Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Holiday Health Villains and Superheroes

I was inspired to write this after watching the "Man of Steel" trailer, which if you haven't seen already is pure awesomeness. In an effort to help you navigate through the pitfalls of the season I have exposed some of the most badass holiday health villains and their superheroes to help save you. 

Holiday Villain #1:  Calorie Bombs.  There is only one day a year where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight:  your birthday.  The holiday season is sneaky with its dinners, events, parties and the ever present office goodies but don’t be fooled.  These “bombs” come dressed up, displayed, and sometimes delivered with love but have a serious blast area, nutritionally speaking. 

Holiday Hero #1:  How do you disable a calorie bomb?  Plan for these splurges and save them for the things that you most look forward to during the holidays.  The only splurges allowed should be the ones you have planned for on your calendar.  If you thoughtfully plan out your splurges you will be much more apt to stick to the plan.

Holiday Villain #2:  The bottle(s) of booze.  Alcohol has more calories per gram than either protein or carbohydrates.  Plus alcohol is what’s called a “priority nutrient” meaning that your body will prioritize using it for energy before any other substrate.  In other words, all those holiday beverages have to be burned off before any fat loss can start to take place (which may take a while depending on how festive you’ve gotten!)

Holiday Hero #2:  Use the tried-and true trick of having one glass of water for every drink you take in.  This will not only cut down on the amount of booze you knock back, it will also help you stay hydrated, flush any extra holiday toxins out of your system and improve the quality of your sleep.

Holiday Villain #3:  Shut eye.  All the extra parties, shopping and decorating tend to cut into our shut eye.  Sleep is when your body repairs itself, and lack of sleep can wreak havoc on your body fat and your hormones.  Research has shown that as sleep quality and quantity decrease, levels of the stress hormone cortisol increase, while levels of growth hormone, a hormone linked to building muscle and burning fat, decrease.

Holiday Hero #3:  Get 6 to 8 hours of sleep every night.  Establish a nightly ritual of doing something relaxing, such as taking a hot bath or foam rolling and stretching and then try to hit the sack around the same time every night.

Holiday Villain #4:  Holiday stress.  We all know how stressful the holidays can be.  Stress can promote the release of hormones that cause our bodies to store fat.  When your body is under excessive stress, you produce a hormone called cortisol, which is secreted by your adrenal glands.  This hormone was meant to be secreted in fight-or-flight situations.  For example, your body would churn out cortisol when you got scared because an animal was chasing you, and then you would run away and go sit in your cave and have what I call cortisol reduction time, when your adrenals would re-boot for the next stressful event.

Unfortunately, these days most of us don’t get much cortisol reduction time.  Instead our bodies are secreting cortisol 24/7, and as the day goes on, the stress increases and the cortisol keeps rising.  When your stress and therefore your cortisol are high, your body is in a panicked state of survival.  If your cortisol is chronically high, you may notice you amount of belly fat going up.

Holiday Hero #4:  Make R, R and R a priority.  You don’t just need R and R you need R, R and R – rest, relaxation and regeneration.  Mark in an activity weekly that will help calm your nerves.  Perhaps a massage, warm bath, meditation...or a visit to the gym to foam roll, stretch and decompress. 

Holiday Villain #5:  Skipping the gym.  With Christmas less than 2 weeks away we are fast approaching the "Holiday Zone," in which many of us become immersed in all sorts of overindulgence; a period in which the average Canadian gains between 2 and 8 lbs. of fat!  Yes, some of this gain will be temporary and will be lost when the partying stops, but more than half of those who gain will hold onto at least 1-2 lbs. of this fat, adding it permanently to their "bottom" line.

Holiday Hero #5:  You don’t have to be a compulsive gym-goer to burn calories.  Designate 4 days of each week that you will make it to the gym and participate in a class or work on your own personal strength training plan.  These workouts will add up to help boost your metabolism and keep you in the holiday fat burning zone.

Wishing you good luck in battling the villians, and a happy and healthy holiday season!


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