I recently read some interesting research that stated that the “average” American only gains 1lb. per year after the age of 20; furthermore, this 1lb. is only gained during the months of October – January. Thus, the average American ends up 35 years old and 15lbs. overweight (or thereabouts).
This makes sense: October through January is the murderer’s row of the calendar year when it comes to dietary transgressions. I’m reminded of a mug my aunt has that says, “Christmas calories don’t count”. Alas, the research — and Santa’s waistline — says otherwise. It’s time to learn how to play a little defense so you can be prepared when your grandma’s fruitcake mounts a convincing holiday offensive.
1) Make Better “Bad” Choices
This one probably seems obvious, but too many people are guilty of the “well, if I’m going to cheat, I might as well gorge myself until cheesecake comes out of my pores” mentality. Choose desserts that are low in fat, or are conservatively portioned. Perhaps pass on dessert yourself but instead sample the choices of those sitting around you. Ask yourself, “do I really need three bowls of ice cream to be satisfied?”
2) Bring a Dessert to the Party
Most family parties ask attendees directly to bring a dish to lighten the workload of the host; if you’re attending a party that does not require you to bring anything, I’m quite certain your homemade dessert won’t be turned away. Simply do a search for a low-fat or low-cal dessert recipe and whip it up yourself. Most desserts use more than twice as much sugar or butter than is actually needed. Then you can enjoy a serving of whatever dessert you’ve made yourself without the accompanying guilt. You don’t even need to tell anyone that it’s a “healthy” recipe.
3) Load up on Proteins and Veggies before Dessert
Lean proteins (usually turkey is readily available during this time period) and vegetables provide a powerful 1-2 punch for knocking out hunger thereby making you eat less dessert. The proteins have immediate satiating power: they blunt hunger quickly. The fiber from the veggies will slow gastrointestinal transit time (the food will stay in your stomach longer), and the sheer bulk of the veggies in your stomach will send “I’m full” signals to your brain.
4) Exercise with Increased Volume Prior to the Event
Depleting muscle glycogen (stored carbohydrate in the muscle) with a high-volume workout (lots of sets and lots of reps) is like cleaning out your garage: it gives you room to store even more stuff (i.e., glycogen from the carbohydrates you’re going to eat). Two additional bonuses are that training loads of this volume increase protein synthesis and acutely blunt hunger. So you won’t eat as much and what you do eat will be aimed at muscle-building. I recommend doing this either the day before or the day of the event, with immediately before the party being your best option.
5) Eat a Snack Before the Party
If for some reason #3 is not feasible, e.g., late-night party with just hors d’oeuvres and drinks, have a snack before you leave for the party similar in composition to what is described in #3. Fruit wouldn’t hurt, either.
6) Fast on the Day of the Event
This is likely to be a controversial topic, but stick with me. Research shows that fasting for up to 72 hours yields no muscle loss. If you know that there’s an evening party where there’s going to be some delicious food and you don’t have a lot of will power, then simply don’t eat up until when you arrive at the party. You aren’t going to die, and you’ll be able to enjoy yourself and partake in the food. If you’re on a diet that allows 2400 calories in a day, you’ll be hard-pressed to blow that number if you attend a party that starts at 8PM. If you can maintain even a modicum of self-control, you’ll be able to indulge and still not exceed your caloric intake for that day. Obviously this isn’t something that you should do very often, but it’s not as bad as people think and it’s certainly the lesser of two evils if the alternative is eating 4800 calories on a 2400 calorie diet.
7) Do a Mini-diet a Few Days Before the Party (Parties?)
This approach works even better if you’re going out of town for a weekend or something of that nature: an environment where the eating is going to be extremely unstructured and probably just as unhealthy. By setting calories extremely low during the week (something like 8-10 times body weight in calories) with the majority of those calories coming from protein and a tiny bit of essential fats, you’ll have the perfect opportunity to undo all the of the progress you’ve made during the week with a weekend of dietary licentiousness. All kidding aside, that’s probably the harsh reality, but if you’re doing it to simply break even, i.e., in order to not gain any weight, this approach will work well.
One thing I can’t emphasize enough — one thing that trumps all others above — is that if you do decide to indulge, KNOW WHEN TO STOP. You can bend a diet without breaking it, but people seem to consistently disregard that idea. There is a pervasive mentality endemic to dieters that defies conventional logic: most dieters think that if they commit even the most minuscule dietary infraction, it is an excuse to cheat for the rest of the day (week, month) and make absolute gluttons of themselves. Again, you can bend a diet without breaking it. One cookie will not a fat-ass make, but the entire bag followed by a run to the nearest drive-thru — multiplied by every time you slip up — will. If you fall off the horse, get right back on. Simple as that.
And hey, if all else fails, start off the new year right with a little Cytolean V2, one of my absolute favorites: