Overindulgence. This is a word that you’re probably familiar with. Whether it’s the holiday season, you’re on vacation, or you’re celebrating an event, there are times when you’re more likely to eat more food and drink more alcohol than you normally do.

That means more calories. And consuming more calories than you burn can lead to weight gain and increased body fat.

You might be wondering – how do you get back on track after overeating and overdrinking?

Before we dive into the most effective strategies to mitigate your holiday weight gain, let’s do some myth-busting.

How Much Weight Do You Really Gain During The Holidays?

You might have heard that the average American gains 5 lbs or more during the holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. You’ll be relieved to know that this statement is a bit of an exaggeration.

A study of 195 adults found that the average holiday weight gain is closer to 0.8 – 1 lb during this 3 month period of celebration. Even though the majority of the participants put no effort into controlling their weight, large weight gains were not the norm.1

While that doesn’t seem like a lot of weight, the problem is that most people don’t lose the holiday pounds, and this holiday weight increase tends to contribute to an average annual weight gain of at least 1 lb.

Gaining one pound per year can add up, and could explain the increased prevalence of obesity.2

You Ate & Drank Too Much: Now What?

overindulgence

First, let’s get something straight – feeling guilty or punishing yourself for enjoying food and having drinks that aren’t a normal part of your diet is not productive. This negative self-talk does more harm than good, and is often associated with yo-yo exercising and dieting, poor self-image, and disordered eating.

Enjoying the holidays (or your vacation) isn’t going to derail your health and fitness goals, but talking negatively to and punishing yourself could.

At BuiltLean, we advocate making health and fitness a lifestyle. If you establish a solid foundation of balanced nutrition, regular exercise, and adequate sleep, you have the right habits in place to mitigate your weight gain year-round.3

It’s what you do most of the time, not some of the time, that has the biggest effect on your weight, health, and fitness level.

With that said, here’s how you can stay on track after overindulging:

Damage Control: What To Do When You Overindulge

Eating and drinking too much, going overboard with the sweets, and having a lot of salt usually leaves you feeling bloated, uncomfortable, and dehydrated the next day. Let’s solve these problems.

1. Hydrate. Meaning, Drink More Water.

drink-water

Drink a large glass of water first thing in the morning when you wake up. Drinking water in the morning can help get things moving (you know what I mean), which will help you feel better pretty immediately.

Continue to drink water throughout the day. Men should aim to get about 3-4 liters every day, and women should aim for 2-3 liters.

Stay hydrated all week long. Drinking enough water all the time can help with appetite regulation, fat loss, improved performance, and increased energy.

2. Eat Whole Foods.

eat-whole-foods

You might be tempted to skip breakfast or begin a super restrictive diet to “detox” from a few days of overeating. Skip the detox, and get into a healthy eating routine instead.

If you don’t currently have a healthy eating routine, here’s a simple breakdown.

  • Eat whole foods. Whole foods are more nutrient-dense, satiating, and lower in calories than processed and packaged foods. Fill your meals with vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and healthy carbs & fats in moderation.
  • Have a high-protein breakfast (like a protein shake or eggs), and include protein with every meal. Protein is more satiating, boosts your metabolism, and can help improve your weight and body composition.4
  • Eat your veggies. Vegetables are high in fiber and water, packed with vitamins and minerals, and low in calories. The fiber and water in vegetables fills you up and keeps you satisfied, helping you manage your hunger while eating fewer calories.
  • 3. Stick To A Normal Meal Schedule.

    meal-schedule

    Follow a regular eating schedule. There isn’t a perfect number of meals to eat every day for fat loss, so uyou’ll need to do some self-experimentation to find out how many meals (and snacks) works best for you.

    That might be 3 square meals, 5 meals, or 2 meals and 2 snacks. We generally recommend having 3 meals and 1 snack. Whatever you prefer, get into a schedule with your eating.

    4. Control Your Portions.

    portion-control

    For the first few days after overindulging, consider paying attention to your portions (or even keeping a food log). This might happen naturally, since you’ll probably be less hungry after a stint of overeating. But just in case, keeping a food log can help you see how much you’re really eating, and inform how you should adjust your food to meet your calorie goals.

