Tuesday 28 November 2017

How To Beat Winter Weight Gain

   With the season of mince pies, hot chocolates, biscuit tins and 'I'll just have one' almost upon us, it's inevitable that we're going to gain a few pounds. That's just part of Christmas, right? Food is a part of every culture, and we're lucky enough to live in a part of the world where it's abundant enough that temptation can become a problem.
   Christmas is my very favourite time of the year, and food is part of that. And with Seeg's birthday in December and my own in early January, it's an even greater season of celebration. And, of course, food comes into that, too.
   So you'd think I'd gain a fair bit of weight through December-January. But I don't. And no, it's not because I exercise like crazy or starve myself or turn down every indulgence that turns my way. In fact I eat a little more freely and exercise no more than usual. Instead, I follow a few simple rules and manage to indulge, enjoy the season, and gain absolutely nothing. In fact, I've been known to lose weight over Christmas. And there's no voodoo, magic or 'fat loss' supplements involved.

Rule 1: Exercise Smart.

   I said that I exercise no more than usual over Christmas than any other time of the year, and that's true. I may spend an extra 10 minutes on it by throwing a little more cardio onto the end, but I'm still only at it for about half an hour a day on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and about 45 minutes on a Saturday. My secret is simple: compound resistance training. Why? Because the work your muscles go through in such a workout burn many calories, but those calories keep burning after your workout because they need to repair and your body to recover, whereas with cardio, you only burn calories while actually doing it.
   I usually opt for a Jillian Michaels DVD because she's brutal and effective, but it's never just any DVD. In December 2015 I used Killer Body, which consisted of 3 30-minute workouts, all of which utilised the whole body with compound moves - using mutliple muscle groups at once, like a squat and shoulder press at the same time, to burn more calories - while putting the emphasis on a particular area of the body. As such, one workout prioritised the lower body, another the upper, and another the core. It was intense, but it was amazing, and by prioritising different areas of the body on certain days, recovery came easily and I didn't suffer from weak or semi-healed muscles on the next workout, which meant I wasn't held back.
   I didn't gain a thing that Christmas - in fact I lost weight - and it was so effective that I used the same set-up in 2016, but rather than use Killer Body, I used two separate DVDs - Killer Buns & Thighs and Killer Arms & Back - in the same system as the year before. This meant, however, that I had 3 lower body and 3 upper body focused workouts to choose from that, true to any Jillian Michaels workout, still used compound moves. It really shook it up and kept it from getting stale.
   And with 30 minutes of resistance work, it's easy to add 10-15 minutes of bonus cardio onto the end of the workout as a finisher. It takes about 20 minutes for a body to use all the energy stored in the muscles (glycogen) before it begins burning fat for fuel instead, and if you spent those 20 minutes doing resistance, you won't be exhausted at all. So if you start doing cardio at the 20 or 30 minute mark, you'll get greater fat burn than if you'd only done cardio for the same total amount of time.
   I'll be doing this again this December, returning to Jillian Michaels' Killer Body as in 2015 (and I'll remember to write a DVD review this time around!).

Rule 2: Ask Yourself: 'Is It Worth It?'

   Yes, I'm talking about sweet treats here, and no I'm not talking about 'look at all that sugar'. I'm talking primarily about taste, then all the bad stuff.
   I can't resist a mince pie, and will often take one - one - when offered, eat it slowly and really savour it. But when I'm offered something else, something I'm unsure about or something from a brand I'm not keen on - or perhaps something I don't really like at all, like a cherry bakewell - rather than say 'go on, it's Christmas', I'll ask myself if it will be worth it. As an example, I don't like typical cheese cakes. If I'm offered even a small slice at Christmas, I decline. Because it isn't worth it - it doesn't taste good enough to be worth the all the sugar. Or perhaps a small pork pie - I like pork pies, but if it's a plain one, as nice as they are, I turn it down. If, however, it's pork and pickle, I say yes in a heartbeat. Because they're better, and it's only one. Taking a moment to consider the offering rather than take it without a thought means that I can still enjoy the things I love, the foods that make Christmas, without the guilt. Because every time I say 'no', I feel better in myself for not giving in, for not eating something I didn't really want - and it means that when something really good comes along, I absolutely can have it because I declined everything else.
   I do this outside of Christmas, and while it does mean that I don't necessarily have dessert with everyone else (though my portion never goes to waste), it also means that the chocolate and dessert I do have is oh so delicious and undeniably worth it. Did I tell you I have a running subscription to Hotel Chocolat's Tasting Club, delivered every 2 months?

Rule 3: Don't Skip Meals.


