With the holidays upon us, it might seem like a good idea to get a jump start on that New Year’s resolution. Lose weight, avoid all that holiday overeating, and sail into the new year one step ahead of your goals. Not so fast. While dieting during the holidays may seem like a great plan, it actually has the potential to seriously backfire.
Think about it. When you restrict yourself, especially at something like a holiday gathering, it’s stressful. You’re seriously testing your willpower, trying to convince yourself that you don’t want all the food staring you in the face; plus it disconnects you from everyone else.
Then if you do end up giving-in you feel guilty, probably don’t really enjoy the food, and are more likely to not stick to your diet the next day, or just throw the whole thing out the window.
Dieting and your body
There are a few key hormones in play when you diet: Leptin, which controls satiety; ghrelin, which controls hunger; and cortisol, which helps stimulate immune system function and mobilize fat, but only when acutely elevated (more on that in a minute).
Your body is smart. It’s designed for survival. While that was super helpful during the caveman days, it’s not always so great in the modern world. While you may know that there’s plenty of food around, your body does not. When you lower your calories your body doesn’t know it’s because you’re intentionally trying to lose weight. So your body does it’s best to keep you from losing too much weight.
Now imagine you’ve been dieting for a few weeks, your metabolism is lowered, and then you end up overeating at a few parties. The extra food from the parties is going to have more of an impact than before you started dieting. Note this is not starvation mode, there’s really no such thing. While your metabolism does slow when you diet there’s no evidence that it slows to a point where you can’t lose weight or actually start gaining weight.
Let’s talk about stress
Stress is a big factor in weight loss, although it’s often overlooked. Stress raises cortisol, dieting is a stress. So while dieting raises cortisol, you’re now adding to that with the stress of trying to deny yourself Christmas cookies. Chronically elevated cortisol can cause fat storage (definitely not the goal if you’re dieting), decreased immune function, and water retention. For more on this read this.
When calories are lowered, so is leptin which can make it tougher to feel full. In addition to leptin being lowered, ghrelin is increased. This means not only are you less satiated from your meals but you’re also hungrier. For more check out this article.
As an added bonus, when you decrease caloric intake your metabolism slows down and you move less. I’m not talking about exercise, I’m talking about all the non-exercise movement you do throughout the day without thinking, like fidgeting. Yep, your body is really trying to save you from starving to death in your cave. Not fair, right? Keep reading, I promise there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
Are you starting to see how dieting during the holidays might not be the best idea?
Enjoy your holidays
But if you relax and allow yourself to enjoy the holidays, really savor your food, and focus on connecting with those around you, not only will it be less stressful but you’re less likely to wind up bingeing because it takes away the guilt. You’re not cheating on your diet, you’re enjoying a slice of pie. Big difference.
Tips to get through the holidays without gaining a ton of weight or feeling guilty:
- Pick the foods you enjoy, don’t just eat because it’s there.
- Use the three-bite rule: take three bites, if you don’t love it, stop eating it.
- Have a glass of water. It’s tough to eat when one hand is occupied.
- Use the 2-1 rule for drinks: For every alcohol or calorie-containing drink you have, drink two glasses of water. Not only will it keep you from drinking all your calories but it will help keep you hydrated and feeling fuller which should help you not to overeat.
- Don’t just stand over the snack table, If you have a hard time not eating when food is in front of you, move away from the food and preferably stand with your back to the table. Out of sight out of mind.
- Mingle. It’s easier to not think about the food when you’re engaged in conversation.
- Eat slowly. When you do eat holiday treats, eat slowly. Take the time to chew your food and pay attention to how it tastes. There’s no point in eating extra calories if you’re shoveling your food.
- Don’t show up hungry. Make sure you eat during the day before going to a party. If you starve yourself all day, you’re more likely to binge at the party, and it’s probably not going to be on carrot sticks.
- Get a good workout in before. The best time to consume simple carbs, like cookies, is right before or right after a workout. So go to the gym, pick things up and put them down, and enjoy your cookies.
- Remind yourself that the food isn’t going anywhere. Yes, it may be seasonal, but if you really wanted it after the holidays, you could make it.
- If you’re baking, make smaller portions. Rather than giant cookies make little bite size ones; Instead of slices of gingerbread, cut it into bite-size squares. If you eat slowly and savor your food, you’ll probably be satisfied with one or two small treats.
- When the weather is nice take advantage and go for a walk.
- If you’re offered leftovers but know you won’t be able to control yourself, kindly decline. Be honest. If you can’t decline and you pass a homeless person on your way home, give it to them. Otherwise, throw it out.
- Keep working out. If you’re still lifting and doing cardio (or just lifting), you’ll burn more calories, plus if you do overeat those extra calories can go to building more muscle. Which will help if you diet after the holidays.
- Use the buddy system. Team up with a friend to workout or just hold each other accountable so you don’t skip your workouts.
Dieting after the holidays?
I know I made it sound pretty grim before, but dieting isn’t a bad thing. Here are a few tips to help you be more successful.
- Cut your calories slowly you’ll give your body time to adapt so that your body doesn’t fight you as much.
- Make sure you get adequate protein. Eating 1g per 1lb of bodyweight will help you keep your muscle mass. Since muscle requires more calories to maintain than fat, the more muscle you have the more calories you burn throughout the day.
- Lift heavy. Don’t just rely on cardio. Lifting weights will help you keep your muscle (see above) and if you’re able to build muscle you get an added calorie burn.
- Take breaks. Don’t look at your diet as being long-term. 8-12 weeks is a good time frame, then take a break for a month or two to let your hormones reset and focus on building more muscle, and your metabolism. If you don’t want to take a break be sure to add in a refeed day once a week where you eat at or slightly above your maintenance calories. While not as good as taking a full break, it will help to mitigate the negative effects of dieting.For more on how to keep the weight off for good download my free guide: 8 Habits To Unlock Your Inner SuperheroIf you’re struggling with finding the motivation to workout read this.