problem: We Eat Too Big at Holiday Meals
Since when do you need seconds of stuffing, or a third slice of pie? The reality is that you and your waistline don’t need it, but everyone else is doing it, and hey – you haven’t tried rhubarb pie in years, so you might as well have a little. Rhubarb is a vegetable right? The expectation is that we eat till we’re sick at holiday gatherings, then someone will inevitably blame the tryptophan in turkey for the afternoon nap. Really? It was those two slices of turkey, and not the 6lbs of mashed potatoes and gravy?
The Solution: Eat Before You Eat
Before heading over to a holiday party, feast or festival, grab a quick healthy bite about an hour ahead of time. Focus on protein and veggies, and no need to fill up. You’ll feel more satiated, and have less cravings for excessive sweets and sugars that seem to make the pants feel a little bit tighter. You also take control of a situation where you might feel more powerless – like at grandma’s Christmas brunch. Action breeds more action, so don’t wait to be accosted by the dishes of holiday chocolates with no redeeming value. Be a person of action and take ownership of your life.
The Problem: We Drink Too Much
Mimosas at breakfast, beers in the afternoon, and wine for dinner. When we’re in celebratory mode, all of our scruples and normal behaviors disappear, and it becomes easy to justify imbibing with Uncle Bob in the garage while he talks about the latest mechanic work he did on the old mustang. The problem comes when we start to mix our libations with our feasts. This becomes a recipe for rapid weight gain since when alcohol is present in your body, most of the normal regulatory processes are shut down to get rid of the alcohol. This means that when drinking, most of the calories are absorbed and then stored directly as fat until the body has a chance to process out the poisonous Jaeger Bomb you just slammed.
The Solution: Don’t Drink and Devour
If you’re gonna eat big, save the alcoholic beverages for 90+ minutes later. Not only will this give your body time to process all the food you just ate (likely while you’re napping), but you’ll avoid the feeling of being uncomfortable full that comes with a big meal and a malty beverage (or several). Prost!
The Problem: We spend too much
59% of Americans spend as much or more than they earn in a single year. Marketers capitalize on this during the holiday season. Black Friday is named that because it is often the first day of the year that big stores will be “in the black” or have a positive balance for the year. But how much of the stuff that you buy during the holidays will be remembered 6 months later?
The Solution: Get Personal
My family has a tradition of writing a letter to the other members of our immediate family, which we keep and re-read during the holidays. Doing this carries so much more significance than getting a new Xbox game, and provides years of memories to look back on. It’s much easier to spend 50 dollars on a trinket rather than sit down and write a heartfelt letter to one of your family members, so don’t think this is a cop out.
The Problem: We Rest to Much
Football might be the new American pastime. Well, not football, but sitting on our couch watching football while we gorge ourselves on things covered in powdered cheese. Between sitting at work, sitting at meals, sitting to watch Netflix – we live in a very sedentary society. I watch one of my neighbors drive from his house to the gas station less than ¼ of a mile away, grab a six pack of Bud Light and a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos every Friday at 5:30pm, and drive back. We don’t have very many chances in our life for physical activity unless we are intentional about building them in.
The Solution: Move More
Rather than catching up with friends and relatives over a cup of coffee, catch up over a cup of coffee and an hour long walk. You’ll both feel better, have more energy, and have burned off the equivalent calories of 6 ounces of Eggnog. Host a thanksgiving or Christmas day touch football game with your friends. Get outside and spend some time with your buddies building memories and ruthlessly asserting your dominance through semi-contact sports. Workout at least 5 times per week for at least 30 minutes. Make a point to work out in the mornings, because it will be very easy find reasons to not go in the afternoon. Bonus points if you bring a friend or family member to train with you. This is especially helpful before big meals, because the big insulin spike sends some of those calories to muscle, so training before you eat those 3 “small” slices of pie is a must. Don’t underestimate the importance of NEAT (non-formal exercise, like walking). Park your car farther from the grocery store, even if it’s your 3rd trip today because no one remembered Cool Whip. So get up and stretch. Do 5 pushups every commercial break during the Macys Parade, play the Macarena every hour – whatever. Just make sure you’re moving.
Cut the fat in your life and lose the spare tire at the same time. It’s great to spend time with family, there’s nothing wrong with watching football, and if you bring Tupperware to Thanksgiving dinner, just know that Grandma is mad at you. Lower the holiday stress by focusing on your health, and not using it as an excuse to go on a 6-week dessert bender.
Shannon Clark holds a degree in exercise science and sport performance from the University of Alberta in Edmonton. Her love for physical activity began with her time as a competitive figure skater and she has since been working in the health and fitness field for over 10 years.
When she’s not writing about health, wellness, or fitness, she loves working as a personal trainer, baking up the latest high-protein desserts, and spending time with a good book or movie.