It’s that time of year where we all focus on spending time with friends and family during the holidays. As a coach and athlete, one of the many difficulties is keeping our nutrition in line while there are swarms of good, delicious, calorically dense food around us. I work with many people that are trying to lose weight, and this can be one of the hardest times of year to stay on top of our goals, but also enjoy the time we have with our loved ones. I’ve came up with a few good ideas that are great ways to help you decrease the damage from the endless desserts and Mom’s good ole cooking.
I do think it’s VERY important that we do enjoy ourselves and the time we are spending with others. After all, Thanksgiving is about giving thanks for our relationships, family, God, food, shelter, jobs, and just a happy life in general. So the last thing you probably want to do is eat like a bird, or tell one of your family members, “That has too many carbs.” Here are some good tips that might help you along the way during this time of year (not just Thanksgiving, but also Christmas and other party/celebration type of events).
The first thing we need to understand is that how much you eat, versus what you eat will determine weight gain or loss. While it’s not ideal to get all your calories from rolls (like my training partner Trey has done before a meet to carb up, haha), but if you ate less calories than you expend of nothing but rolls, you’ll still lose weight. It’s not an ideal approach, and not the best for you body composition, but the laws of physics still hold true – energy can not be created nor destroyed.
With this in mind, I suggest knowing your weekly calories to continue to see progress. With my clients, I give them daily calorie goals, and even meal calorie goals, but at the end of the day, if the weekly calories stay in check and we keep seeing progress for the long haul, we can use this to our advantage.
So first do a simple calculation to figure out what your weekly calories are currently. You might be eating say 2,000 calories per day, giving your a weekly total of 14,000 calories. Information like this will be beneficial for you if you opt to try and track your macros over the holidays. I think this is a bit crazy, as no one wants to sit on MyFitnessPal around family, but it is an option and if you think it will help you, do it.
Now to some real hacks to help you out.
My first tip is going to be to utilize a fast of some sort. There are many different ways you can go about doing this, but I think a 16-24 hour period will work best for most. You’ll need to do a little bit of planning here, but it won’t take much.
First, figure out when you plan to eat with your friends and family. Most do a late lunch or early dinner set up (between noon and 5pm is what we tend to see). Let’s just plan for a noon meal for our example.
Second, figure out how long you want to fast for. I like the 16 hour window personally, but don’t be afraid to use a 24 hour if you think you can go that long comfortably. Now all we have to do is count back. This would leave us having our last meal at 8pm the night before.
What this will help you do is burn through a bit more glycogen naturally and help create a caloric deficit naturally. I would recommend that you eat lighter the day before as well, to help increase the deficit if you can. Even if it’s just a few hundred calories, that can be enough. I would also make the final meal low in carbohydrates if at all possible, since your Thanksgiving meal is packed full of carbohydrate based foods. Avoiding them during this time of the year is VERY hard. No one wants to be left with turkey and vegetables from the veggie tray for their lunch.
My second tip would be to increase your cardio. You can do this in multiple different fashions and times, but our main goal is just to increase that caloric deficit even more. I’m someone that does very little cardio, as I’ve got a very active job and move around nearly all day when I’m not at my computer. Remember that we’re tracking things for the week, so if getting cardio in before Thanksgiving is hard, just do it during the beginning of the week where you have time. Simply just adding 10-15 minutes after your normal training session is an easy place to put it.
However, I think if you’re able to get up the morning of Thanksgiving and go on a walk or run before the big meal, this will help even more when you’ve done the fasting. You’ll really burn through some glycogen and help increase the deficit even more for the day. I would aim for 20-30 minutes if you can here.
All in all, I would try to get about 60 total minutes of extra cardio before Thanksgiving via 2-4 different sessions if possible. If not, try to get one session later in the week on Friday or Saturday.
Third, I would try to time your training to benefit from all the food you’re going to have. Personally, I like to train while I’m fasted the morning before. I know this isn’t possible for most, but luckily having a garage gym let’s me train whenever I want. Similar to the cardio before eating, this will help burn through extra glycogen stores to help empty them out before the big feast. If it’s not possible for you to get to a 24 hour based gym, do your best to train Wednesday evening after that final meal. If you can ingest some sort of EAA complex, that would also help with your recovery, but it’s not a “must”.
Our goal here is to help increase our caloric deficit, but also get the training response that our body will want to absorb and uptake the carbohydrates at our feasts and use them for recovery and glycogen storage, helping prevent them being stored directly as fat.
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My fourth tip is going to be around building your plate at Thanksgiving. These might help you also eat less overall food.
First, focus on putting good quality protein on your plate, and a lot of it. Stock up on the turkey, ham, shrimp platter, or any other protein sources your dinner might have. They are generally leaner sources during this time of year, and that can help minimize the damage some. Plus if you trained the day or morning before, your body is going to be wanting some good protein anyways.
Second, find filling options via vegetables or heavy foods. Get plenty of vegetables from the appetizer trays to help fill that space in your stomach but also give you some good fiber and nutrients. Once you’ve done that, add in the foods that you know are dense and will leave you filling full. Things like mashed potatoes, noodles, and sweet potato casserole are my go-to’s personally.
Once you’ve had that plate, make sure you’re drinking ample water to help you feel full.
Only then, go get your dessert or things you are craving and are your “must have’s”. I’m a big fan of sweets and dessert, so I always get a slice of pie and a brownie of some sort. By this time, you’ll probably be full anyways.
My last tip, is to go out and do something active and fun with family. Maybe take a walk, play some football or cornhole, or even shoot some hoops. Anything that’s going to help get you up and moving is better than nothing. Plus, you’ll be spending good time with friends and family in the process.
At the end of the day, I just want to help you realize that eating and dieting during the holidays can be done. What we really need to focus on is creating a caloric deficit greater than normal, and finding extra ways to increase our caloric expenditure before and after our feast. You should definitely enjoy yourself and have fun, but don’t forget that you don’t need to eat like a pig all day either. With the tips above, you can help create a deficit of anywhere from 500 to 2,000 calories (or maybe more), which should be ample to help you break even on your efforts. One of the key things to remember is to be ready to jump back on plan the following day and stay the course as you have been. Your weight will likely increase a little bit for the time being, but it will level back off sooner than you know it.
Feel free to leave any questions or comments, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving.