December is a month rife with temptations. Holding steady through the holidays and maintaining your weight is certainly admirable — especially when factoring in that you have less time to exercise and more events to attend. Play it smart, and avoid these common mistakes fit folks tend to make around Christmas and New Year's.
Gaining a pound or two during the month of December may not sound like a lot, but a dedicated habit of pumpkin pie from Thanksgiving to New Year's can mean piled-on pounds as the years go by. Luckily, you don't have to swear off holiday treats or spend hours at the gym in order to participate in this month's celebrations — you just have to make a few smart choices when it counts. For a crash course on enjoying the holidays without an expanding waistline, we spoke to Extra TV host and Ocean Spray spokesperson Maria Menounos, who shed 40 pounds over a decade ago and has kept it off. Maria's newest book, The EveryGirl's Guide to Diet and Fitness ($14, available for preorder) will be published in April, but she shared with us a few of her go-to tips just in time for the holidays. Read on for her practical advice for preventing weight gain this season.
- Plan ahead for a feast: Whether it's a Christmas Eve feast with the family or a long night of holiday parties, if you know you're going to be indulging at night, plan ahead, says Maria. "If you know you're going to have a big meal that night, it's better to make sure that throughout the day you keep it simple and clean," she says. Feeling especially nervous that packed-on pounds are in your future? Go for a clean-eating diet a couple of days before the big day, as well as a couple of days after, Maria says, "so you can really splurge and not feel guilty on that day."
- Just keep moving: What to do when a packed week doesn't leave time for a gym trip? Just keep moving, Maria advises. "Maintain your steps throughout the day: try to walk as much as you can and at a brisk pace, so that you're burning calories throughout the day." Maria aims for 10,000 steps a day, which is just what most experts recommend you fit into your day.
- Drink hot water, not calories: Maria always keep a mug of hot water around — it's one of her favorite tricks for feeling full and energized throughout the day. "Hot water is like magic. It fills you up: it also is detoxifying, de-stressing, and helps digest the food in your stomach," she says. Also, "you'll find yourself eating a little less if you're drinking hot water," she adds. It's not just during the day that she recommends imbibing calorie-free: she even opts for water over juices or alcohol at holiday parties when watching her calorie count. "I save it for the food," she says.
The 80/20 principle is no diet — it's a lifestyle change that can lead to sustainable weight loss. Folks who have suffered on rigid, limiting diets in the past find that this new "rule" teaches them about balance and moderation, a concept that never exists in a fad diet. When you practice 80/20, you have the space to go out socially and enjoy a meal (or a cocktail!) with friends, but most importantly, it makes the whole clean-living thing feel doable for the long run.
The breakdown is simple: 80 percent of the time you focus on eating clean, good-for-you foods, and 20 percent of the time you have the freedom to indulge as you please. Don't be concerned about the math, but it's simple: if you eat three square meals a day, three of those meals every week are your 20 percent cheat meals; if you eat five small meals a day, then seven of those small meals are up for grabs.
If you're worried about loosening the reins, look to Hollywood for 80/20 success stories. When we spoke to Jessica Alba's trainer Yumi Lee, Yumi credited the 80/20 rule when it came to Jessica's ability to maintain her healthy weight. She explains, "You can't be 100 percent all of the time, but you can be 80 percent all of the time." Yumi recommends small, frequent meals throughout the day, aiming to make healthy choices 80 percent of the time.
Supermodel Miranda Kerr has also explained how the 80/20 rule has done wonders for her relationship with food. Without guilt on conditions placed on meal choices, Miranda says, "Food is my friend, and consistency is the key. I believe that everything in moderation is best." We could not agree more!
Do you already live the 80/20 way? Tell us in the comments!
You started running months ago, yet every time you hop on the scale, you're let down by the results. What gives? While running does burn mega calories, here are some reasons you may not be seeing the weight-loss results you're after.
Burning tons of calories can cause a famished feeling afterward, but it's important to fuel wisely. Choose junk food as your recovery food and not only are you overdoing it on the calorie front, you'll be hungry again in the next hour. Although a postrun snack is essential, make sure it's packed with protein and filling carbs and does not exceed 150 calories. If you exercised before a meal, enjoy a sensibly portioned plate, and don't go overboard as a way to reward your efforts. If you still find you're utterly famished after a workout, it probably means you need to fuel up before you exercise, so enjoy one of these pre-workout snacks before heading out for a run.
You Don't Run Enough
If you're running and not seeing results, take a look at your calendar. Doing one 45-minute run once a week or a couple 20-minute runs won't burn enough calories to lose weight. In order to lose a pound a week, you'll need to cut 500 calories each day, through a combination of diet and exercise. If losing weight is your goal, run three to four times per week and incorporate other forms of calorie-burning cardio and/or metabolism-boosting strength training on the other days.
You're Burning Less Than You Think
You just got back from a run, you're covered in sweat, and you're convinced you burned over 500 calories. But did you really? A 150-pound woman will burn 495 calories running for 45 minutes at a 10-minute-per-mile pace. If you didn't run for that long or that fast, then you're not burning as many calories as you thought. It's best to track your workout just to be sure, using a heart rate monitor or one of these cheap running apps on your phone.
Same Workout, Different Day
If you found a great three-mile loop in your neighborhood, running it for a few weeks can help running become a habit. The problem lies with continually doing the same running workout. Your muscles will quickly adapt to the demands you're placing on them, which is a surefire way to hit a weight-loss plateau. Avoid this issue by mixing up your running workouts: include speed intervals, hills, long runs, short runs, and run on different surfaces and in new places to keep your muscles guessing and continuously strengthening. Check out these four training techniques that will challenge your run. As mentioned earlier, it's also important not to make running your sole source of exercise. Include other forms of cardio as well as strength training since muscle mass burns more calories and speeds up your metabolism.
It's Not Just About the Scale
Running is one of the best ways to tone your lower body because it helps diminish fat while building muscle. Muscle tissue is more dense than fat tissue, so it takes up less space. This means that although your weight might not decrease (and might even go up a little), other body measurements will change, such as waist circumference, bra size, or the shape of your tush. The number on the scale isn't always the best way to monitor your progress. Even though the scale's not budging, you might be able to fit into those skinny jeans you had your eye on.
One motivating factor in reaching a weight-loss goal is to think about the skinny jeans, strapless dresses, and bathing suits you'll be able to wear once you hit your ideal body weight. Until that happens, use your current wardrobe to stay on track. Check out these closet weight-loss tools.
First things first: lifting heavier weights will not turn you into the Incredible Hulk. In fact, lifting a heavier set of dumbbells can actually lead to a smaller, stronger you. Sound like just what you're after? Here are two important reasons to ditch the two-pounders and grab heavier weights.
- You'll lose weight faster: Who doesn't want to drop pounds the most efficient way possible? Healthy chef and trainer Katy Clark recommends this test: "Whatever weight you're bearing — if you're doing five pounds, if you're doing 10 pounds — if you're not tired by [rep] number 10, then you need to go a little bit heavier. If you are consistently doing that, you're going to see changes in your strength and in your muscle mass." More muscle mass equals more metabolism, so maximize your body's fat-burning potential by challenging your muscles with heavier weights.
- You can reshape your body: Cardio may help you shed excess pounds, but it's the weights that will help you sculpt the strong, toned look you're going for. "You’re not going to change the shape of your body [with cardio], you’re just going to be exactly like you are but you’ll be a smaller version," says trainer Tia Falcone, who helped Miss America lose over 50 pounds. "All your flaws will be the same, everything will just be smaller." She recommends doing four weight-training routines a week to sculpt and reshape your problem areas.
Of course, if you're not used to a weight-training routine, start small and work your way up to heavier weights; starting too heavy can lead to injuries that can sideline all your weight-loss efforts. Here's a chart of common dumbbell sizes for beginners to help you get started; in general, aim for a weight that will fatigue your muscles in eight to 12 reps.
You don't have to resign yourself to gaining weight over the holidays — and you don't have to feel deprived either! If you implement one of these weight-loss tips over the next few months, you'll be able to keep up a healthy weight without any unnecessary struggle.
Eat Carbs in the A.M.
Many people ask The Biggest Loser trainer Bob Harper if they should be cutting carbs entirely when trying to lose weight. You'll be glad to know that he completely disagrees, since "your body needs carbs for fuel." His advice? Front-load your carbohydrates: the largest meal (higher in carbohydrates) of the day should be breakfast, and the rest of your meals should be "trending smaller as the day goes on." The hope is when you eat carbs earlier in the day, "you'll know you'll have time to burn them off" with exercise later on.
Vegan Before Dinner
When you cut out dairy and meat from the majority of your meals, you're naturally reducing the calorie and fat counts without having to overanalyze every ingredient. That's why Mark Bittman's vegan-before-dinner, "Flexitarian" diet works! If you eat balanced, vegan meals with tons of veggies, fruits, and grains for breakfast and lunch, after 6 p.m., you can enjoy your favorite recipes — in moderation, of course. This plan also leaves you some wiggle room when fun holiday plans roll around. If you're eating clean all day and getting in a workout, there's no reason you can't enjoy a special meal at night.
The 80/20 Rule
For the space to go out socially and enjoy a special meal (or a cocktail!) with friends over the holidays, follow the 80/20 rule. The breakdown is simple: 80 percent of the time you focus on eating clean, good-for-you foods, and 20 percent of the time, you have the freedom to indulge as you please. If you eat three square meals a day, three of those meals every week are your 20 percent cheat meals — plenty of room for a special holiday brunch or the classic Thanksgiving dinner!
What's your strategy to make sure you keep off weight during the holidays?
Making your own snacks and meals is a surefire way to help you keep track of calories and maintain your weight. Since eyeballing your servings can be iffy, keep yourself honest and prevent overeating with these portion-control products.
Geneva Alexander started with goal: to lose 50 pounds in time for her best friend's wedding. A year and a half later, the 27-year-old night-shift nurse has lost over double her original goal. Read on to find out how Geneva balances life and odd work hours and still managed to lose the weight and keep it off.
POPSUGAR Fitness: What made you decide to start?
Geneva: My weight-loss journey began when my best friend asked me to be her maid of honor. I didn't want to stand up in front of a room full of people and make a speech as the fat friend. Her wedding provided a tangible deadline to lose a significant amount of weight. My goal was to drop 50 pounds before her wedding.
PS: What is your favorite way to work out?
GA: I love HIIT workouts for cardio. I like how the change of pace keeps cardio interesting and not just a boring jog on the treadmill. I also love weight lifting. I work with a personal trainer twice a week and work on powerlifting moves like deadlifts, back squats, and bench press. I just hit a personal record on my deadlift of 300 pounds. I love feeling feminine and strong.
PS: What's your weekly exercise schedule?
GA: I typically work out six times per week. I am lucky enough to belong to a small family-owned gym that runs metabolic classes that are in a HIIT style. I take those group exercise classes typically four times per week. My other two workout days, I work with my personal trainer doing strength and weight lifting exercises. We typically do a lower-body day early in the week, and our second workout will be upper body.
PS: How do you keep workouts exciting?
GA: I like to keep things changing monthly. I also will pick a new fitness goal every few months, whether it is to increase the amount of weight I lift, or decreasing my mile time. I also promised myself to complete one big fitness challenge every year. This year, I trained for and ran my first half marathon.
First things first: we aren't suggesting you diet on Thanksgiving. Enjoy yourself and the rewards of a meal that takes hours to prepare. But when you consider how easy it is eat your way well over the 2,000-calorie mark on dinner alone, it doesn't hurt to make a few small changes in your cooking. And we're not talking changes that involve dry, skinless turkey breast or a dessert the size of a thimble. These six changes will shave hundreds of calories off your Thanksgiving meal without skimping on taste.
1. Be One With Brine
No need for a fat-laden butter rub to impart flavor and moistness! Instead opt to brine or smoke your bird. If you're short on time, try this easy herb-roasted solution that uses heart-healthy olive oil.
2. Choose Spuds Wisely
Forget russets! Make your mashers with yukon gold and yellow finn potatoes instead. These smaller varieties are naturally creamy and sweet, and their skins taste like butter. This means you can cut down on the amount of butter and cream you would normally add, and keeping the skins ups fiber content. Or you can skip white potatoes altogether using this recipe for a savory sweet potato mash — talk about antioxidant overload!
3. Say No to Marshmallow Fluff
You can still get all the nostalgia of a sweet potato casserole minus the sugar and fat. Skip the sugary marshmallow topping, and put the focus on sweet and savory spices, like ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon like you'll find in this recipe for a sweet potato-pecan casserole. A touch of brown sugar or maple syrup is all it takes to bring out the veggie's natural sweetness.
4. Do You Really Need Cream of Mushroom?
We get it, green bean casserole with condensed soup is a Thanksgiving staple, but our guess is that your family will be OK if you skip it this year. Instead of veggies drowning in cream, butter, and cheese, opt for simpler recipes that highlight the natural flavors of the produce. If you're thinking "how boring!," there are a lot of side dishes that are both tasty and creative. We're huge fans of this fresh green bean casserole and also balsamic brussels sprouts.
5. It's All Gravy, Baby!
You gotta have gravy on the table; mashed potatoes and turkey just wouldn't be the same. But your gravy doesn't have to be dripping in saturated fat. One of the easiest ways to make gravy healthier is by skimming off the fat: pour pan juices into a container and place in the freezer. Once the fat has risen to the top, skim it off and discard. What's left is the perfect base for gravy! Instead of adding loads of cream or butter to your gravy recipe, use chicken stock and herbs. You'll find that you're still left with a rich sauce that will make any turkey proud.
6. Less Is More
It's good to have options, but a Thanksgiving spread doesn't have to rival an all-you-can-eat Vegas buffet. Carbs are always a calorie-dense option and fill you up fast; skip the bread basket, and just focus on the stuffing and mashed potatoes. Instead of offering five pies, ice cream, and cake, choose one or two desserts to serve. All the veggies you serve don't have to be rich dishes — it's amazing how welcome a fresh salad is on Thanksgiving. Focus on the staples, and you'll find that everyone will still walk away satisfied and full. No one — including yourself — will miss what's not there!