If you are typical of most Americans, your weight was probably at an annual low at the beginning of October. It is likely to creep up with the approaching holidays, peaking around New Year’s Day with an increase of about 0.7 percent. According to a study by Cornell University, those extra holiday pounds that happen in the next ten weeks take about five months to come off – that’s late April for us!
How can we resist this trend? The Cornell study (conducted with data from a company called Withings that sells wireless scales) showed that participants who weighed themselves four or more times per week gained less weight and dropped it more quickly, by the end of January. Personally, I believe in the benefits of daily weighing, a habit that will work for you too!
Weighing in can be an effective tool of feedback. By establishing your average daily weight within a narrow range of several pounds, it’s easy to recognize when you start gaining. Your weight normally fluctuates from day to day within a few pounds, depending on fluid levels, salt intake and hormonal changes. Damage control is most effective at an early stage, as you start to exceed this range, rather than waiting until you have a major project of losing ten or more pounds.
How you lose weight matters. Crash diets usually backfire because if you don't eat enough your metabolism switches to slow-mo as your body adapts to sustain itself with fewer calories when faced with potential starvation. Clinging to those calories makes it harder to take weight off. A more effective strategy is to eat a well-rounded diet of healthy foods in moderation. Portion control is key, as is limiting sugar, fat and alcohol. Exercise restraint when confronted with temptation and keep track of your party-time indulgences.
In a similar fashion, if you are always doing the same steady pace cardio workout at the same moderate intensity for days, weeks, months on end, your body will adapt to the training stress after 4-8 weeks. As you continue this type of training, you’ll actually burn fewer calories, not more, even as you add more workouts. To trigger fat loss, shorten the length of your exercise session and increase the intensity by adding sprint intervals. For more on this, see my recent blog post Beat Belly Fat with Burst Training.
Stress also contributes to weight gain. The holiday season can wreak havoc with your best intentions to stay calm, cool and collected. Stress levels rise along with hectic schedules, parties, travel and general disruption to your normal routines. When you are in a stressful situation, your body makes a hormone called cortisol, meant to give you a quick boost of energy.
But if you’re stuck in a stressed-out zone, the body thinks you still need to fight, so it keeps making cortisol. High levels of this hormone make it harder for your body to use insulin which slows your metabolism and fuels weight gain. Helpful tips to stay calm and carry on include:
- manage your time; keep track of your commitments
- pace yourself to avoid over-booking throughout the month
- make sure you get enough sleep
- practice mindful techniques like meditative minutes and deep breathing
So prepare yourself to sail through the holidays with a minimum of overload by using simple steps to track your weight, moderate your diet, intensify your cardio workouts and manage stress. Here’s looking to late January for being back to normal!
For more about how to beat belly fat, please see Joan Pagano’s video program “Beat Belly Fat, Bloating, Bone Loss and the Blues: Simple Steps to a Better You”
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