Battling the Holiday Binge

Bada Binge

Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD
From the WebMD Archives

Dec. 24, 2001 -- You do your best to stay in shape all year long -- sensible diet, regular trips to the gym, a good mix of cardiovascular workouts and weight training, along with regular meditation and calming imagery for stress reduction.

Then come the holidays, and your fitness lifestyle gets smothered under a torrent of big meals, sinful desserts, and plenty of alcohol. By January, your body is waving a white flag of surrender.

According to Liz Applegate, PhD, a nationally-recognized expert on nutrition and performance, and faculty member in the nutrition department at the University of California, Davis, one of the longest-standing love/hate relationships going is the one between us and our holiday festivities. After overindulging, we feel bad, almost shameful.

She offers a four-step plan to prepare for holiday bingeing without checking yourself into a weight-loss boot camp afterwards:

  • Focus on the positive. Rather than berating yourself for overindulging on Aunt Bernice's homemade chocolate truffles, enjoy and savor your food experiences. A better thing to say to yourself is: "Boy, those truffles were fabulous!" And don't forget the larger experience. Remind yourself how wonderful it is to see Aunt Bernice, to get together with friends and family over a big feast. After all, food often brings us together over the holidays.

Adopting a kinder attitude toward holiday eating will also help you recover from overeating. You'll be less likely to punish yourself with fasting or some other harsh weight-loss scheme.

  • Set your course. Give yourself at least a few days after all the holiday gatherings to let your food settle before you assess the damage. You've hardly gained 100 pounds -- it's more likely just a few, according to studies assessing average holiday weight gain. If you feel a bit bloated, it may be due to fluid retention caused by excess food and salt intake. That's not permanent -- it'll be gone in a day or two.

Plan on getting back to pre-holiday form over a period of at least a few weeks. That is, take off a few pounds by using a rational, step-by-step approach. Setting a course of gradual weight loss is better for your body and the results will be more lasting.

  • Be reasonable. Avoid drastic measures such as fasting. Cutting too far back on calories only dampens your metabolism -- you'll burn fewer calories, making weight loss tougher. Also, severely restricting what you eat by skipping meals or completely avoiding sweets only sets you up to overeat later, since you end up feeling deprived and ravenous.

Instead, modestly shave off calories by cutting back on portion sizes at every meal. You can easily cut a few hundred calories each day to make up for all those holiday treats.

  • Get active. Holiday and post-holiday time should include daily exercise -- long walks, a workout at the gym, or a jog through the snow. Getting back to your fitness routine, or even starting a new one, helps in several ways. The extra activity burns calories, aiding in weight loss. And it also boosts your resting energy expenditure. You burn a few more calories even at rest because your body is revved up from the exercise.

Applegate stresses that an important, but often forgotten, benefit of exercise is that it makes you feel good. Things can be pretty dreary after the party's over and the only friend dropping by is the mailman, delivering those post-holiday bills. When you really need it, there's nothing like a good workout to sooth the soul.