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Holiday Weight Managment...Ten Simple Tips to Beat Holiday Weight Gain

Wednesday, November 23, 2011 2:47 PM
Prevent Thanksgiving and  holiday weight gain with these simple tips to preserve your body composition. I always ask my Biosignature students, Have you ever eaten anything by accident?

If you have to stop and think about the answer, then these tips are for you. Food doesn’t just end up in your mouth by accident. Eating and drinking is a choice, and in order to have better health and a lean physique, you must take control of that choice and do what’s best for you. A lean physique is all about insulin management, and the good news is that you can completely control your insulin response by choosing the right foods.

Rather than giving into gaining fat, strive to either maintain your current body composition and fitness, or better yet, set goals and take this time to make gains—gains in strength, muscle, and a leaner physique that is. These ten simple tips will help you beat holiday weight gain and lower stress levels, meaning you’ll enjoy your holidays that much more.

1)    Set A Goal
Set a body composition and workout goal. Holiday months are an excellent time to set new goals and ramp up your program. Why wait until the New Year? Set goals now and start today!

You may already have short- and long-term goals in place, but if not, this is the perfect time to set some. Start by identifying where you’d like to be in terms of body composition one week from now and behave accordingly.  If your goal is to lose fat, you’ll need a fat burning workout protocol and it will be necessary to “just say no” to Thanksgiving food that doesn’t fit your diet.

Perhaps Thanksgiving is the ideal time to try a cleanse to detoxify your body of contaminants. If you have some time off from work, this is an excellent option because detoxifying will lead to serious fat loss. Focusing on cleansing the body rather than inundating it with high-carb, high-fat foods and alcohol may be just what you need, and it takes the stress out of holiday food choices.

But maybe you’ve been training really hard and could use a break over the holiday—rest and recovery are also critical and maybe that’s a good goal for you. Or possibly you want to maintain your weight, but feel bored with your workouts—it’s probably time to try something different. Consider the German Body Comp program or try a martial art (judo has been shown to lower cortisol levels, which is plus for fat loss), or boxing.

2)    Choose the Least  Worst Option
The good news about Thanksgiving meals is that they don’t lack protein. Turkey and other meats will provide an excellent source of muscle building protein—remember to opt for organic and free-range whenever you have the choice. If you don’t have control over the type of meat, minimize intake of non-organic meats.

The bad news about Thanksgiving and all holiday foods is that there is an overabundance of high-carb foods that will cause major problems for insulin health and body composition. High-carb foods cause a quick spike in insulin, which signals the body to move glucose out of the blood stream, leading to a drop in blood sugar and more carbohydrate cravings to re-elevate the blood sugar. High-carb foods provide empty calories, but they also set you on the road to a cycle of carb cravings.

To deal with this, choose the least worst option. Fill up on protein-rich foods, and eliminate or minimize high-carb choices as much as possible. For example, to employ the least worst option method, opt for gluten-free carbs whenever possible. If you have Thanksgiving or holiday events where you provide the food, choose gluten-free treats and organic meats. If you are an invitee, let your hosts know that you are gluten-free and bring a gluten-free treat to share.

3)    Eat Breakfast: Meat and Nuts
Eat breakfast on Thanksgiving for the best body composition results. “Saving” calories for the Thanksgiving meal or a big holiday party is not your best bet. If you skip breakfast, you’ll likely be famished by the big meal, resulting in overeating. Better calorie and macronutrient management is achieved by eating a small amount of protein with a low-glycemic food such as strawberries or almonds to fill you up, give you nourishment, and set up your neurotransmitters for optimal production throughout the day.

Research actually supports this strategy—it’s not just an annoying preachy tip. Evidence shows that eating protein for breakfast reduces the brain signals controlling food motivation and reward-driven eating behavior. A protein-rich breakfast will minimize cravings for high-carb foods during the holiday event, and you won’t feel starved and need to eat everything in sight. Nor will you feel motivated to eat more than is necessary as a “reward” for having skipped breakfast. 

For anyone who is not aware of it, read all about the meat and nut breakfast here.

4)    Drink Green Tea To Minimize The Negative Effects of Alcohol
Supplement and drink green to minimize the negative effects of alcohol on the body. Green tea is filled with antioxidants and it is well known to combat oxidative stress all over the body. Research shows that the antioxidants in green tea will protect the liver from damage by alcohol. One study found that green tea eliminated liver damage from alcohol intake, and it may help you minimize feelings of a hangover because of better liver function.

Drink green tea before having a holiday meal or going to a party and you will not only protect yourself from oxidative stress from alcohol, but you’ll also improve insulin sensitivity. Green tea elevates glucose uptake and support fat burning—although only minimally—making it a must have before any holiday party. Along with drinking green tea beforehand, supplement with green tea capsules after imbibing and indulging for best results.  Consider picking up my Green Tea Excellence 2.0 for an extra antioxidant punch:

5)    Eat A Low-Glycemic Food With Your Carbs For A Better Insulin Response
Pair low-glycemic foods with your carbs to get a better insulin response and minimize radical blood sugar fluctuations. Low-glycemic foods have been shown to slow digestion and mitigate the effect of high-glycemic carb foods that normally spike insulin. For example, adding fenugreek to wheat bread or bilberries to oatmeal (the bread and oatmeal are both high-carb, high-glycemic foods), has been shown to result in a lower insulin response than would be expected.

Managing insulin is absolutely critical for a lean body composition, and it’s an excellent tool to use to minimize fat gain over the holidays. Typically, in terms of a Biosignature profile, over the holidays you will see a dramatic increase in the suprailiac and subscapular skinfolds from insulin mismanagement due to the high-carb intake. Also, the umbilical skinfold will increase from elevated cortisol, which is partly triggered by the greater amount of insulin in the system from over indulging in sweets.

To prevent these effects, always pair low-glycemic foods with carbs. Proven low-glycemic options include bilberries, fenugreek, and strawberries. An easier choice may be to simply take a supplement that manages insulin such as Fenuplex, or Glucose Disposal. I suggest three tablets of either one after every holiday meal and two after regular meals.

6)    Get Enough Sleep

Get enough sleep and clean up your sleep hygiene. There’s an abundance of research showing that sleep-deprived individuals are fatter than well-rested people, but we also know that being tired leads people to eat more, particularly foods with more saturated fat.

Sleep deprivation leads to a number of hormonal problems including elevated cortisol, and lower growth hormone, serotonin, and melatonin. Even short-term sleep deprivation appears to result in individuals eating significantly more calories overall than they would if they were rested, and it leads to a major increase in saturated fat and overall fat intake. Also, in one study, participants who were sleep-deprived burned 300 fewer calories a day because they were less active than if they got their regular amount of sleep. An increase in calories and saturated fat paired with less physical activity will result in serious body composition problems and ill health.

Something as simple as having good sleep hygiene (complete darkness, minimize electrical fields, fill in grateful log, eliminate alcohol) will help you beat holiday weight gain. Use this evidence to motivate you to always get enough sleep before holiday meals and parties. Don’t go in sleep-deprived and submit to your exhaustion by chowing down on high-fat foods. Being well rested will help you make better food choices and will ensure you get in an awesome workout. If you suffer from insomnia, consider taking magnesium and read this article on How to Get Better Sleep.

7)    Get Your Omega-3s With Meals
Take omega-3 fish oils with all meals for a better insulin response and lower inflammation. You’ll also burn more fat if your omega-3s are up to par. I’d imagine you’ve already made this tip a habit, but if for some reason unfathomable reason you have not, start taking omega-3s NOW!

There’s a ton of research showing that fish oil is essential for health, but it is particularly important when trying to minimize the effects of holiday eating and drinking. Omega-3s will increase your levels of serotonin (the hormone that makes you feel good), and decrease depression and anxiety. Plus, they turn on the lipolytic genes (which burn fat), turn off the lipogenic genes (which store fat), and reduce carb cravings.

Research shows that because omega-3s trigger fat burning they also help minimize the amount of insulin secreted from the pancreas. Less insulin is always a good thing, and there’s also evidence that omega-3s improve glucose metabolism and help the cells be more sensitive to insulin.  I suggest a tablespoon of liquid omega-3s at all meals—check out Poliquin’s Omega-3 Liquid.

8)    Avoid Processed Foods At All Costs: Opt for Whole Organic Foods

Avoid processed and conventional foods at all costs. Choose organic whole foods to get more diet-induced calorie burning from food. Research shows that processed foods will have a significantly lower diet-induced thermic effect than eating whole foods.

