Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain

Feasts are an important part of life. This is an incredibly important fact to acknowledge. Every single important celebration is marked by feasting. Eating is a celebration of life. Any eating plan that does not acknowledge this fact is short sighted and often doomed to failure. Birthdays are celebrated with cake. Holiday feasts like Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner are family affairs. There are wedding banquets and fancy restaurants to mark special occasions. Milestones are not remembered with a celebratory salad, there are no wedding meal replacement bars and Christmas superfood smoothies are not a thing.

This leads to an important observation and acknowledgment – a little weight gain is not a constant phenomenon, but rather an intermittent one. With that knowledge, you can see that a lasting solution to weight gain is also intermittent. Weight gain varies throughout life, and also throughout the year.

Research has found that in the 6 weeks of the holiday period (from Thanksgiving to New Year), results in the majority (roughly 67%) of any weight gained throughout the year. There is always  an effortful, yet minor attempt to lose weight in the immediate post-holiday period, but this is clearly not sufficient to offset the holiday weight gain.


To successfully navigate holiday and special occasion weight gain, you need a strategy of increasing weight loss at times and maintenance of weight at others. A constant diet does not match the cycle of life. Feast and Fast. There are times when you may want to eat a lot. There will be other times that you should be eating almost nothing. That is the natural cycle of life.

The ancient civilizations and religions all knew this simple rhythm of life. When a hunt or the harvest came in there was feasting. This was often followed by a fast in the upcoming winter. Unfortunately, in our modern day of continuous food availability, religions have prescribed periods of feasting and fasting but society and conventional nutrition advice has kept the feasts, but fear the fasts

Intermittent fasting is a modern, chosen application of this ancient behavior pattern. You may have researched its benefits and how to effectively implement the protocol that best suits you and your lifestyle. 

With the holiday season now in full swing, you know you will be faced with abundant choices and options in the treat, indulgence or family favorite departments.

You might also be faced with situations and circumstances that are not ideal for compliance with your Paleo philosophies. There are many situations that will undoubtedly be packed with temptations, indulgences and choices that almost demand over-consumption.

Realistically, everyone else will be indulging in numerous processed foods, goodies, sweets made from refined sugars and grains, which hardly come close to being in alignment with the nutrition plan you have been following.

There is no need to be hesitant. An event or a celebration need not sabotage your attempts at maintaining your weight and your health.

In fact, if you plan accordingly, you really can choose to indulge (smartly and occasionally) and not have it hurt your progress.

In simple terms, you can significantly mitigate any damage from mindfully consuming 1000's of possibly non-nutritious calories in a single meal if you follow a few simple strategies.

  • Fast before the event
  • Get your protein in
  • Eat in the right order (optional)
  • Fast after the event

Emerge successfully from this feasting season with your health goals still intact and your Paleo lifestyle mostly unscathed is easier than you might think!

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Fast Before The Event

There are lots of benefits to adopting an intermittent fasting approach to eating. In basic terms, fasting can simply be defined as not having eaten for a period of time, so that your body enters a ‘fasted’ state instead of a ‘fed’ state.

If you are already eating like this, great – you can continue and need not to do anything differently, aside from perhaps extending your fasting window up until the actual event.

But if you are like many people who are currently not following an intermittent fasting protocol or are at the start of your IF journey, then you will simply not eat any of your normal meals during the day.

This means you will be skipping your regular breakfast, lunch, and any other snacks that you may normally have.

By doing this, you will be effectively implementing the fat burning (and hunger reducing – sounds counter-intuitive but it really is true) effects of IF and consuming your calories in one meal, becoming your fed state.  I bet you think you may be hungry, and the first time you try this, you very well may be. This is logically followed by….

Get Your Protein In

Generally, when people let themselves eat with reckless abandon, they have no trouble consuming copious amounts of fats and carbohydrates. Even Paleo friendly treats and snacks can be over-eaten quite easily. Unfortunately, protein often gets neglected in favor of gorging yourself on these seemingly more fun macronutrients.

The solution to this, especially if you are currently weight training and/or trying to keep your protein intake higher, is to get ensure you have sufficient protein at the last meal you consume before your ‘fast’. It also pays to begin a meal with a bite or two of protein

There is logic in this thought process.

Protein is very satiating. This means that even if you are not used to fasting, consuming protein will keep you full longer, making it considerably easier to hold out until the event.

Even if you are not fasting, this strategy works. For instance, assuming that your indulgent dinner is at 7:30pm. You would eat one protein-only meal at say 12pm, and another small one at 3-4pm.

This is technically not fasting, but if you do this correctly you’ll have only taken in some highly satiating calories by the time your dinner arrives.

Good Paleo protein sources for this are generally animal based from humanely treated and well-sourced farms.

If you still find that you are too hungry, add in some extra fat along with a few fibrous vegetables (those that grow above the ground) as well. That, in combination with the protein, should be able to keep your hunger at bay until dinner.

Eat In The Right Order

Now this one is optional.

If you just feel like mindfully (which means you choose to) indulge from the get go, then go right ahead. If you have followed the 2 points discussed above, then you have already given yourself a pretty big cushion.

However, if you want to automatically limit the potential for overeating even further, then try this additional little trick.

Again, to review, for most, the easiest thing to eat quickly when really hungry is carbohydrates. When you have not eaten for a while, gorging on hundreds of grams of nutrient poor carbohydrates is not only easy, but does little to quell the appetite.

The easiest way to avoid consuming too many of these non-nutritious carbohydrates too quickly is by starting your meal with something that is high in protein and fat. Steak and other red meats are perfect for this.

This allows you to begin up on foods that you are less likely to over-consume – so that by the time you get to the treats, you are more likely end up taking in fewer or smaller amounts without even thinking.

Fast After The Event

During the 24 hours following an indulgent meal (or two), your blood sugar will fluctuate wildly. This will cause false hunger and a powerful desire to eat more sugar and/or carbs. Do your best not to. Sip on some black coffee or herbal tea. Keep some bone broth handy if you feel you need something saltier. Go for a walk. Do meaningful work. Keep yourself busy and forget about food.

Fasting is also an effective way to negate any extra caloric effects from the overeating as well as shed the extra water weight (and bloating) that accompanies consuming too many carbohydrate-rich foods.

The fast need not be extended. Often a skipped meal or compressed eating window might just do the trick.

This is the fastest way to get back to your personal nutrition balance and leave your indulgence in the past, where it belongs. Simply move on. As long as your long-term habits are remembered and revisited you will find yourself back on track in no time.

The next time you are faced with an event where you are likely to overeat, do your best not to stress too much about it. It does not imply that your nutrition efforts will go to waste.

If you choose to adopt these strategies you will find you can have meals where you can choose to indulge while at the same time keep feeling good and working towards your health and wellness goals. That extra holiday season weight gain can be kept at bay and you can emerge feeling and looking as good as before!

If you learn to become more flexible with when and how you choose to eat, you might be amazed by how much this can limit the stress and anxiety of ‘falling off the wagon.’

At the end of the day, you really can (sometimes) have your (Paleo) cake and eat it too. In fact, many of the people I see and work with are actually more successful when they do.

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