As the year comes to an end it is common for people to let exercise and nutrition take a back seat to festive parties, increased workloads and family chaos.
Statistics suggest that up to 30% of the population do NO exercise for the WHOLE month of December and a WHOPPING 40% of the adult population gain an average of 3kg over the Christmas period*.
So If you are like 40% of the population then this festive season you are destined to forgo exercise for Christmas shopping, ditch the waters in favour of a cocktail and drop the vegetable intake to make way for all the lunches out and Christmas parties galore.
As a result of the overindulgence and the tossing aside of healthy exercise habits Australians gain an average of 3kg over December and enter the new year with decreased muscle mass and increased fat mass that they furiously try to shift throughout January.
However, there is another way! As events stack up and life gets busy this December there are ways to enjoy the season without putting your health on the line.
Here’s our 5 top tips for avoiding the festive weight gain this year:
SCHEDULE YOUR EXERCISE
December may be a time where you can’t fit in the same exercise schedule you have maintained throughout the year. The days and times you exercise regularly may not be appropriate for December whilst you are trying to fit in family events, festive parties, increased workload and/or holidays.
BUT rather than ditch the exercise completely put in place a reduced schedule that enables you to do something instead of nothing.
If you normally exercise in the evenings and events are disrupting that, then make a plan to exercise in the mornings when events can’t get in the way. If you generally exercise 4 times a week, perhaps consider decreasing this to 2 or 3 times a week. If you typically go for 60 minute walks, try to still fit in 30 minutes.
Reduce the expectations of yourself and create a schedule that looks and feels completely manageable for you. The key here is to prioritise doing SOMETHING over doing NOTHING.
PRIORITISE STRENGTH TRAINING
Typically the first exercise to drop off the radar during this time is strength based workouts. However it is these workouts that support the maintenance of muscle mass and strength.
Muscle is metabolic tissue in the body that burns energy – in a nutshell the more muscle mass you have, the better your metabolism will be. When you stop strength training you will quickly lose muscle mass, so in general the weight gain people experience over the festive season is a combination of increased fat mass and decreased muscle mass.
If you can maintain muscle mass throughout December then you may just find that you avoid weight gain during the period, or if you do gain weight then the process of weight loss is significantly faster than those who lost muscle mass during the season.
So if you only have limited time to exercise during December then schedule in options such as EMS training, weights training, HIIT classes etc that all favour the building of muscle.
MAKE SMART DRINK CHOICES
For a large number of people the festive season comes with a lot of drinking. In particular alcohol intake jumps drastically throughout the month of December. Alcohol alone can contribute to weight gain by hindering the fat burning process, increasing caloric intake and contributing to poor food choices as alcohol triggers hunger signals to the body.
It isn’t just the alcohol that can contribute to weight gain during this period but also the mixer drinks that go with alcohol – tonic water, cola, cocktail mixes, juices etc – are high in sugar content and high in calories.
In order to combat this over December try to make smarter choices with drinks. You don’t need to cut the alcohol from your silly season, but make some healthy swaps that could save you the kg’s.
For example a gin and tonic is approximately 300 calories, but if you swap this for a gin and soda the caloric intake is less than half at 128 calories. Cocktails can also play a massive role when it comes to caloric intake and sugar levels. Some cocktails can be up to 600 calories in just 1 glass (the same as an entire meal). Trying to ditch the cocktails for spirits with mixers is a safer option, or opting for cocktails with sugar free mixers and natural ingredients can reduce the impact.
Overall less is always best when it comes to alcohol, but opting for spirits and low calorie mixers or a glass of wine is the smarter choice. And always combat the impact of alcohol by alternating between an alcoholic drink and a glass of water throughout an event.
CONTROL FOOD CHOICES BEFORE/AFTER EVENTS
Most functions at this time of year revolve around eating! and for the most part the food choices at functions are not the most nutritious options.
If you know you have a function/event where you will be eating more than usual and the options are likely to be less nutritious then be prepared before and after. Your caloric intake is likely to be high for the event and the foods are likely to be high in carbohydrates. So prior to and following the event opt for low calorie meals that are low in carbohydrates.
If you plan for the event and eat appropriately around it there is no reason you can’t keep your daily intake under control and avoid any feelings of guilt around over indulging at your functions.
GET BACK TO A FULL ROUTINE QUICKLY
The longer you operate on a reduced or no exercise and nutrition routine the larger the impact. So many people drop their exercise and adopt unhealthy eating habits in late November/early December, but then fail to get back into a routine until mid or even late January – or even February for some people.
If you are on annual leave and in your hometown then get yourself back into a routine before you go back to work. There is generally more time available to fit in exercise so book it in early and get yourself moving whilst there is no work/events getting in the way.
For those away on holidays, book in your exercise sessions/classes or schedule them for the week you get back. Lock it in BEFORE you go away so you are less likely to go another week without exercise after your holiday.
Whatever your situation, try to avoid the common pitfall of leaving exercise as the last thing you return to in the new year. Make it a priority and get moving immediately after your break/holiday.
No matter what your situation, whether you be working through the season, taking a holiday or lazing around at home, there is plenty of ways you can avoid the festive season weight gain. Perhaps you could even ramp up your exercise and nutrition efforts whilst you have the time off work and enter the new year stronger and fitter!