Ah the holidays. A happy time filled with family, watching ‘Home Alone’ while sipping hot cocoa on your couch. It’s also a time that can be stressful. Frantically running from store to store, finding last minute ingredients to prepare meals for your family gatherings. Or maybe you’re traveling so you have to deal with getting to and from the airport, avoiding traffic, and figuring out what to pack. And diet and exercise? Forget about it! Those things are your last priorities right? Well time to pump the brakes. Those things should actually be at the top of your priority list! If you can’t take care of yourself, how can you take care of anyone else? I know, I’m preaching to the choir. But instead of ignoring these issues or throwing a pity party, let’s be proactive and figure out how to equip you with the tools you need. Use the strategies below to maintain sanity, health, and guilt-free living during the holiday season.
Finding ways to incorporate exercise into your life, is as crucial as anything else especially during the holidays. It will help lower stress levels, and subsequently levels of cortisol (which break down your muscle, and can weaken your immune system), help you burn off some of those calories, but most of all keep you motivated!
You can come up with an excuse like “oh the gym closed early today” or the infamous “I don’t have time.” But that won’t fly here. Something as simple as a few 10-20 minute walks can make the world of a difference, especially if used strategically.
Has been shown to decrease post-prandial blood glucose, meaning that it can help you avoid that debilitating food coma that renders us useless for the day. Try a 10 minute walk before or after a big meal.
also makes us more insulin sensitive which can help shuttle a large bolus of glucose into our muscle cells, instead of fat cells. I enjoy doing a short bout of exercise prior to my Thanksgiving meal, key word being “enjoy.” I don’t encourage using exercise as a punishment or reward per se, but knowing the physiological effects from exercise can serve as a bonus. As for the time or gym thing, you can do a simple 20-30 minute bout from the comfort of your home, using only your bodyweight, or if you have any hand held weights all the better! Give the routine down below a shot.
I’m sure you’ve heard of intermittent fasting (IF) by now. Time-restricted feeding and IF are sometimes used interchangeably, but it’s the concept of reducing your feeding window throughout the day. Instead of just eating at will, you choose a starting point and an end point.
This helps you prevent uncontrolled eating. Start with a 12-hour window. If you consume your first calories of the day at 8am, you have until 8pm to consume your last. Shortening the window seems to reap more benefits, so you can also try 8 and 10-hour windows.
The science surrounding this method of eating is still emerging, but you don’t need to know all the physiology to utilize this simple and effective strategy.
Exercising and practicing time-restricted feeding are great strategies for combating that holiday weight gain, but that doesn’t mean you are free to binge on snickerdoodles, brownies, and pumpkin pie. Focus on consuming high quality foods MOST of your meals, and avoid snacking on these treats throughout the day. Start your meals off with nutrient-dense foods such as the ones below. These will fill you up, which will make you less inclined to overeat those nutrient-poor, calorie-rich foods.
Consume foods high in protein: grass-fed beef, free range chicken, free range eggs, greek yogurt, hemp hearts, pea protein
Consuming cinnamon and/or apple cider vinegar prior to a meal, can help normalize blood glucose levels after a meal and reduce large insulin spikes.
Cinnamon, particularly of the Ceylon variety, has even been shown to:
Increase cognitive function
Decrease cardiovascular disease by lowering LDL levels in blood
Apple cider vinegar
Can help curb your hunger
4. Stress and Sleep
We often think of these as separate entities, but they actually affect each other so much. The more stressed you are, the lower quality of sleep you’ll have. The less you sleep or the lower quality your sleep, the more stressed you’ll be.
I just wrote an article about the gut microbiome, and not only can stress make us eat more, it can actually alter our microbiome which can affect our metabolism, difficulty of weight loss, and squander our efforts to avoid the holiday weight gain.
Again the holidays are a fun time, and one or two days of going to bed late might not make too big of a difference, but try to keep a regular schedule.
Avoid sleeping in too long, as this can throw off your circadian rhythm
Avoid eating large meals too late at night
Take short naps 20-30 minutes if you didn’t get great sleep the night prior
Avoid consuming excessive amounts of alcohol at night
Exercise (reduces stress AND increases sleep quality)
Mindfulness and Gratitude
Enjoy the moment. Enjoy your food. But most of all enjoy your company. Food is amazing not only because of how they make us feel, but also because they bring people together. Focus on good conversation, and making memories with your loved ones as opposed to how many plates you can put away. Appreciate your food, savor each bite, and give gratitude for being able to share those moments in the comfort of your home with the ones you love.
Enjoy the holiday season
You don’t have to spend hours in the gym. You don’t have to sacrifice eating your Aunt’s famous double fudge brownies, peach cobbler, or whatever other food-coma inducing goodness will be thrown your way. And you don’t necessarily have to maintain a strict diet during the holidays.
