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Surviving Holiday Weight Gain: As Painlessly As Possibly


“The first rule of paleo, is telling all your friends about paleo.” - My friend Miranda

So much truth. We find something that gets quick results and we sing it utop the mountains. I try not to do that any more. Mostly, because sustainability is what’s really important and not quick results. This blog entry is what works for me and I am by no means a medical professional or athletic trainer. Read this knowing some of it might work for you and some of it might not, but I feel like there should be some information out there from someone who maintains an average weight and not the size zero Instagram would have the world believe all fit people are.


In Gin Stephens book, Delay Don’t Deny, she uses the term “yo yo dieting”. I don’t really fall into this category. I’m thin (2-6) when I work out five days a week and not thin (8-12) when I don’t. Let's skip over the bigger conversation about how we view body image and accept that for me these are my benchmarks. Unfortunately, my chronic health condition has frequently put me in bed for months at a time and I end up gaining 20 lbs. Once that happens I used to go on and off various diets to stop the bleed until I can get back to working out consistently. This post isn’t going to help you turn your size 12 into a 2 but simply how to get through December without putting on an extra 5 or 10 lbs. I’m going to cover a few options that I use that together are stellar combination for loss but alone will just help you not regret that extra three or ten cookies.


First, I want to say that Weight Watchers works, and so does calorie counting, and that they're not the same thing. The science keeps getting updated and those things will help you lose weight. However, I ain’t counting calories at Christmas parties and Weight Watchers isn’t free and can be quite painful and make you hate life. I don't enjoy paying to hate life. 21 Day Fix's diet also works but those containers are such a pain and it's overly complicated. I have need something easy and for me that looks like a combination of a few things.


Intermittent Fasting (IF) is all the rage these days. I recommend reading Delay Don’t Deny, but go into it knowing her PhD is in Special Education and she is not a doctor. She links to a lot of NIH studies that are the basis of her special brand of IF, to which I agree with mostly, but again, she has no scientifically conducted studies to prove her theories, just her own success and that of her massive group of followers. A lot of her theories are based on the book The Obesity Code, by an actual doctor, Jason Fung. He has an updated book Complete Guide to Fasting, which I have not read.


Fasting may end up being a fad, like Adkins, and Paleo, but I don’t think that’s what the science really shows. Adkins, Paleo and Keto are based on some science that humans don't need as many carbs as we eat. This is 100% factual. Early humans didn't have corn syrup. But it's in basically everything that is delicious and these kinds of diets can make you hate life too. Here's a very brief overview of why I think IF is in line with how humans were designed. No mammal was ever designed to eat three meals a day. In fact most are lucky if they get one. Miranda also used to joke that when I was on Paleo I needed to go sprint a few times a week to simulate running from a predator. Her point was that we're not early humans. But in all seriousness, humans weren't meant to eat all day, although we’ve confused our bodies (mostly our brains) into thinking we do.


While I gave more respect to Fung than Stephens, I also want to recognize that doctors don’t always give the best advice. Often they say what they are paid to say. For example in the 50s and 60s they were told by formula companies that was better for babies and in the 80s and 90s they were told by the cereal industry that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Neither were true. Most animals don't wake up and grab a quick frozen waffle, overnight oats, protein shakes, etc. because our bodies don't need it. It should also be noted that some people have health conditions that may prevent them from fasting, but that’s a smaller group then you probably think. It's also not for kids. Mother's have always fed their kids frequently throughout the day.


Here are the very condensed basics on IF. When you don’t eat your body converts the fat in your body into energy, it’s called ketosis. Wait, isn’t that what the Keto diet does? Yeah kind of. You reduce insulin production in both methods. If done properly with good fiber and low carb foods you can make your body do this without fasting. The problem with Keto, like Adkins, the minute you start eating carbs your body will recognize something is different and you’re likely to gain weight back faster than you would otherwise. Your brain is confused again. With IF, it’s something you train your body to do whenever you skip eating for a long enough period. The general consensus is that 16 hours is really the minimum for ketosis. But it varies from person to person. Some people know when it’s happening, they get a bad taste in their mouths and can sometimes get bad breath. One, not everyone can tell (I can’t), two, not everyone gets the bad breath (I don’t), and three it takes a different amount of time for everyone (my husband says it’s 15 hours for him). So the recommendation is to start with 16:8, 16 hours of fast, 8 hours of eating.


And now you’ve stopped reading because you’re telling yourself you can’t fast that long. Yes you can. You don’t need breakfast. You’ll be grumpy about it for about a week and then your body will adjust and realize you never needed it. But 16 hours? Yes that is harder, for about two weeks. Good news is if all you do is skip breakfast then at the very least you have reduced calories and that’s already going to cover at least two of those cookies. For me to lose significant amounts of weight, and I can, I need to fast for 20 hours and only eating one meal. They call it one meal a day (OMAD). I find this unsustainable. Not because my body can’t do it but socially I can’t not eat when all of my family is, which is between 5-10 pm. I want to drink wine or a cocktail with my husband after Scarlett goes to bed and I want to have dinner with her around 5. But I do still only eat OMAD, but I have a snack before and a drink and dessert after.


