How to stay trim during the holidays

Have a happy and healthy Holiday season

’Tis the season to be jolly but it can also be a time of stress and straying from your healthy habits. Before you get swept up in the Christmas and holiday season spirit, the following techniques and exercise tips might help keep your eating in check, stress at bay and the scale on an even keel.   

Don’t gobble your food: practice mindful eating

In the next few weeks, you’ll be faced with all kinds of delectable food and well-meaning hosts and hostesses encouraging you to eat, eat!

To shore up your ability to enjoy without overindulging, practice mindful eating.  

“Mindful eating requires a little practice, because out of habit we tend to eat rapidly without really tasting what we are putting in our mouths,” says Dr. Patricia Dobkin, a Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor of Medicine at McGill.  

She encourages people to start practicing mindful eating now, before the holiday season kicks into full gear.

“When you eat mindfully, remove distractions (e.g. the phone and television). Focus your attention on what you are eating and drinking: the textures, aromas, colours and tastes,” says Dobkin, faculty member in the Department of Medicine at McGill University. “It takes about 20 minutes for your body to signal the brain that you are full, but people are preoccupied and eat rapidly, thus, they don’t notice the signal indicating, ‘I’m done.’”

After a few weeks of practicing being in the present moment while eating rather than being distracted, when at parties and family gatherings, you can attend to the music, decorations and conversations with other partygoers rather than hone in on the buffet table and overeat.

When you choose to eat, “You’ll enjoy the food more because you’ll actually be tasting and experiencing it, rather than wolfing it down. Not only is it more pleasurable but being mindful also encourages people to eat the right foods in the right amounts,” says Dobkin.

It takes hours of exercise to burn off those extra calories

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found the average person gains about 1 lb. (0.45 kilograms) during the Christmas and holiday season. This might sound insignificant, but most people never actually lose that pound so after a few years it adds up.  

What’s more, your long holiday “to do” list makes skipping your usual exercise routine more likely. Before you give exercise the boot, consider how long you need to work out to burn off a pound of holiday cheer. Dr. Ilka Lowensteyn, Exercise Physiologist, and Medical Scientist, in the Department of Medicine at McGill points out 1 lb. is equivalent to 3,500 calories. A person who weighs 155 lbs. would have to walk briskly for 12 hours to burn off all those shortbread cookies and chocolates. It would take 10 hours for a person weighing 185 lbs.   [Why not put this into kilos?]

Turn everyday activities into a workout

“Even at this busy time of year, I encourage you to do whatever you can to remain physical active,” advises Lowensteyn. “Before things get crazy and your agenda gets overloaded, make sure to schedule your workouts.”

“You can also do things a little differently; turn your shopping spree into a workout; walk faster; book it around the mall. When you clean the house or cook, turn up the volume and dance your way through these activities—it actually will get your heart pumping. Spend time with your kids, doing something active. Build a snowman, go skating, get them to help you shovel the driveway. If it’s too cold to be outside, don’t go to the movies, go bowling or to an indoor swimming pool.”  

The added benefit of maintaining your exercise routine: it’s a great way to reduce stress while also getting a boost of energy so you really can be merry during the Christmas and holiday season.



McGill Centre for the Convergence of Health and Economics (MCCHE)

Desautels Faculty of Management

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