However, you have to do SOMETHING. Keep moving, try an intermittent fast, get more sleep, go for a walk or two outside. Instead of letting your health slide for the last two months of the year, then starting back up with a New Year’s resolution, we can stay on top of our game and THRIVE.
I’m also running a Holiday Fitness challenge helping you stay on track with your goals, and avoid the holiday weight gain. Message me if you’re interested, but otherwise thanks for reading and feel free to share this if you think it’ll help someone else.
Open up your Instagram account, and it’s not uncommon to see someone posting the amazing donuts they just had (*cough cough, me). But it’s okay because it fit my macros. Well what about the person eating grass-fed butter, avocados, nuts, and claims that keto is the best way to go because excess sugar consumption can lead to obesity and diabetes? How about someone eating only what our ancestors did, no processed foods, grains, or dairy. Surely paleo is the best right? There is a constant barrage of information regarding diet. So who is right and how do we choose which diet is best!?
First let’s talk about the human body. The human body is not a machine. It’s a very complex system with complex systems working within complex systems. Catch my drift? Hormone release, cell signaling, cellular respiration, metabolic flexibility, gene expression, your gut microbiome, there are countless of factors and processes going on every millisecond at all times. What works for someone might not work for you, and there most definitely isn’t one best way to diet. Here I’ll break down some of today’s most popular and trending diets, their pros and cons, and help you determine whether or not they’re right for you.
If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM)
Now if you know me personally, you know I have a sweet tooth. It’s not uncommon to find me at the local froyo place on any given night of the week. Heck I’ll even eat a whole pizza on occasion. But the key here, is that these meals are more or less programmed into my diet. Thank you flexible dieting. Just because one food might be very calorie dense, i.e. a pizza, doesn’t mean that if you eat one it’ll necessarily screw up your diet. By calculating the macronutrients of the pizza, and your daily required macronutrient intake (calculate your BMR first, you can do so here https://www.iifym.com/bmr-calculator/ ) you can breakdown what each of your meals will consist of. This is where iifym really shines, with careful planning, it allows the incorporation of any type of foods into your diet, on any given day.
Example: Say you calculated your daily caloric need, and it was 2000 calories. Fats have 9 calories/gram, Protein has 4 calories/gram, and Carbohydrates have 4 calories/gram. Knowing that, you would simply find a combination of macros (that works best for your goals) that equated to 2000 calories. Then you can find a combination of foods that fall within that range. That allows you to not exceed your caloric intake for the day. This is more or less the basis for IIFYM (if it fits your macros).
Sample Macronutrient Breakdown:
100 grams of protein (400 kcals), 300 grams of carbohydrates (1200 kcals), 44 grams of Fat (400 kcals)= 2000 kcals
My biggest qualm with IIFYM, is that most people correlate body weight, to health. This is not always the case. You can be shredded, and have nice abs while having very poor health. Likewise, you can be a little more fluffy, and have optimal health. So just because you can eat donuts and oreos and pizza while still losing weight, doesn’t mean you should! That said, IIFYM may be right for you if you can hold yourself accountable for what foods your body NEEDS, and are disciplined enough to abide by your calculated macronutrient intake. I recommend it for those more experienced with maintaining an adequate nutrition regime.
Intermittent fasting (I.F) has been another popular method of eating or dieting that has been brought to the spotlight. There are many types of fasting. However there are 2 popular forms of Intermittent fasting. There’s eating on a 5:2 schedule in which you eat normally for 5 days, and severely restrict calories for 2 days. For example you could eat 2,000 calories/day, Monday through Friday, and Saturday and Sunday you would eat 500 calories each day. There’s also time restricted eating, which is more common, in which you only eat during a specific window of time (6-8 hours) and fast for the remainder of the day (16-18 hours).
An example of this would be eating your last meal of the day at 8pm, waking up, forgoing breakfast, and eating your first meal at noon. This would be 16 hour fast, but the duration is up to you.