I do recommend reading Sephens book but don’t join her Facebook group. It’s full of people who are so blindly committed to the advice of a woman who’s never done true research in what she preaches. But it does work so people will tell you eating with your family isn’t as important as maintaining your fast. This doesn't align with my values and I will not promote it. The other problem is everyone’s body is different and some people can do a 16:8 and have doritos and oreos and lose 100 lbs and other people need a minimum of 20 hours and still need to diet. Also, people on the internet are mean and will tell you that you're the problem. There are so many different versions of IF you really need to find what works for you. I am going to tell you the simplest things I do that help me in combination with “dieting” and IF that keeps the cookies at bay, or lets be really honest and admit for me it's champagne.


I fast between 16-20 hours. The secret for me is lots of coffee and being busy. It has to be black coffee. Originally Fung said a little cream would be ok but the science really shows if you taste any flavor that isn’t bitter your brain starts making insulin and ketosis can’t happen. Generally everyone agrees that toothpaste isn’t in your mouth long enough to be an issue. Most people eventually get used to plain black coffee. Many people find that Starbucks Blonde Cold Brew is the easiest to live with, but I like it black and dark (insert inappropriate joke here) . You can also drink black or green tea (no herbals with flavor) and plain water, seltzer or flat. They make plain water and seltzer with caffeine in it, like Water Joe, if that helps. To quote Cabaret “inch by inch, mile by mile” do this one hour at a time until you can go 16 hours on just bitter or flavorless water. Start with skipping breakfast and holding out on lunch as long as you can.


Depending on what’s happening in my life I find it extremely easy or extremely hard. If I am working all day it’s easy, on Saturday and we’re going to brunch at 11, forget about it. Gin Stephens has a whole chapter that says “Saturday isn’t a Holiday” and you should plan to quit eating earlier the night before to accommodate for brunch. That's too complicated for me so I just break it when the occasion arises. It doesn't destroy my week. I may put on some initial weight but it's gone within a few days. I really want to stress that IF is based on actual science and if you want a better endorsement, then me, Thor, Chris Hemsworth, fasts at least 16 hours a day. I will not get into all the other health benefits they’re saying IF does. I personally don’t think the science there is old enough yet for me to sell. But I promise you that it is currently 3pm and I last ate at 10pm yesterday and I am not hungry at all. I’ve had at least three cups of coffee but that is normal for me with or without fasting.


For some people going on a two mile walk once a day is enough to handle all the holiday cookies, but not me, running or biking a few days a week is enough for a cookie, but let’s be honest it’s never only one. If I want to have all the cookies (plus champagne) then we’re looking at some type of high intensity interval workout at least 3 days a week. I recommend Beach Body’s 21 Day Fix if you’re really serious about getting into an every day program. But you have to be serious. I prefer Morning Meltdown, that doesn't have to be done every single day consecutively and throw you totally out of whack. It's a 100 day goal and you won't feel like a failure if there is a 4 day gap between day 5 and 6. I also just prefer Jerico’s attitude about getting fit versus Autumn's attitude about losing weight. Plus 21 Day Fix is the same 7 workouts for three straight weeks and I don’t think it prepares you for 21 Day Fix extreme, the next level. Also Autumn's body can not be achieved by only doing 21 Day Fix, so it's slightly false advertising. They're both about a 2 and toned, but Autumn is bodybuilder model ripped and that's a solid 2 hours of extra work daily that she's not telling you about.


Beach Body is about $100 a year so if you want to pay less then I have two recommendations. First, Jilian Michaels 30 Day Shred is very effective and it’s three workouts at three levels and some people love her anyone can do it attitude. She's tough and no excuses, but she's also more like a size 6 and some people find that more motivating because maybe someday they could look like her. The video is under $8. On the free side there is Bodyfit by Amy who has dozens of free workouts on YouTube and a great Facebook group. She's super honest about having babies, and has pregnancy workouts, and how much extra work she does to get into that shape. Here’s the problem: you can easily do some of her 10-15 min workouts twice a week and tell yourself you’re working out and eat the cookies and it won’t be ok. If you want one of her guided programs she sells them but you can also put together your own plan and get serious about what videos you do, when, and how often, but that takes motivation.


If you’re not asking yourself about how I workout hard while fasting (believing you need that protein bar and gatorade) then you must already know the answer. My body isn’t hungry for food because it’s burning my own fat instead. Now in your first few weeks your body is confused and your heart rate will sky rocket. But with time it will not make a difference. They call it being fat adapted. That said, I like to workout and end my fast after with a protein shake. I use Orgain, veg based. I’m not a dietician but mine recommended this one because it's good for both me and my 9 year old. My regular day consists of coffee till 1, a seltzer at 2, a workout at 3, and breaking fast at 4. I use the Zero app to keep track (when I remember) but there's another one called Life that some people like better. 21 Day Fix and WW also have great apps. Use My Fitness Pal with care. Macros are more important than calories. Again, not a dietician, you can look into that one on your own. But here is the bottom line, everyone’s lives and schedules are different. You have to figure out what works for you and over the holidays this seems impossible.

You might be thinking, why didn’t you post this before Thanksgiving? Because if you weren't already on track then you weren’t ready yet. Eat all day Thursday, left overs on Friday, read this on Monday, when you’re finally thinking about what you’ve put in your mouth. Consider making an adaptation that isn’t that strict to help you not gain holiday weight and maybe even write off the pumpkin pie from last week. My rules to keeping it simple and sustainable are as follows:


  1. Saturday can be a holiday if you feel like it.

  2. Ask yourself if that caramel macchiato is really worth it right now or if you should have a plain Americano and make yourself a fancy decaf latte later.

  3. Avoid artificial sugars, a diet coke will make your brain think you are even more hungry. Occasionally have a real coke and I mean like once or twice a month. This science is not new. Look it up, that crap is bad for you. It’s not going to give you cancer like people feared 20 years ago, after giving loads of it to rats, but it’s not going to help you lose weight because it's tricking your brain.

  4. Commit to a workout three days a week, but five would is better. That one sounds hard. But everyone really should care about doing this not for weight but long term health. The research on muscle building and osteoporosis is sound. Look it up. What if you’re in pain for X, Y, or Z reasons (often my case do to chronic conditions)? If you’re in pain when you’re supposed to work out, do Yoga with Adriene to help stretch out the sore muscles (this is me today). Or if you’re just not feeling burpees and deadlifts then try hitting up Alo Yoga, you’ll still burn fat and build muscles without feeling like you're going to die.

  5. I know everyone hates this one but eat something with protein before you go to a party or a restaurant. Remember that scene in Gone with the Wind where Mammy makes Scarlett eat before the BBQ so it looks like a lady eating like a bird? Don’t go that far but filling up before, allows you to graze and not devour. Pat and I do something similar at restaurants. We’ll eat something with protein before we go out and then split a delicious meal and enjoy cocktails. We’re still enjoying ourselves and having good food, just a lot less calories. Saves money too!

  6. Make a lower calorie alcoholic beverage if you are just drinking for no particular reason. Gin with a splash of Lighter Fever Tree Tonic and La Croix Lime. I also think gin, the Pink Tonic and a La Croix Fruity Flavor Seltzer are fab. Peach vodka with Pear-Peach La Croix hits the spot for me too. If I haven’t convinced you that artificial sugar isn’t bad for you then try vodka and ICE Ginger and Lime make a nice faux Moscow Mule. Or peach vodka and ICE Peach. Spoiler alert, Pat and I are working on a post with our favorite pandemic perfected cocktails, that are not low calorie, but extra delicious.

  7. Ignore everything on the big day. Eat what you want on Thanksgiving and don’t feel guilty. Have Christmas brunch with all the mimosas, then ease back into it again. That’s the hard part. 10 years ago, the gym was a nightmare in January and back to normal in February. I haven’t seen that happen in years. I don't think people are making those New Years resolutions they way they used to, and probably because we all know they don't work. Don’t start up again January 2nd. Fast on December 26th. Workout December 27th, and treat December 31st as a holiday. Repeat.

In addition to medical blockers that make a lot of these choices super hard, there can be some major mental blockers. I feel you, I really do. Plus, I think our new culture of ending fat shaming and body acceptance is also giving us an excuse not to talk about our health. Being fit and being skinny aren’t the same. Some of us will never get below a 12 without massive lifestyle or medical changes and some of us can be a 2 by only drinking light beer and running a few days a week. Our bodies are different. I am not telling you how to get into those skinny jeans or that you even need to. I am saying that currently it's totally acceptable to say to a friend you should eat some fires you've lost too much weight but totally unacceptable to say hey maybe you should get the side salad instead. Fat shaming and skinny shaming should all go away. What we should be saying is enjoy food within reason and then we should all work out for our mental and physical health.


I am not a health professional or a fitness expert this is simply what works for me. Don’t expect a book or start a cult facebook group on my very non professional advice. But hopefully some of this stuff will help you fight off cookie weight and have your champagne. You’ll likely still need Spanx, especially if you have had a baby. No matter how fit I am, my baby kangaroo pouch never goes away. I've accepted that those stretch marks gave me Scarlett and I wouldn't have it any other way. I am currently obsessing over Retro Gong Faux Leather Leggings, regardless of my fitness journey and we can talk high waisted bikinis this spring.


Here’s what I hope you will takeaway from this: don’t start some crazy diet and workout program today and make a ridiculous goal. 5lbs a month, 10 lbs a month, back into a size 6 jean by spring break. Just try to say "I'm taking the first step to be in control of my physical health." Start caring now, and start small so you don’t quit before we even get to Christmas. I believe in you. Do you?


P.S.


The first picture was taken at the beginning of the day, no makeup besides my Tarte Tinted BB Cream, and the last was taken right after doing a Morning Meltdown 100 30 min cardio session. No filters! You can get my workout leopard leggings from Colorfukoala on Amazon and my black workout Ultralite Twist-Back Tank from Old Navy. I broke my fast at 4pm using my Nutribullet to make a smoothie with Orgins Protein Powder, Collagen Peptide Powder, unsweetened almond milk, frozen strawberries and a fresh banana.



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