The thermic effect of food is the amount of calories required to break down food, synthesize enzymes, and perform metabolic processes. It is typically about 10 percent of daily energy expenditure. Protein burns the most calories, followed by carbohydrates and then fats.

In a recent study, researchers compared the effect of eating a whole food meal with a processed food meal, both with equal calorie and macronutrient content. The thermic effect for the participants who ate the whole food meal was almost 50 percent higher than the thermic effect for the individuals who ate the processed food meal. Plus, the participants who ate the processed food meal had their metabolism drop below their average basal metabolic rate (BMR)—the average energy needed to keep the body functioning at rest—during the sixth hour after eating, while the whole food meal group never fell below the BMR.

The reason for the dramatic difference in calorie burn for the two meal types is due to variation in the quality of the ingredients and fiber content between the two meals.  The processed food meal contained refined grains without bran or germ and about one-third of the fiber of the whole food meal. The refined quality of the processed food ingredients means it is more easily broken down by the body,  requires less enzyme production, ultimately burning fewer calories in the process.

Apply this to Thanksgiving meal management and focus on eating more organic high-protein foods. Stay away from processed foods such as white bread, stuffing, and anything that is store bought. Choose homemade foods, opt for vegetables even if they may be cooked in fat, and if you must eat carbs, opt for gluten-free or whole grain-based ones. Pie is a bad option as are all baked sweets. Berries, or ice cream and berries are a much better option.

9)    Train High Volume Right Before Eating—Don’t Do Aerobic Training!
Train hard with a high volume of repetitions right before eating the holiday meal. This will burn a lot of energy, set your muscle up for serious protein synthesis, elevate fat burning and metabolic rate, and improve insulin sensitivity. You’ll be able to indulge a bit because the best time to load up on carbs is right after your workout—really, the first ten minutes following training, but that may not be possible, assuming you need to shower.

Avoid continuous aerobic training at all costs because this raises cortisol, oxidative stress , and has no effect on fat burning. Instead, perform a sprint workout in addition to a high-volume of lifts with high repetitions. Use a slow eccentric tempo, or a descending set protocol. Large muscle group exercises are essential—be sure to train legs on holiday meal days—and focus on deadlifts and squats.

I generally suggest the following carb intake based on training volume for a given workout:
12-72 reps per workout: 0.6 g/kg/lean body mass (lbm)

73-200 reps per workout: 0.8 g/kg/lbm

200-360 reps per workout: 1.0 g/kg/lbm

360-450 reps per workout: 1.2 g/kg/lbm
This is not a lot of carbs, but if you go into Thanksgiving dinner with a carb goal and an idea of carb quantity in the foods you’ll be choosing from, you’ll be more likely to minimize weight gain.
10)    Minimize “Cheating” By Removing Craved Foods From Diet And Increasing Protein
Eliminate holiday food cravings that lead to weight gain by removing problem foods from your diet. In the long term, eliminating enticing foods that lead to fat gain will allow you to no longer crave those foods and be leaner. Research shows that if your body is carb intolerant, if you seriously minimize carb intake and eat a high-protein, high-fat diet, you will decrease cravings for carbs and feel less hunger. The same goes for if you are carb tolerant and need to cut out excessive fat, or fatty sweets. Eat a high-protein diet, eliminate high-fat sweets, and you’ll lose your yearning for those foods along with any extra fat.

Don’t be scared off by the idea of avoiding cravings during the holidays. One study found that a long-term low-carb diet (20 g/day of carbs in the form of low glycemic vegetables) in which the participants ate as much protein and fat as they wanted resulted in less preference for carbs and fewer cravings for high-carb foods, particularly those high in sugar and sweets. Participants maintained their weight—the purpose of the study was not to induce weight loss but to test the elimination of food cravings. Additionally, there was a low-calorie, low-fat diet group that decreased cravings for high-fat foods and they had less preference for high-protein foods—the two macronutrients that were highly restricted from their diets.

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to start eliminating enticing foods that mess with your nutrition. Doing so will allow you to make it through the first holiday of the season on track and it will set you up for a better physique in the New Year. By eliminating normally craved foods now, you should be free of diet weak spots by Christmas. Remember, the food you eat is choice. We don’t accidentally eat foods that aren’t good for us—we choose to eat those foods. Make the best choice, or at least make the least worst choice.

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