The Scariest Thing About Halloween is Weight Gain

Halloween is almost here, and you know what that means: it's officially THE HOLIDAY SEASON -- or rather, the Holiday WEIGHT GAIN Season. 

Between now and January 1st, everywhere you turn you'll be bombarded with candy, baked treats, rich meals, and boozey parties. It's a fun time of year for foodies and social butterflies. But it can be a troubling time of year for your health.  Most people gain a bit of weight over the holidays. If you're at a normal weight, that's not too bad. But if you're already trying to lose weight, any additional pounds can discourage you enough to make you want to quit. So how concerned about holiday weight gain should you be? This article puts it in perspective:

"Depending on how you measure, the estimates of how much the average person gains over the holiday season varies. The number you usually see thrown around is anywhere from 5-10 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Years, but this is based on self-reporting, which (unsurprisingly) tends to be skewed with a hefty helping of post-holiday guilt.

"The actual research is a little more optimistic. This study from the New England Journal of Medicine found that people’s perceived weight gain varied between 0 and 6.7 pounds with an average of 3.5, but their actual weight gain was just under 1 pound. So in reality, the 'holiday weight' is nothing to panic over: it’s nice to avoid it, but if you can’t, it’s not a catastrophe.

"The overweight are the most at risk. Study after study (e.g. this one and this one) has tracked holiday weight gain and found that people who start at a higher BMI tend to gain more weight. In the same 2000 study that busted the 5-10 pound myth, 20% of obese subjects and 10% of overweight subjects gained more than 5 pounds, compared with only 5% of non-overweight people.

"The formerly overweight also struggle. This study tracked 178 successful weight losers (people who had lost at least 77 pounds and kept it off for at least a few years), and 101 normal-weight people who had never been overweight. Despite making more careful plans and working harder to maintain their weight, 39% of the weight-losers gained at least 2.2 pounds over the holiday, compared to 17% of the normal-weight group."

Woooooo gobble gobble wooooooo I'm a spooky turkey ghost!"

Woooooo gobble gobble wooooooo I'm a spooky turkey ghost!"

Yikes. You've probably worked hard to get your body healthier, and these studies show that the holiday season could undo some of that hard work. So how can you enjoy the holiday parties while staying on track to achieve your fitness goals and avoid holiday weight gain?

  1. Commit to going to the gym -- whether or not you "feel like it." I like to say that this is about discipline, not motivation. You don't brush your teeth in the morning because it is fun; you do it because it is good for you and you like having fresh breath and white teeth over halitosis and gum disease. You don't go to work because you feel motivated; you go because you need to earn a paycheck and you like being able to afford a roof over your head and pumpkin spice lattes. Similarly, you may not always feel like going to the gym, but you'll feel better after you spend time taking care of your health, and you'll enjoy looking and feeling stronger and healthier. 
  2. Stay away from trigger foods. Try to figure out which foods make you binge and avoid them like the plague. For example, a few years ago I gorged on so many chips at a Super Bowl party that my tummy was distended with a truly visible "food baby," and I felt so full that I was nauseous. Since then, I've avoided eating chips at parties because I know that their delicious fatty-salty combo will trigger me to eat way, WAY too many and regret it. Instead, I bring hummus and veggies to parties and stick to eating whole foods that come from the outer edges of the grocery store. This includes produce, cheese, and meat, all foods that are more nutrient dense than processed party snacks like chips. They are also more filling and satiating, which means you won't want as many of them. 
  3. Drink a glass of water between alcoholic beverages. This won't just keep you from consuming as many calories -- this will also help you avoid a hangover so that you'll feel fresh and ready to go to the gym next day. And by the way, my favorite hangover cure is... drum roll... working out. It always makes me feel like I've just burned off all the poison I consumed the night before. 

For the next few weeks, I'll try to help you navigate the holidays to have fun and stay healthy. Stay tuned!

photo credit: Ravi_Shah 285/366 - Snack Size via photopin (license), SuperfitNutrition Holiday Food Safety Tips via photopin (license)

Do You Need to Take Dietary Supplements?

Disclaimer: I am not a nutritionist, a dietician, or a doctor.  I'm just a personal trainer. This information should not be used to diagnose or treat a medical condition. It is just meant to inform you and help you make good decisions. Speak to a doctor or other health specialist for more specific information about your own health.

After you’ve called it quits on junk food and unhealthy eating, you may come to the conclusion that you could do more for your health. Maybe you could lose more fat or gain more muscle or eat more nutrient-dense foods. But when all of that may sound like too much for you to handle, you might start thinking about using dietary supplements to help you reach your goals. From vitamins to protein powders, some supplements can help people reach their health and fitness goals, but are they right for you?

