5 Reliable Strategies To Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

42 days until 2021...

Which means 42 days until every starts scrambling to get "summer ready"... but not until after the holidays, right?

If you're someone who decided to "wait until after COVID is over" to take control of your body... you're already well aware of the flaw in "waiting until after ____ to build the body I want".

There will always be another reason to procrastinate taking action (or a never-ending pandemic).

One thing we tell our online clients...

"The holidays are the time most of the population regress drastically. To to be able to truly KEEP your results for a lifetime without us (which is 100% the goal for anyone we work with), one of the most important times we can coach you through/skills you can learn, is how to manage your nutrition over the holidays. Until you learn this skill, you'll be stuck in the cycle of "starting over" every January."

Today's blog gives you the exact strategies we give our online clients to help them enjoy the holidays, while also continuing to progress towards their physique goals.

1. Understand that "the holidays" are 3 of the next 42 days

Over the next few weeks, we're celebrating 3 days: 

1. Thanksgiving (second best holiday)

2. Christmas (Best holiday, and it's not even close) 

3. New Year's Eve

That's 3/42 days. 

It's impossible to gain that much fat in 3 days. 

If you ate to the point of completely stuffed all 3 days, you could maybe gain 1-2lbs of fat. 

Remember that to gain 1lb of fat, your body needs to absorb 3,500 calories above your maintenance intake. 

The average person maintains somewhere from 1,800-2,800 calories. So to gain a single pound of fat in a day, you'd have to eat 5,300-6,300 cals... this would be VERY hard to do. And we're talking about the amount needed to gain a single pound.

On top of that, eating 3,500 calories doesn't just = 1lb of fat gain. You body has many mechanisms to prevent weight loss and weight gain. 

When you eat more: 

-  The thermic effect of food is increased. 

- Not all of the calories you intake are necessarily absorbed by the body. (This varies by the type of food you eat - unprocessed foods are typically harder to digest, meaning we usually absorb less of the calories we eat here. The more processed a food is, the easier it is for your body to digest & absorb.) 

- Many people tend to move more as a response to overfeeding. 

Point of this is, even if you're eating like an absolute animal on these 3 days, you STILL can do very little "damage" on the actual days we're celebrating.

The two things that actually cause people to gain lots of fat over the holidays:

1. Seeing the scale spike up 3-5lbs, and (incorrectly) thinking this is fat gain, leading to the "f it" mindset. Really, this is primarily just water weight from all the extra food, sodium, etc. The scale will return to normal in the next few days. 

Remember, to actually gain 3lbs in a single day, you'd have to eat over 11,000 calories. (Most of the "eating challenges" you see on YouTube are people intentionally trying and failing to eat 10,000 calories.)

2. Eating like it's a holiday most every day for the next 42 days. Remember, it's just 3/42 days. Not every day needs to be a celebration ;)

2. Focus On environment Design

To quote John Berardi: 

 "If a food is in your house or possession, either you, someone you love, or someone you marginally tolerate, will eventually eat it." 

Translation: if you constantly put yourself in situations that force you to rely on purely on willpower, you'll cave in eventually. 

This doesn't make you weak, or a bad person - just a person that needs to focus more on environment design. 

Our most successful online clients aren't the ones with the strongest willpower. They're the ones that learn how to put themselves in situations that don't require a lot of willpower in the first place. 

When we're talking about how to take willpower out of the equation, you first need to understand how habits are formed.

Enter: The habit loop 

 The habit loop is the process through which a habit is formed. Something like this:

Cue → Craving → Response → Reward 

 1. Cue - The behavior trigger. Habits start with a cue. Cues signal us that a “reward” (a physically or psychologically pleasurable experience) is available. Our brains are constantly on the lookout for rewards.  

Example Cue: You walk by the candy bowl on the kitchen table

Reward: All the delicious candy corn (top 3 candy) inside 

If you don’t experience the cue, the habit is never triggered.  

2. Craving - The cue is immediately followed by a “craving” for the reward. You crave the state change the habit provides, not the habit itself. 

You don’t crave the physical act of eating the candy corn, you crave how good it makes you feel. 

Cravings are the motivation behind every habit. If a cue doesn’t produce a craving, you have no reason to act. 

3. Response - The response is the physical or mental action that occurs after the craving. The actual habit being performed. Example: the physical act of grabbing the candy corn from the bowl. 

If performing the response is too hard, the behavior won’t happen.

4. Reward - The reward delivers the state change you were craving. When a reward is satisfying, we begin to associate rewards with particular cues, creating a habit loop. 

Example: The cue (seeing the candy bowl) leads to a satisfying reward (candy corn on your taste buds). You now associate this cue with a positive reward, and are more likely to act on it in the future. 

Conversely, if the reward is unsatisfying, you won’t form a habit. If any of the pieces of the loop are missing, a habit won’t be formed. 

Breaking The Habit Loop

To make or break a habit, dissect it into the four pieces of the habit loop... 

→ Cues - Remember, cues are what initially trigger the habit loop. Get rid of the cue, and the habit doesn’t happen. Make the cue as hard to see, feel, or experience as possible. 

Common cues: 

 1. Time - Example: You habitually snack at 6:30 P.M. every night, hungry or not. 

2. Location - Example: Every time you walk through the kitchen, you mindlessly open the fridge. 

3. Preceding Event - Example: Your phone buzzes. You pick it up without thinking.

4. Emotional state - Example: Every time you get stressed, you “tense up” through your neck area. 

5. Other People - Example: Every time your kids get home from school, you have the urge to pour a drink. 

When possible, relocating to an entirely new environment is helpful - it’s much easier to create new habits when you’re not constantly running into the old cues that trigger your bad habits. 

Unfortunately, you don’t always have the option of relocating to a new environment. In this case, look to make your cues either obvious or invisible. 

Case study: My Dad’s post-meal peanut butter binges. My Dad used to have a habit of eating nearly half a jar of peanut butter nightly. The interesting thing is, this would happen immediately after dinner every night. 

He'd walk straight from the dinner table to the pantry, and chow down on peanut butter. It wasn't that he was hungry, just seconds after dinner… it was just a habit. 

Dad’s habit loop: Cue - Time (Immediately after dinner) → Craving -Peanut butter → Response - Walk to pantry, start eating → Reward - Pleasure of eating some delicious peanut butter. 

Now that we’ve dissected the habit loop, let’s look at how we could've broken Dad of his PB habit: 

1. Make it invisible - The simplest option - don’t buy peanut butter. If a food isn’t readily available, you’re going to have to put in much more conscious effort and work to get it. 

Now, for my saint of a mother, not buying peanut butter isn’t a viable option. She has other mouths to feed. 

But, the peanut butter is the first thing you see when you open the pantry. Right at eye level. What if Mom put it way up at the top, behind some cans where it wasn’t visible?   

Dad would be a lot less likely to snack on it. At the very least, it would take a lot more effort. He’d have to consciously decide to perform the behavior, instead of just following habit. 

If eliminating the cue entirely isn't an option, make it harder to see or access. 

 2. Make it obvious - Let’s hypothetically say Dad just didn’t like my Mom’s cooking, and actually was still hungry after dinner. 

So instead, Mom wants him to eat a lower-calorie snack. The best bet? Make low-calorie snacks as visible as possible. Leave a bowl of fruit out on the counter. Put quality snacks at eye-level when he opens the pantry. If “make it invisible” isn’t an option, try to make foods congruent with your goals visible and readily available. (Apply this strategy for any other “good habit cues”) 

→ Cravings 

There’s a lot of stuff you know you should be doing, that you’re not. Problem is, most behaviors with huge long-term payoffs, offer very little instant reward. You know a behavior is good for you... in the long-run. 

But the lack of instant gratification makes it much less attractive. 

Example: Exercise. Often challenging in the moment, rewarding long-term. 

On the other hand, you’re currently doing a lot of stuff you know you shouldn’t be, because it’s immediately gratifying. 

In this case, to break a habit - Make it unattractive.