   In short: eat your breakfast, lunch and dinner as you usually would. Don't cut them out so you can have more junk food later on, instead try to make them more festive - apple spiced porridge for breakfast, a parsnip and chestnut soup for lunch, a lovely Christmassy quiche for dinner. It can be something to look forward to. I myself am a breakfast enthusiast!
   I like to collect up Christmas recipes for wonderful dinners and experiment with seasonal variations of my favourite breakfasts.
   Otherwise, my point is this: skipping meals does not help you to lose weight. It's a simple science: food is fuel, and you need fuel to function. If you skip meals, your body will be declined top quality fuel and its need will keep climbing, until you reach for something unhealthy - perhaps something you don't really want or like - because you're so hungry. This also generally leads to over-eating and thoughtless eating. Instead, make sure you get a good breakfast, lunch and dinner. Also, it takes little for your body to go into starvation mode - just skipping one meal, a point of the day when your body has come to expect fuel, can cause your metabolism to drop, and that actually leads your body to cling on to the fat and ration the energy it does have. Because your body isn't your brain; it doesn't know why you haven't eaten, and so, to keep you alive and functioning through what could be, as far as it's concerned, the beginning of a famine, it slows down what it can, including your brain power and concentration, to keep the necessary things running smoothly. And those rations will become tighter and your body and mind more fatigued the longer it goes on.

Rule 4: Snack Smart.

   Just like breakfast, lunch and dinner can be made festive, seasonal and enjoyable, so can healthy snacks. Take a look at Graze, with their mince pie flapjacks and speculoos dippers (speculoos/speculaas is a spice mix usually used around Christmas and Sinterklaas in Belgium and The Netherlands), or at Nakd's Christmas pudding fruit bars, or any number of homemade seasonal recipes that are healthier than you think, like my Christmas chestnut bites, Speculaas Christmas smoothie, 4-ingredient mini Christmas puddings or mini skinny mince pies. Looking out for and stocking up on healthy snacks with a Christmas twist can keep you away from the bad things without denying the Christmas flavours, and also means that, if you turned down a mince pie because the brand you were offered always had bad pastry or used too much or too little spice, then you can have a mince pie flapjack without having to bargain for it.
   I always make a big purchase from the Graze store late November to make sure I'm stocked up on healthy but delicious goodies throughout the coming month, and as punnets come in multipacks of six, just five or six different snacks will see me right through, as well as a single box of Christmas pudding Nakd bars and a few packets of anything else I might happen upon. I never go hungry, and I never miss out on the Christmas flavours even while eating healthily. No junk, and yet no compromise!
   That said, I always pencil in a few rather severe indulgences, and my favourite is a whole 8-piece box of Hotel Chocolat chocolates on the day I do all my Christmas wrapping. Because I love wrapping presents, and I always make an event of it, with lights, hot chocolate or mulled wine (or my preferred Belvoir non-alcoholic winter punch) and Christmas movies on in the background, and knock it all out in one afternoon. A whole box of chocolates is part of that. But, while Hotel Chocolat is decadent, their ingredients are also top-quality and there's low sugar in their chocolate, so it's not actually as bad as it could be. That's what I tell myself, anyway...

Rule 5: Drink Water.

   Your body has a hard time telling the difference between thirst and hunger, so they manifest in the same empty gurgling. It's a sound rule regardless of the time of year: if you feel hungry, drink a glass of water. If, after 20-30 minues, you're still hungry, then eat something. If you're not, don't - and if this is the case, you won't even notice because the water will have done its job. It will keep you full, prevent food cravings and phantom hunger.
   But water also helps to metabolise your food - it's needed in every chemical reaction in your body, so keeping hydrated, especially if you're eating more, will help to digest as well as flush out the toxins from junk food and alcohol. And dehydration is also likely to be the cause of bloating and retaining water. Just as how under-eating encourages your body to cling on to fat, if you don't drink enough, your body holds on to all the water it can so it can make the necessary chemical reactions. So be sure to drink 2 litres a day - about one glass every 1.5 to 2 hours.

Rule 6: Remember That It's Christmas.


   Which basically means don't beat yourself up if you do say 'yes' a few too many times, if you miss a workout because you had plans with friends or family, if you do miss a meal because you've been rushed off your feet. It happens. And in many cases it's good - except the last one, but if you do end up devouring a chocolate bar or a few biscuits on the go instead of a sandwich or hearty bowl of soup, so be it. It's Christmas.

   These rules have seen me through two incredible Christmasses, where I've never missed out, never over-exercised, and yet never gained a thing. And they're such easy rules that anyone can follow them! And any compound resistance workout will do, be it HIIT, body weight resistance, kettlebells or Jillian Michaels - and you can find loads of these workouts for free online and on youtube. No excuses!

   Oh, but, as far as Christmas day goes, I break every one of these rules. Because it's my favourite day of the year, and mindless indulgence on chocolate and mince pies for just one day hasn't done me any harm yet. It's part of our culture, and I work hard and eat well every other day of the year. Even on my birthday I dress up healthy meals to give them a birthday twist. Christmas Day is my day off. I earned it, and I love it.


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