What are supplements?

The word "supplement" means "something that completes or enhances something else when added to it." Supplements are not only found in our bodies, but also in our lives. For example, you could have an extra job to supplement your income. When we talk about dietary supplements, we are talking about additional sources of macro- and micro-nutrients (protein, carbs, and fats are macronutrients, and just about everything else is a micronutrient) to our bodies that go beyond what you consume in your normal diet.

If you eat nutritious and balanced meals daily, in most cases you won’t need supplements. There are a few exceptions, so its a good idea to ask your doctor to regularly test you for nutritional deficiencies and surpluses. This is especially important if you're in an unusual health situation or eat an unusual diet. For example, some vegans and vegetarians may benefit from adding iron, B-vitamins, creatine, and vitamin K2 to their diets, because these micronutrients can be difficult to acquire with a plant-based diet. 

Can I use supplements for muscle building?

You can always find someone at the gym walking around with a shaker bottle full of a pre-workout, post-workout, or in-the-middle-of-the-freakin-workout beverage. But do these expensive concoctions work?

Yes and no. Some people do find it difficult to eat enough protein in their normal diets, and they can benefit from the convenience of a healthy, natural protein shake. And some components of pre- and post-workout supplements, like creatine, BCAAs (that's branch chain amino acids, the building blocks of protein) and even caffeine have proven benefits. In the right forms and correct dosages, these supplements can reduce your perceived rate of exertion (which helps you workout harder), increase work capacity and power output of the muscle while promoting physical endurance and lean body mass gains, lessen muscle breakdown, speed recovery, and even support cognitive function. 

If you do supplement with protein, creatine, BCAAs, or other muscle-building supplements, you should choose the most natural, highest quality forms of them. Avoid products that have added artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners. For example, when I make a protein smoothie, I use unflavored organic whey, hemp, or pea protein and add my own flavors through whole, natural ingredients like berries, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and cocoa nibs. And when I take creatine, I just pop a few pills of pure creatine monohydrate. This is way healthier and tastier than consuming the fake crap that is often included in pre-packaged smoothie or shake mixes. 

When you add supplements to your diet, make sure you know what constitutes a healthy dose. Remember, too much of a good thing can quickly become a very bad thing. This is true even for seemingly innocuous protein, the overconsumption of which can lead to weight gain, cancer, and even kidney stones. So choose and use any supplement with care. 

Can I use supplements for losing weight?

Fat-loss supplements with bold claims like, “Lose ALL THE WEIGHT in 5 days!" have probably caught your eye. But these claims really are too good to be true. Even prescription fat loss pills have more bad side effects than good results.

Before jumping on the miracle pill bandwagon, clean up your diet. It’ll cost you less to work with the (healthy) food that you already have than to spend more money on a supplement. Remember that 80% of your weight goals can be made or broken by your diet. You can run as many miles as you want, but that fat won’t go away if you’re constantly feeding your body crap.

And while you’re cutting out all that processed junk and replacing it with whole, natural foods, implement cardio and weight training into your daily routine. This is the most long-lasting, efficient way to lose fat and keep it off.

Should I use dietary supplements at all?

You really only need to use dietary supplements if a trusted physician confirms that you have a nutrient deficiency. Supplements, like we have discussed, are an addition, not a replacement to your normal meals. The best way to get your macro and micronutrients is by eating a healthy diet full of nutrient-dense foods. And even the most innocent supplements can be dangerous.

The supplement industry makes a ton of money by promising amazing results. Some supplements are effective, but the industry has a lot of problems. Sometimes they make false claims, and because of the way they are regulated, they can't really be held accountable for their lies. Even worse, there is a huge, systemic problem with contamination in the supplement industry. Even trusted brands that have a lot of integrity struggle with supply chain problems that leave their products vulnerable to tampering and fraud. So when you take a supplement, you run the risk of consuming incorrect ingredients or even toxic substances like powdered plastic or sawdust. 

So the answer to the question, "Should I use dietary supplements?" is really, "It's up to you, and it depends on a lot of factors." You should carefully weight the pros and cons and speak to a few health professionals (and get tested for deficiencies) before you shell out cash for supplements. For example, the supplements I take are high-quality and come from sources that I trust. They have low risks associated with potential overdose, and I'm careful to take only as much as is not provided by my diet. But I also know that taking them (or not taking them) involves some level of risk, and I am OK with that, for now. You should try to stay safe and healthy in the same way by doing your research and doing what is right for your own unique body.