Creating community with people with similar goals to yours, or that behave how you want to behave, is a powerful behavior change tool. 

We all want to feel accepted and liked. If a behavior goes against the norm of the group (e.g. your new friends are shocked by your rampant cocaine use), the behavior is much less likely to be repeated - you won’t feel like you “fit in”.

Make friends with people you want to look like at the gym. Join a Facebook group of people with similar goals. Invest in a coach to keep you accountable.

→ Responses 

Responses are habits in action. The mindless things we do without thought. If performing a response is too hard, the behavior won’t take place. 

To make a habit - Make it easy. To break a habit - Make it difficult. 

1. Make it easy. To make it easy, you need to remove as much friction as possible. 

Examples of friction: 

- That person who always stops you in the gym mid-workout to talk

- Most anything on your phone actually 

- Fumbling around for workout clothes, keys, etc. when you wake up in the morning 

- Having to drive home strictly to change into your gym clothes, instead of bringing your gym bag to work 

You get the idea. The more friction a habit has, the less likely you are to perform it. 

Let’s say you want to be able to use #entrepreneur on all your Instagram posts... so you quit your job, with aspirations of becoming a fitness blogger. 

You quickly find the self-employed life poses some challenges... 

1. You don’t have to get up at any specific time. When you had a boss, you “had to” get up. Now, it’s easy to hit snooze for an extra hour or two.

2. You’re highly addicted to your phone. You need to be writing to make this career switch work... but it’s still easiest to spend most of your day on your phone in bed.  

An easy routine to solve your #entrepenuer woes: 

1. Before you go to bed, set your alarms, and leave your phone across the room. 

2. Mix up a caffeinated drink, and leave it right next to your phone, as well as tomorrow morning’s clothes. 

3. When your alarm sounds - it’s easier to get up and shut it off, than to lie in bed and listen to - quite literally - the worst noise in the world. 

4. Now that you’re up, caffeine is ready to go. You don’t even have to “decide” to mix it up rather than get back in bed. 

5. Set another alarm (~6-minutes), and hop in the shower. I easily waste 20+ minutes of my morning in the shower without this. Not a problem when my phone alarm is annoying the hell out of me. 

6. Find the farthest point in your house from your work station. Shut your phone off, and leave it. If your phone is close, you’ll habitually check it, and waste away a lot of time. Now, checking it requires conscious thought and effort. It’s easier to just sit there and keep writing. 

"Wooooow. So you’re saying it’s easier to get up if your alarm is across the room? Mind-blowing." 

Hey listen, I don't like your tone right now. Yeah, it's pretty underwhelming... but that’s exactly the point. 

You won’t suddenly have a life-changing epiphany that leads to endless willpower. You change by putting yourself in situations that require minimal willpower. 

Make good habits the path of least resistance.  

→ Rewards 

To turn a behavior into a habit, the cue needs to result in a pleasurable reward. Behaviors that lead to a positive reward are much more likely to turn into habits. 

To break a habit - Make it unsatisfying or painful. 

One of the easiest ways - get an accountability partner or coach. Letting someone down, and showing them that we are unreliable and/or untrustworthy is extremely painful. Investing money increases the pain even more. 

Letting yourself down repeatedly is somewhat painful, but not uncommon. Repeatedly paying someone, admitting you let them and yourself down, and wasting said money is extremely painful. 

Putting yourself in this situation makes failure much less likely. 

“Bad habits repeat themselves not because you don’t want to change, but because you have the wrong systems to create change.” 

-James Clear, Atomic Habits (highly recommended reading, and the inspiration for this entire section)

3. GO into the celebrations with a plan

Going into each holiday, you first need to weigh what's most important to you. 

We discuss this with each of our online clients going into the day - you need to know what what you specifically need to do throughout the day to feel fulfilled & guilt-free. 

- For some clients, this means not stressing any strategies, and just eating as they please and enjoying family time. These clients simply get back on track the next day. 

- For other clients this means bumping calories to maintenance levels the day of the holiday (and sometimes the surrounding days) but still hitting their macros.

- And for others yet, this means staying on point with their fat loss macros straight through the holidays.

