[Frank Muntis recently finished his Master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Louisville and is currently in the Coaching Mentorship Program at Athletic Lab.]
As a nutrition coach, an issue I find many people struggle with is managing their nutrition in social situations such as parties, get-togethers and holidays. The holidays are a time meant to be spent reuniting with friends and family and partaking in time-honored traditions, however, for the fitness minded it can also be a stressful time trying to figure out how to make it through a season of festivities without losing hard earned progress. With just a few simple behavior strategies, keeping off the holiday weight gain can be easier than you may think. Today, I am going to share with you seven tried and true strategies to stay in line with your goals while enjoying the holidays.
Strategy 1: Bring a Dish
Between friends and family, it is not uncommon to find yourself at a holiday party nearly every other weekend through the holiday season. Surrounded by appetizers, dips, cookies and other delicious treats, temptations can seem nearly impossible to resist. A strategy that can help combat this is to make a healthy dish ahead of time to share. Not only will you have contributed something to the party, but if you prepare something that is both nutritious and something you genuinely enjoy, you will have a go-to during the party that will keep you from mindlessly eating on junk food. The key here is to find something that you know you enjoy so that it isn’t something you necessarily have to talk yourself into eating. For some, this could be hummus and carrots or pita bread, cinnamon-spiced baked apples or even healthy banana nut squares. For my wife and I, our go-to is a crockpot white chicken chili we found and have modified slightly to make healthier. It is a filling, protein-packed, warm and delicious treat that is sure to be a hit.
White Chicken Chili Recipe:
4-5 Boneless Chicken Breasts
1 ½ t Chili Powder
1 t Ground Cumin
½ t Onion Powder
½ t Garlic Powder
14.5oz Chicken Broth
4.5oz Can Chopped Green Chiles
15oz Can White Corn Drained
2, 15.5oz Can of Great Northern Beans
3 T Olive Oil
3 T Oat/All Purpose Flour
1 Cup Milk
1 t Chicken Bouillon
¼ t White Pepper
½ t Seasoned Salt
½ Cup Plain Greek Yogurt
- Put chicken breasts, chicken broth, chili powder, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, green chiles, corn, and beans into a slow cooker and cook on low for 6-8 hours.
- About an hour before serving, add olive oil to a small saucepan over medium to high heat. Whisk in flour and allow to bubble and brown a bit. After a few minutes, gradually whisk in the milk and chicken bouillon.
- Allow the sauce to simmer for 4-5 minutes, whisking frequently until it is slightly thickened. Add salt and pepper.
- Pour Sauce into the slow cooker and mix.
- Add plain greek yogurt and mix.
- Shred the chicken with two forks until well shredded throughout.
- Let cook on low for 1 more hour.
Strategy 2: Hydrate Between Drinks
The holidays wouldn’t be quite as festive without a few drinks with friends, but these drinks can quickly add a lot of empty calories that can find their way to your waistline over time. This holiday season, for every alcoholic beverage, follow it with a 12-20oz glass of cold water. Not only will this help you pace yourself with drinks, but it can help suppress your appetite and even reduce the chance of a hangover the next day. Furthermore, drinking water has also been shown to boost resting energy expenditure by as much as 25% and can even lead to increased fat oxidation . This one simple strategy can help cut out a lot of empty calories without taking away a chance to bond with friends and family.
Strategy 3: Slow Down
We have a tendency in our culture to try to do everything quickly and efficiently. It can even be seen in the way we eat. If you stop and watch people eat for a few minutes you will likely notice that many people will preload their fork or spoon before they have even finished chewing the bite they are currently on. You might be guilty of this yourself. Instead, try slowing down and being mindful of how your body is feeling. One useful way to do this is to set down your fork or spoon between every bite. This will force you to slow down, be more cognizant of how you are feeling and recognize when you are getting full rather than mindlessly eating.
Strategy 4: Stop Eating When You Are 85% Full
We have all been there, where our eyes were bigger than our stomachs, but you wanted to try a little bit of everything and ate until you were stuffed. Fifteen minutes later you likely felt almost sickly stuffed. Instead, this holiday season, stop eating when you feel about 85% full. You should feel satisfied, but as if you could probably eat a little bit more. This is because the satiety hormones in your body that let you know you are full can take up to 15-20 minutes to be fully realized. If you stay mindful of how you are feeling, stop before you are full, and wait, you will likely find yourself feeling full before you know it. If after 15-20 minutes you still find you are hungry, maybe go ahead and help yourself to a little more, but most of the time this won’t be the case.
Strategy 5: Go for a Walk
An easy way to raise your energy expenditure and unwind is to go for a walk after every meal. Shoot to walk for anywhere from 15-20 minutes. Over the course of a day, this can add up to almost a full hour of extra activity that can make a difference over time. Furthermore, my wife and I have found this to be a great way to ease digestion from a meal while getting some one-on-one time during a time of year when that can be hard to come by. This can also be a good way to bond with friends or family. Invite them on the walk with you and you may find 20 minutes or more of good conversation will slip by before you realize it.
Strategy 6: Use a Smaller Plate
This is another great portion controlling strategy. This can be extremely useful when it comes to sweets in particular as many people have traditions around making cookies this time of year. These traditions should still be enjoyed, and they don’t need to detract from your goals. Find yourself a small plate and limit yourself to what can reasonably fit on it. Take small amounts of multiple different desserts or a large amount of one favorite, but as long as you stick to one small plate, you will be exhibiting self- control and portion control in an easily manageable way.
Strategy 7: Find Your Protein and Eat It First
Protein is not only very filling, but it also has a very high thermic effect. This means that approximately 25-30% of the calories from protein are burned in the process of digesting it [3, 4]. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommend that we consume around .25-.40g/kg of body weight of protein per meal for those with athletic performance goals. For easier visualization, Precision Nutrition has a useful tool of using palm-sized portions of protein with women consuming about 1-2 palm-sized portion and men consuming 2-palm-sized portions of protein per meal. By eating protein first in our meal, we can help slow digestion, boost our metabolism and leave us less likely to over-indulge in less healthy sides.
“Wrapping it up”
The holidays are a fun time of year and should be enjoyed. Being healthy doesn’t have to be stressful, but is rather more about learning to incorporate healthy behaviors into a lifestyle that is both enjoyable and conducive to your goals. This holiday season try incorporating a few of these strategies or even work on coming up with your own strategies to problems you know you may face and you can keep off the holiday weight and continue to make progress towards your goals. Have a wonderful holiday season!
Dubnov-Raz, G., et al., Influence of water drinking on resting energy expenditure in overweight children. Int J Obes (Lond), 2011. 35(10): p. 1295-300.
Thornton, S.N., Increased Hydration Can Be Associated with Weight Loss. Frontiers in nutrition (Lausanne), 2016. 3.
Westerterp, K.R., Diet induced thermogenesis. Nutrition & Metabolism, 2004. 1(1): p. 5.
Pesta, D.H. and V.T. Samuel, A high-protein diet for reducing body fat: mechanisms and possible caveats. Nutrition & Metabolism, 2014. 11(1): p. 53.
Thomas, D.T., K.A. Erdman, and L.M. Burke, Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2016. 116(3): p. 501-528.