Three Pounds Heavier: The Holiday Struggle

TAGS: holiday season, bad foot intake, empty calories, cardio alternative, circuits, High-Intensity Interval Training, holiday food, insulin sensitivity, hiit, Mark Dugdale, weight gain, Nutrition

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Statistically, the numbers vary. Some say as much as six and others indicate one pound, but I went with the happy medium for the title of this article: three pounds. That’s the consensus on the amount of weight gain experienced by the average person between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Happy Holidays!

Before you get all depressed and reach for another slice of pumpkin pie to soothe your emotions, let’s consider some relatively easy ways to avert the Santa belly and sidestep becoming a statistic.  Remember, the road to failure is paved with good intentions, so plan the work and work the plan.

Prime the System

Let’s assume you have zero self-discipline when it comes to holiday goodies. You’re in luck because this may be your best defense. Prime your body so it’s ready to deal with all the junk you’re about to ingest. Far too many people get this backwards and attempt to feverishly exercise to undo the damage. This stems from post-engorgement guilt. How do we best prime the system? High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), circuits, and explosive eccentric-minimized training represent good choices because they enhance insulin sensitivity post-exercise and contribute to excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.

HIIT is by far the quickest. 15-20 minutes of 30 second balls out cardio, alternated with 90 second slow to moderate cardio will ramp up EPOC and heighten insulin sensitivity.


MORE: EPOC—The Secret to Fat Destruction


Circuits simply include five exercises performed one after the other, non-stop. For example: leg extensions x 15 reps, followed by machine chest press x 15 reps, followed by leg curls x 15 reps, followed by lat pulldowns x 15 reps, followed by hanging leg raises x 15 reps. Perform the circuit for six rounds with only 60 second rest breaks between rounds. This creates a ton of lactic acid in the body and primes it to better utilize the Christ-massive influx of calories you eat shortly thereafter. Exercise selection isn’t all that important, but I prefer alternating between upper and lower body.

The last option constitutes your normal training day minus any exercise performed with an eccentric-focus. This means no slow negatives and, wherever possible, explosive concentric contractions. Evidence suggests eccentric focused reps, while initiating hypertrophy, can actually reduce insulin sensitivity. We want insulin working as efficiently as possible before your holiday meal.  All the aforementioned ideas prime your system so long as they’re performed pre-gluttony fest.

Clear the Counters

Having dealt with those massive family gatherings in which the sole purpose includes merry engorgement, let’s talk about the day-to-day. I can’t give you scientific evidence or controlled study data, but I don’t need one to draw my own conclusion. Don’t litter your countertops with cookies, candy or other holiday snacks. Why? You’re less inclined to eat something that’s not constantly staring you in the face. I see this played out in my house of teenage girls.

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Nobody stumbles into an IFBB pro career in bodybuilding on accident. What I mean is that I possess a much higher amount of willpower than the average American when it comes to what goes in my mouth. How about teenage girls? Yeah, not so much. I purposely avoid leaving treats out on the counter because my daughters will polish them off in a matter of days, if not hours. I’m operating off the assumption that most people fall into the same category, meaning it only stands to reason that clear counters lend themselves to clear consciences.

Eat Fat

Actually, eat the right fat. Yes, fat is not nearly the monster mainstream media espouses. Sugar is far more damaging, but I’m hoping your highly sensitive insulin receptors from priming your system will address the sweets. As for fat, be sure to eat the right kind. For example, organic meats, butter, and eggs rank higher in omega-3’s which aid both insulin sensitivity and curb inflammation. The typical store-bought pastry is most often full of rancid, omega-6 heavy and partially hydrogenated oils. These lead to inflammation within the body which is attributable to all sorts of health issues. Avoid them like the plague, but by all means enjoy some organic cow blubber.

Mind Your Fluids

I know you love your Hot Buttered Rum and Mistletoe Mojitos, but sugar content aside alcohol is fairly calorie-dense. You know carbs and protein clock in at four calories per gram with fat sitting at a bloated nine calories per gram, but did you know alcohol contains seven calories per gram? Besides, those 7 calories are 100% nutrient-less, empty calories.

Beyond the calorie issue, alcohol lowers inhibitions which can lead to poor food choices; not to mention the stupid things you might say at the holiday office party. Alcohol throws hormones out of whack leading to higher levels of estrogen (think fat deposited to thighs) and reduced testosterone (think more muscle mass = more calories burned).

If you absolutely must drink to enjoy the meticulously prepared holiday smorgasbord, opt for red wine. Lower in alcohol content and calories than a massive mixed drink and heart health promoting resveratrol makes this the winning choice.  You’re welcome, Christina (my wife). You can thank me later.


MORE: Cheat Day Delusions


Supplement

If exercise is an “offensive” strategy my favorite “defensive” supplements for the holiday calorie onslaught include:

  • Indigo-3G (Biotest) — Acts as a "nutrient partitioning agent," meaning it maximizes carbohydrate uptake in muscle, releases and burns fat, and prevents the storage of fat. In simple terms, Indigo-3G is the ultimate body-transformation agent. Yes, it’s backed by scientific research in which diabetic mice benefited from this supplement.
  • R-Lipoic Acid — Used in the body to break down carbohydrates and used in some areas of the medical field for diabetic issues. It’s also an antioxidant which may contribute to the protection of your liver. Yes, all that junk you eat requires your liver’s assistance so best to keep it functioning optimally.
  • Garcinia Cambogia — The primary active ingredient Hydroxycitric Acid (HCA) blocks fat by inhibiting a certain metabolic enzyme. It’s also been shown to improve glucose metabolism in diabetic mice by reducing serum insulin levels and by acting on leptin (hormone which controls appetite). The aforementioned two factors explain the presence of HCA in hundreds of diet supplements.

I like the previous supplements because they don’t stimulate the central nervous system and may play a role in curbing the impact of both fat and sugar consumption during the holiday season. They are by no means miracle supplements, yet merit consideration. I suggest taking all three at least 30-45 minutes prior to your holiday meal.

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Nutcracker

I grew up with shag carpet. It hid those flying little pieces of nut shells. I’m not sure where the holiday idea of placing a big bowl of nuts and a nut cracker originated from, but this tradition may help you. Anything that contributes to satiety (the feeling of being full) is helpful. Cracking nuts takes time, unlike shelled nuts which require little effort to shovel into your mouth. Additionally, cracking nuts works your forearm flexors and slows the pace of consumption. This means your mind receives processing time to realize the stomach is full before you overdo it. Grazing on nuts before a meal can help limit how much you actually consume in the ensuing meal due to the nut’s fiber content. Healthy fat, high fiber, and antioxidant content all lend themselves to the benefits of the holiday nut-cracking tradition.

Conclusion

The best safeguard against eating a bad meal is being in shape. You read that correctly: A fit body with already favorable body composition allows for a greater “cheat.” In some ways, food discriminates against obese people because their bodily systems simply cannot deal with excess carbs and fat the same way a fit person does. Sadly, poor food choices and little or no exercise over an extended period of time lead to biomechanical and physiological defects causing bad food intake to wreak greater havoc on those already overweight. Therefore, make every effort to life a lifestyle full of daily heart-pounding exercise and good food choices, so when the holiday season arrives, you can enjoy without the consequences. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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