There's no right or wrong answer here... so it's best to think about what you want most out of each day beforehand. 

For my online clients that do want to approach the day strategically, here's the plan: 

→ Go for a 30 minute walk first thing in the morning - Days like this, your movement takes a big hit. Offset some of this by getting in some morning movement. If you can hit the gym, even better (but don't sweat it if you don't want to spend extra time away from your loved ones). 

→ Intermittent fasting until noon (or 90 minutes before the main meal) - Nobody takes much "emotional value" from breakfast on holidays. We're all scrambling to prep the later meals (or in my case, to order a present on Amazon so I can at least say "it's on the way" for our family gift exchange.) Skipping this allows you to save up calories to spend on the later meals. 

→ Protein + veggies at noon (or 90 minutes before the main meal) - The main goal of this meal is satiety. You're going to be pretty hungry by this point, and very tempted by all the tasty foods around you - so this meal will fill you up, and tide you over until the main meal. 

Protein is the most satiating food, with fibrous carbs coming in second. You're ticking both of those boxes here. 

For the protein, I'd focus on something leaner to save up calories - something like chicken breast, lean ground turkey, non-fat cottage cheese or Greek yogurt, tuna, or even a few scoops of protein powder. 

For veggies, it's hard to go wrong really. Just eat a large bowl. You can also add (or substitute) fruit here.

Since you'll have quite a bit of fiber and protein in your belly, it'll be much easier to eat a reasonable amount of food at the main holiday meal, without feeling tempted to overdo it, simply because you're so full.  

If the main meal isn't until later in the evening, simply repeat this protein + veggies meal 1-2 more times - you want to avoid going into the main meal famished. 

→ Eat lots of protein at the main meal - The beautiful thing about holiday meals is, they're typically abundant with protein. Turkey, ham, roast beef... it's great. 

Load your plate up with at least 3-4 palm-sized servings of protein. Be sure to add at least 1-2 fist-sized servings of veggies as well. Fill the rest of your plate with whatever. Eat all of your protein and veggies first. 

By this point, you'll be relatively full. You'll still be able to enjoy the other foods, but eating your protein and veggies first encourages moderation. 

→ Go for another 15-30 minute walk after the main meal - Again, we're making up for the fact that you'll likely be sitting most of the day. Recruit the whole family for this one (this will also aid digestion, and help everyone feel much better than the typical holiday food-coma.)

4. Shift Calories

A single day of over-eating is easily correctable by decreasing calories the next few days (or a few days beforehand). 

As long as your weekly deficit is the same and you’re hitting your protein goal daily, you should get very similar results. 

Within our coaching service, we call this shifting calories

You’re saving up calories ahead of time or eating less in following days to keep your weekly calories on point. 

This approach is amazing for our online clients, because it gives them a lot more flexibility within their diets. Understanding this concept also allows many to finally be free from the “F it” mindset that's so easy to get sucked into after a single high calorie day.

So if you really feel like you overdid it on a holiday, simply reduce calories by 200-300 on the subsequent days, and work to get an extra 2,500 - 5,000 steps. You'll easily make up the difference.

5. Make Training A priority

Here, we're not talking about just on a specific day, but through this 42 day stretch as a whole.

Because let's face it, the holidays are when most typically let their training fall to the wayside. But as a reader of this blog (because we know our audience ;)), you still have physique goals that involve adding muscle, and potentially losing a bit of fat.

Letting your training become an afterthought for the next 1.5 months is simply going to push you further & further from the physique that you want long-term (and we're all about long-term planning & periodization around here). 

Make training at least 3-4x/week a priority.

Really, if you've struggled with your training over the holidays in the past, I would 100% push you to invest in a coach HERE

The next 42 days don't have to be a time where you watch your physique dramatically regress like every other year... you're fully capable of using this time as a launchpad for your 2021 physique transformation.


About The Author

Jeremiah Bair is a certified nutrition coach, strength coach, and owner of the online coaching business Bairfit. Check out his Podcast and Instagram for more educational content.

Leave a comment