    Consider increasing your vegetable intake, and decreasing your fat and carb intake for 1-3 days.

    Pay attention to your hunger and satiety cues. Your body is smart and, if you’re primarily eating a whole foods diet, will let you know when you need food and when you’re full.

    5. Stick To Your Exercise Routine.

    exercise-routine

    Staying active is one of the best things you can do for long-term weight maintenance. During the holidays (or your vacation), maintain a regular workout routine where you exercise at least 3x per week.

    We recommend doing strength circuits, which give you the benefit of both strength and cardiovascular training in one highly effective and efficient workout. Strength circuits are a form of high intensity interval training, which induces the afterburn effect, helps with fat loss, and improves performance.5

    We also recommend being active in some way on your non-workout days. Walking, jogging, swimming, hiking, and yoga are all great ideas.

    Re-Focus On Your Fitness Goals

    What are your health and fitness goals right now? Do you want to lose body fat, or get stronger? Overeating (and overdrinking) is not a reason to give up on those goals. Instead, move forward with restored commitment to actualizing your vision.

    Do you have any strategies to deal with overindulgence? Or have any questions? Feel free to reach out in the comments below.

    Show 5 References

    1. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4336296/
    2. Roberts SB, Mayer J. Holiday weight gain: fact or fiction?. Nutr Rev. 2000;58(12):378-9.
    3. Fogelholm M, Kukkonen-harjula K. Does physical activity prevent weight gain–a systematic review. Obes Rev. 2000;1(2):95-111.
    4. Leidy HJ, Clifton PM, Astrup A, et al. The role of protein in weight loss and maintenance. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015;
    5. Giannaki CD, Aphamis G, Sakkis P, Hadjicharalambous M. Eight weeks of a combination of high intensity interval training and conventional training reduce visceral adiposity and improve physical fitness: a group-based intervention. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2016;56(4):483-90.
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    6 Comments

    1. profile avatar
      Tim Dec 02, 2016 - 10:52 #

      Excellent article and a timely one as well. Thanks for the encouragement to continue with a healthy food and workout goal. This is a time of the year where unhealthy food temptation seems to be everywhere.

      1. profile avatar
        Kristin Dec 02, 2016 - 11:51 #

        Thanks! And really glad you found the article helpful. During the holidays, I think the key is to indulge intelligently, and otherwise to keep up with your routine. Having a good foundation of healthy eating and regular exercise is the best way to mitigate (or even avoid) holiday weight gain.
        -Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor

    2. profile avatar
      Brooklyn Dec 02, 2016 - 13:04 #

      Great article Kristin. Thanks for this.

      You mention indulging intelligently. Do you have any recommendations/comments about the following choices? I understand the math of calories, so I am more looking to gain insight from your perspective into what may or may not work better in terms of health (mental and physical):

      a) One really indulgent “cheat” meal vs. a more reasonable “cheat” day

      b) Sugar indulgence (cake/ice cream) vs. Chips/Doritos indulgence vs. Fast food indulgence

      c) One bottle of wine (in a night) vs. 1-2 glasses 3x week

      d) Reasonable eating with 3x workouts/week vs. More unreasonable eating offset with 5x workouts/week.

      Thank you!

      1. profile avatar
        Kristin Dec 02, 2016 - 20:29 #

        I’m glad you enjoyed the article, Brooklyn! And great questions. Before I specifically address each scenario you mentioned, I want to start by saying that I’m a major advocate of establishing a healthy lifestyle. And by that, I mean eating a diet comprised primarily of whole foods 80% or more of the time, drinking enough water, getting adequate sleep, and exercising regularly. These habits are fundamental to achieving a lean, fit, and strong body.

        With that as a framework for the rest of my answers, here are my thoughts on each choice you mentioned:

        1. Definitely a cheat meal.

        Reason being, it’s easier to track one meal vs an entire day of “reasonable cheating”. The purpose of a cheat meal is to allow yourself to enjoy some foods that you don’t normally eat (so you don’t feel deprived, and so you can enjoy social occasions and events, or the holidays, etc without feeling guilty), as well as to slightly increase your calories (especially carbs) above your daily norm. This can help normalize your hunger hormones (leptin and ghrelin) helping with appetite regulation, increase thyroid hormone production, and boost metabolism so you avoid weight plateaus while otherwise eating a lower calorie diet.

        The day you decide to have a cheat meal, you still want to eat pretty healthily and normally for the majority of the day. You want to eat an adequate amount of protein and vegetables, and then for one meal enjoy something that you don’t normally eat throughout the week, such as dessert. It’s a way to enjoy yourself and enjoy food while staying on track with your weight, fitness, and health goals.

        2. It depends on your tastebuds and preferences, but there are some foods I think people just shouldn’t eat.

        Whether you “cheat” with a sweet food, or a savory one is a matter of preference. Even so, there are certain foods that I think people just shouldn’t eat. For example: highly processed vegetables oils, transfats, sugar alcohols, high fructose corn syrup, and chemical-rich foods. I think of these ingredients as “food-like products”, but not food. Reason being, they do more harm than good in terms of health, and therefore shouldn’t have a place in your diet.

        Let’s say tortilla chips are your thing – choose a healthier brand made with better (& fewer) ingredients. For example, you can find corn chips made with corn, sunflower oil, and salt. Those are three totally recognizable ingredients. On the flip side, if you read the nutrition label for doritos, you’ll see things like maltodextrin, monosodium glutamate, disodium gualynate, natural & artificial flavors, and more ingredients that are tough to pronounce. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know what a lot of those things are and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to eat them.

        I feel similarly about a lot of fast food options. Most of the time, you just don’t know what they put in their food. There are some exceptions. For example, I think chipotle is a pretty good fast food option. And depending on what you get, could even be considered healthy.

        As for desserts, when you decide to indulge, I recommend getting something really good that’s made with high-quality ingredients (or better yet, homemade!). For example, go out to a local ice cream shop for gelato, or enjoy a delicious slice of cake or pie. Make your indulgence an experience that you go out to have, rather than eating boxed cookies at home.

        3. Enjoying 1-2 glasses of wine a few times per week.

        Drinking one whole bottle of wine in a night is a lot of alcohol for one person and would qualify as binge drinking, which can interfere with your health and fat loss goals. If you choose to drink, I recommend drinking moderately, which means 1-2 drinks a few nights per week. When you’re focused on losing fat and weight, you might want to consider decreasing that even more to about 1-2 drinks per month. If you want to read more about why limiting how much you drink per night is beneficial for fat loss and weight maintenance, you should check out this article: Does Alcohol Prevent Fat Loss, or Cause Weight Gain?

        4. Reasonable eating with 3 workouts/week.

        The reality is – you can’t out-train a bad diet. I also think that frequent unreasonable eating can be more detrimental to your self-perception and relationship to food and exercise. In particular because it often leads to a cycle of guilt and using exercise as a means to make up for bad eating behavior. As I mentioned earlier, nutrition has the biggest impact on your weight and body composition. Exercise helps shape your body, maintain lean muscle, increase your bone density, and improve your cardiovascular function. But in order to maximize these benefits, you want to have a healthy eating routine.

        Personally, when I want to have an indulgence, I like to make it an experience. The best thing to me is going out for a nice dinner with friends, family, and/or my boyfriend where I can order something that I don’t normally eat, and don’t know how to make. I’ll usually have a glass or two of wine with dinner. Outside of those occasions, I keep my diet pretty healthy. I’m not much of a dessert person, so I tend to go for more savory dishes.

        I hope that helps! If you have any other questions, or if I left something out, definitely feel free to reach out.

        -Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor

    3. profile avatar
      Brooklyn Dec 05, 2016 - 14:15 #

      Thank you for such an excellent and thorough reply! BuiltLean is the gold standard.

      1. profile avatar
        Kristin Dec 05, 2016 - 16:40 #

        You’re so welcome, Brooklyn! More than happy to help.
        -Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor

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