How to Prepare for and Recover from a Holiday Eating Binge
Fitness and nutrition experts reveal how their tricks for getting back on track after a big holiday feast.
Don’t beat yourself up
Start by making sure you don’t feel guilty for indulging. It’s a holiday—enjoy yourself, guilt-free, says Nathane Jackson, certified strength and conditioning coach and nutritionist, servicing clients from anywhere in the world through his online coaching programs. This is a time to connect with friends and family, not to get bogged down with anxieties over food choices, he says. “After all, it’s not what we eat on holidays that ultimately make us gain body fat; it’s our eating habits over the other 355-360 days of the year.” (Also, see what happens to your body when you binge at a holiday party.)
Try to avoid making it a multi-day food fest
With the vacation time that often follows—and leads up to—Christmas, it may be easy to eat cookies and other treats the entire time. Hang on, says Lisa Garcia, RD, a dietitian with Food Coach, LLC in Laconia, New Hampshire. “One day is just a blip, but if you go four days making those kinds of choices, it’ll be harder to get back into a routine,” she says. If you didn’t have a routine, start the day after the holiday, Greg Robinson, a pro bodybuilder and owner of Retro Fitness of East Brunswick in New Jersey, agrees. “Allow yourself to enjoy some of the treats on this day—just don’t overindulge,” he says. “The mistake everyone makes is they think by having a treat or two, their diet is destroyed and they go on an all-out binge.” Don’t give up hope, Robinson says. “Your body will get back to its normal weight in a few days. The scale moved, but this is normal and due to the excess carbohydrates and salt you have consumed, which will pass.” (Want to eat healthy post-holiday but craving something sweet? Try these snowflake energy balls.)
Keep post-Christmas day temptations at bay by planning your activity ahead. “Having a plan ahead of time helps cut some of this problem off at the pass,” says Elaine Howley, who knows something about commitment: As a marathon swimmer she was the first person to swim the 32.3-mile length of Lake Pend Oreille in Northern Idaho and holds the record for the fastest 16-mile double-crossing of Boston Harbor. “But it’s important to remain flexible if things change.” She says that if something comes up to derail a morning swimming pool workout, she’ll go later and swim by herself. When it comes to food choices, Garcia also says to plan well. Keep tempting items out of sight, she suggests, and instead put the fruit bowl out. “Make sure to stock the refrigerator and pantry with healthy choices to get on track the day after.”
Eat right the next day
Don’t short yourself on meals the next day, warns Garcia. Don’t attempt to undo a day of overindulging by starving yourself: She encourages people to eat breakfast the morning after, and natural oatmeal, flavoured with your own healthy spices or fruits, is a great choice. She explains that it’s a whole-grain fibre that keeps you feeling fuller longer while keeping blood sugar from spiking. If you discover that you’re not too hungry the next day, Jackson suggests focusing on getting a little protein, vegetables, and leafy greens. “Protein helps keep you satiated while the vegetables and leafy greens supply most of your micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), and the extra fiber will help with bowel movements,” he explains. (Try our recipe for steel-cut oatmeal that tastes just like apple pie.)
Don’t overdo it with the leftovers
If you’re hosting, says Robinson, pack a doggy bag for all your guests. On the other hand, if you’re at someone else’s home, limit the amount of leftovers you take home. (Here are recipe ideas for those leftovers.)
“Water, water, water,” says Garcia. Thirst can sometimes be mistaken for hunger, she notes, and it can be difficult to tell the difference during the busy holiday season. Always keep water on hand. It’ll keep you hydrated, and it will help keep food temptations at bay. Also, consider clementines, she says, which are healthy and packed with moisture. “Water plays an important role in digestion as well as helping the body achieve homeostasis,” Jackson says. He also recommends teas; flavours like chicory or chamomile help support digestion. (Learn how many glasses of water you should drink a day for weight loss benefits.)
Go easy on your workouts—and get out and walk
Don’t overdo it at the gym over the holidays: “Do not ramp up extra cardio or hours in the gym prior, during, or after,” Robinson says. “One day off doesn’t derail your fitness goals or body fat.” Ramping up weights and spending hours more working out isn’t beneficial, he warns, and you could be flirting with an injury. “Keep your gym time and routine as normal as possible and your body will take care of the rest—as long as you return back to normal caloric intake the next day,” he suggests.
Jackson adds that exercise helps the body use up extra nutrients floating around the body, but also warns against going overboard. “Whichever form of exercise you prefer will do just fine,” he says. “Even a good brisk walk will help stimulate digestion.”
Now that you know how to prepare for and recover from a holiday eating binge, check out these ways to survive the holidays with your health intact.