Holiday Eating Strategy...Coping with the calories!

by Max Wettstein, Copyright 2005

    Summer is over, the shorts and swim suits are put away replaced with heavier, baggier clothing and jackets that conceal our physiques from public view.  In addition football season is here, and the holiday season is upon us as well.  All this means it is time to gather, eat, drink and be merry because that is what Americans do!

 For the majority of us every weekend for the next two months will be marked with some sort of social event where much food and refreshment is available, including but not limited to burgers, dogs, pizza, soda, beer, chips, dips, fried-foods, holiday cookies, breads, and candies.  On top of that mix in a few multi-course holiday dinner celebrations and the calorie intake starts adding up.  The days are the shortest they’ve been all year and colder too, so we’re inside more and most likely a lot less active.  This further contributes to a potential for accumulating a huge calorie surplus eventually adding unwanted pounds and inches.

 Okay, so now I’m a Grinch who doesn’t believe in holiday and football season traditions, and perhaps even un-American too, right?!  Tell you “…something you don’t know”, right?  Well I’m really on your side, and in fact my wife has dragged me to three parties in the last two weeks, and I wasn’t exactly fasting.  The empty, liquid calories were definitely being consumed on my part if you know what I mean, but I did recover and you can too.  I don’t want to re-write last year’s holiday eating strategy article, but the key is moderation during the rest of the week, in between social engagements.

 Moderation – really - that is all it takes.  Don’t let your Saturday night or Sunday afternoon binge-fest snow ball and sabotage your exercise and eating habits the rest of the week.  Come Monday, get back on the fitness wagon and have an ounce of discipline.  Stay motivated and on your fitness plan during the week, (or during the days leading up to and following your social event), and you will deserve to indulge along side everyone else during the festivities, whatever the occasion may be.  The beauty of this aside from not morphing into a fat-body come January, is that you will be able to really enjoy yourself, guilt free while celebrating.  And, you won’t have to include the long-clichéd weight-loss goal as part of your New Year’s resolutions.

 The logic is simple:  5 days of disciplined and sensible eating and exercise followed by 1 to 2 days of over indulging, does not equal an overall calorie surplus and consequential fat gain for the entire week.  In other words, 1 or 2 ‘cheat days’ will not cancel out the progress attained in 5 or 6 ‘good days’.  There are several physiological factors in contributing to this logic:  Long term dieting slows the metabolism and that one ‘cheat day’ of indulging and over-eating will stimulate the metabolism.  Digesting large amounts of food in itself requires a tremendous amount of energy in itself.  What’s more, the body’s muscles and liver have the ability to store huge amounts of carbs/calories in the form of glycogen - a phenomenon known to athletes as ‘carbo-loading’.  This muscle-glycogen stores with a lot of water, filling out your muscles and causing temporary weight gain.  Although you will now suddenly weigh more and your clothes may fit tighter, by no means have you gotten fatter, and in a day’s time you should be back to your normal weight.  Additionally, chips, dips, pizza, fried foods, sauces and gravies are loaded with sodium.  This sodium causes even more water retention, again, causing a temporary weight gain and puffiness.   A day or two back into your normal eating and exercising habits you should be back to normal.  All this being said, it wouldn’t hurt to perform a little extra cardio exercise prior to your holiday event, as this will create a calorie deficit and make your muscles and liver ‘insulin-sensitive’ and more glycogen efficient so that you uptake glucose/carbs more readily for replenishment.

 So now fast-forward to January 2nd, 200_, (Happy New Year.)  I know football season is not over yet, but at least the holidays are behind you.  At this point you’re probably more concerned about how in debt you are financially, but I can’t help you there.  However a recovery plan may also be in order for your health and your weight at this time.  When January comes I’ll address this again, but post-holiday season is the time of year where a good cleansing and detox is in order.  Hopefully you gained very little weight/fat if any, but even so a total body cleanse or at the very least a colon and liver cleanse would be a good New Year’s resolution and a great way to start the year.  Don’t be alarmed by the sound of “colon-cleanse”, as you don’t need to do a colonic or an enema, or anything extreme like that.  Just short term water or juice fasting, along with some cleansing-herb capsules and herbal teas, and some Probiotics, (friendly intestinal bacteria), are all that is comprised.  If you are proactive and would like to do some damage control during the next two months, please navigate to my Health and Fitness Tips article archive and check out the feature Daily Detoxing Made SimpleDrinking lots of water, raw juices, herbal cleansing-teas and taking herbs such as Milk Thistle can go along way in helping your liver health, especially if you consume large amounts of alcohol.  I’ll go further into detail in January.   

 In conclusion, once again, it is clear that moderation is essential.  If you binge and over indulge one weekend, don’t give up or feel overcome with guilt.  Just write the day off and move on, and get back to your normal, sensible lifestyle as soon as you can.  If it helps, tell yourself that you just stimulated your metabolism and then give a little extra during your next work out.  Just because you may not wear a bathing suit again until May, doesn’t mean you should lose your focus or stop exercising.   Even if you’re not vain at all and your wife loves you for your personality and your Buddha-belly, you still need to be concerned for your heart and overall health.

 One last, unrelated health tip that is too important to leave until next month, and too short to make a separate topic:  A recent UCSD study just revealed that the best way to stop bone-density loss/osteoporosis in both men and women, (aside from hormone replacement therapy in post-menopausal women), is through strength training and impact exercise.  It seems that aerobic exercise alone will not prevent a decrease in bone-density with age.  Weight-lifting not only stopped bone-density loss, but reversed it to youthful levels in men over age 30 in the study.  Impact exercise, such as snow-skiing the bumps had the same effect.  For those who exercise aerobically and cardio only, (walking, swimming, cycling), you should consider adding weight/strength training to your routine.  Of course supplementing with adequate calcium and vitamin D are essential as well.  A lot of calcium is lost through sweat and in neutralizing acids, and any time the body runs low, it is leached from the bones.

 For an in depth look at a full-body cleanse, check out

 Sources:;; Outside Magazine

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