Studies have not shown intermittent fasting to be superior to any other diet,for weight loss, when calories are equated. Usually people find success with I.F because they simply can’t eat as much as they normally would. If you’re someone who finds themselves not eating breakfast because you’re rushed in the morning to go to work, this may fit your lifestyle. On days where I’m not exercising, or maybe I’m doing lighter exercise, I may I.F or do a full fast. This is not an everyday thing though, so build yourself up slowly. I would recommend doing one or two intermittent fasts per week, of varying durations on less active days, to get a feel for what works best for you, and going from there.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting:
Can aid in weight loss
Increase tolerance to hunger
Facilitates entering ketosis
Increase in BDNF (strengthens neural connections)
More ideal eating schedule for some
Potential Downsides of Intermittent Fasting:
The calorie restriction, particularly in 5:2 can be a bit extreme
People tend to binge during the feeding window, eating more processed and calorie-dense foods than normal
No definitive research saying its better for weight loss than any other diet
The Ketogenic Diet
Going “keto” consists of a diet high in fat, limiting protein and cutting out basically all carbs. When your body is deprived of glucose for long enough, you enter ketosis during which your liver produces ketone bodies (made from fat) which become the primary source of energy. Ketones are also a great fuel source for your brain. In fact, your brain uses either glucose or ketones as energy, and some studies have shown that ketones are preferred by our brain. If you enjoy eating foods like grass-fed butter, bacon, coconut oil, dark chocolate, and nuts, then you’re in luck. The fattier the better! Now it is important to note that you must keep a low protein intake. Eating high amounts of protein while trying to enter ketosis, is counter-intuitive because your body can actually convert protein to sugar through something called gluconeogenesis. But won’t your muscle waste away if you do this? Supposedly no. According to advocates such as Dr. Dom D’Agostino, your body will not break down its own muscle for fuel, since it will be predominantly tapping into your fat stores. Preserve your muscle, and burn fat for fuel? Sounds fantastic!
Now while going keto has become popular as of late, is it right for you? It depends on your goals. Once again, a ketogenic diet has not been shown to be superior than any other diet in terms of weight loss, when calories are equated. However, it does have other health benefits. The ketogenic diet has been shown to be beneficial in those with insulin resistance and/or Type II diabetes, obesity, as well as epilepsy. Personally, I have tried keto for short spurts of time (1-4 weeks) and have felt an increase in energy, focus, fat loss, and less cravings for sweets.
However, I don’t necessarily believe it to be superior to any other diet, nor do I recommend it long term. Especially if you’re an athlete, you NEED carbohydrates! Your muscles can utilize fat for fuel at low intensities such as walking or maybe a long slow run, but your fast-twitch muscle fibers (the ones used for sprinting, jumping, cutting, pushing, etc) run exclusively on glucose, aka carbs. If you want to try out keto, make sure you’re consuming high quality products. Extra virgin coconut oil, organic nut butters, grass fed butter, ghee, wild-caught fatty fish like salmon, etc. Again try a couple days of eating keto before fully diving in. When you’re ready to fully commit, it usually takes a few days to reap the benefits of ketosis, so keep that in mind (you can determine if you’re in ketosis with a blood monitor, or pee strips).
Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet:
Can aid in weight loss due to restricting carbohydrates which can include many processed foods
Can help increase hunger tolerance
Can help reduce cravings for sugar
Produces ketones which are a great fuel source for the brain
Aids in insulin sensitivity regulation
Has shown promising results in reducing symptoms in those with Epilepsy and Type II Diabetes
Potential Downsides of the Ketogenic Diet:
Long term adherence to the ketogenic diet has been shown to INCREASE glucose intolerance, and Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in mice
Adherence can be difficult based on food restrictions
Can induce ketoacidosis which is detrimental for those with Type I Diabetes
Performance can be altered in athletes
The Paleo Diet
If you lived in the Paleolithic era, you would hunt, fish, and forage for food daily. Hailed as the “primal” diet, this is theoretically how you would eat if you were a hunter-gatherer. This means no GMO’s, no artificial sweeteners, processed foods, and no soy milk in your latte. By eating how our ancestors ate, and eliminating “unnatural” foods, we can optimize our health and quality of life. They claim that we can obliterate chronic/cardiovascular disease, by eating a diet full of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and high quality meat. In principle this line of thinking seems sound. However, proponents of the diet are a little more stringent.
Paleo followers abstain from eating any kind of food unavailable to the stone age hunter–gatherers. This includes calcium-rich dairy, grains which are full of B-vitamins, and legumes which contain fiber and protein. Their reasoning is that these foods were not consumed by our ancestors, so as humans we didn’t evolve to consume them. This is just wrong. Actually researchers have discovered that some of these foods were not only consumed during the paleolithic era, but even prior to it!
Another reason the paleo diet omits grains and legumes is due to their “anti-nutrient” content. Legumes contain lectins, and some grains contain phytic acid, which in a nutshell can be toxic if eaten in high concentrations (like most things), and/or inhibit the absorption of other nutrients. Well when cooked, these properties are actually reduced and can even become beneficial.
Our society is much different today than that of our pre-historic predecessors. We are sedentary, we exercise by choice not necessity, we can take a trip down to the local Trader Joe’s whenever we’re hungry. The food we eat, the soil our food is grown in, and the cultivation of different foods, are simply much different. And while I don’t believe eating organic, grass-fed, free-range, and non-GMO foods is a bad thing, it’s not always practical to do so. All in all, I think adopting a paleo-like lifestyle, would be an upgrade to that of the typical American’s. Maybe we don’t have to chase around rabbits so we can eat, or run from saber-tooth tigers, but incorporating daily exercise and being more mindful of what we’re consuming, while eating more foods in their natural forms, probably wouldn’t hurt.
Benefits of the Paleo Diet:
Restricts consumption of processed foods which can have favorable outcomes for health and weight loss
Increases likelihood of meeting general micronutrient intake
Can help increase mindfulness of source of food
Potential Downsides of the Paleo Diet:
Restriction of certain foods that are nutrient-dense (legumes, dairy, etc)
Can create obsessive and/or negative association with certain foods
Can be costly
Unnecessary omission of certain foods
The Carnivore Diet
As of late, there has been a lot of buzz around this diet, in which meat, and other animal products are the predominant foods are eaten. It also advocates not eating ANY fruits or vegetables. Blasphemy right!? It must just be another fad diet, greens are crucial for health! Or so we’ve been told. Now personally I have not tried this diet, but it does intrigue me.
Proponents of this diet (which include some medical doctors such as Dr. Shawn Baker) claim that fruits and vegetables are not necessary because you can obtain all the macro and micronutrients you need from animal products. Does this hold any truth? Well liver, an animal product, is actually one of the most nutrient-rich foods you can have, period. Eggs contain many nutrients, including choline which is important for brain development, liver health, nerve impulse transmission, and many other bodily functions.
Then comes the issue of protein. Those who abstain from eating animal products claim that plant protein can be a great alternative to animal protein. And while you can obtain protein from plants, there are very few plant sources that contain complete proteins.
“But Jules I heard you can get more protein from broccoli than from steak!” This is a misconception. Plants just don’t have the same amino acid profile as meat. A 4 ounce steak contains about 30 grams of protein with all the essential amino acids necessary (essential amino acids need to be obtained from an outside source). To obtain the same amount of amino acids, you’ll need to about 500 grams of broccoli, or 5 cups. Totally doable, if you want an urgent trip to le toilet. The same can be said for certain nutrients. For example, we know that many people who don’t eat meat are often iron deficient. Why would this be the case if iron can be found in some vegetables? It’s because that type of iron is called non-heme iron, which is not easily absorbed by the human body. Iron is not a stand-alone case, there are many nutrients that are not easily absorbed in plant form. Not to mention, there are certain essential nutrients that are ONLY found in meat such as creatine, carnosine, and vitamin B12. And while you can choose the supplement route, many nutrients are not always very bio-available when taken in this form.
Meat has gotten a bad rap, with some claims saying it will increase your cholesterol levels, and some studies even show a correlation between eating meat and getting cancer. The problem with these studies is that for one eating meat is not the only variable influencing the outcome. A typical American that eats a lot of red meat, will probably not be eating high quality sources of meat. They’ll probably eat lot sugar and processed foods along with this meat. And if that’s what their diet is like, well what’s their general lifestyle like? Probably sedentary, and if you throw in smoking or drinking alcohol well yeah getting cancer is not too farfetched. Again, I love fruit and a good salad, so I probably won’t go full carnivore anytime soon, but I think it’s asinine to say meat or red meat at that, is bad for you.
Benefits of the Carnivore Diet:
Easy to prepare
Meat is generally easy to digest
High quality animal products are nutrient dense
Nutrients from animal products are generally more bioavailable than those from plants
Increase in testosterone
Improved cholesterol levels seen in some
Potential Downsides of the Carnivore Diet:
Lack of fiber
Long-term effects on gut microbiome unknown
Long-term effects on health unknown
Lack of antioxidants and phytonutrients
For a quick synopsis on what I think about Veganism, Carnivorism, and all “isms” check out the video below, and feel free to subscribe to my youtube channel
Don’t be so quick to Jump on the Fad Diet Bandwagon
Bottom line is find what works best for you, but don’t be afraid to try new things! People tend to be drawn to fad diets based on what they hear, hoping that they may be the silver bullet to all their problems. “My friend lost 20 lbs going keto!” or “Paleo is the way to go my skin is looking better than ever” are things we’ve all heard, and whether they’re true or not, what works for them might not work for you. Remember that we evolved because our flexibility and adaptability, not because we were stubborn and decided we were only going to eat 5 different food choices for the rest of our lives. Remember, you can also develop an intolerance to foods by eating them too frequently. Get an ancestry test done to see what kind of diet best matches your genetics, get a food sensitivity test, get blood work, test your gut microbiome! Skip the dogma, and put in the work to find the optimal diet, or better yet lifestyle for YOU, but most importantly, keep an open mind.