Battle of the bulge: Holiday edition

Written by:

Wesley Lo

Wesley Lo

Wesley is a health and fitness coach in Hong Kong, with a passion for finding ways to improve health, longevity and athletic performances.


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It’s almost the end of the year, and hopefully, we will be able to gather with friends and family while keeping safe and healthy.

It’s not unusual to feel some anxiety during this time – and some of these reasons may not even be Covid-related. For example, some of you may be feeling anxious about weight gain, due to overeating or even binge eating.

Overeating vs binge eating

Both overeating and binge eating involve some mindless behaviours. Basically, in both cases, you’re eating too much without thinking about why. But there are real differences between the two.

An example of overeating is having more than one dessert after dinner, or finishing a large bag of chips during the movie by yourself.

Sometimes you may also eat too much after a breakup, or while working on a project that is stressing you out. We call this “emotional eating”.

Binge eating usually happens from an unusual eating behaviour that makes people feel guilty or stressed after eating.

For example, you might finish a few pints of ice cream in one go, then try to exercise a lot to burn it off because of guilt. You may even cry and blame yourself. Or, you might eat until you feel uncomfortable, and then try to vomit your food out afterwards.

Overeating and binge eating are both unhealthy behaviours, and you can avoid them if you mentally prepare yourself before the holidays.

Don’t eat your feelings

Meeting friends and families during the holiday season is fun and lovely, and for many reasons, we have become used to associating these gatherings with lots of eating and drinking.

In my opinion, we should clearly understand that the happiness of meeting friends and family during the holidays does not come from food. 

Food provides us with nutrients to make our bodies healthy. It is not meant to relieve our mental stress. If we associate food with our emotions, it may develop into a vicious circle, especially if the food is processed food, like ice cream and potato chips.

Here are some tips to help you reconsider the role of food during the holidays.

  1. Count your macros

Many update research shows that calories is not the only factor that affects weight control. Learning your macros can help you control insulin and fat storage.  Eating enough protein also curbs our appetite and has a thermogenic effect. 

  1. Eat 70% of your intake before going to the event

When you you eat before an event, you will feel less hungry and won’t eat as much. Can you imagine scarfing down a big meal after you’ve just had something to eat? Probably not.

  1. Only eat whole foods at the event

Whole foods have less sugar, more water and have a higher nutrient density. It keeps us full longer, and provides the nutrition our body needs.

  1. Limited your food plate numbers at the event

If you limit your plate numbers in a meal, it is really hard to overeat. This is a good strategy to make us consciously think about how much food we are putting into our bodies.

What about exercise?

If you did in fact end up eating a bit more than you wanted to, perhaps consider doing more exercise to burn off those extra calories.

Now, we shouldn’t really think of exercise as the way to compensate for our eating habits, but here are a few suggestions for you to let your body burn fat more efficiently if that’s what you’re planning to do.

  1. Fasted exercise

In the fasted stage, after around 14 hours without food, our liver glycogen starts to be deprived so the body tends to use fat as fuel to support our movements. 

Fit individuals who have experienced fasted exercise can work out for a bit longer – say, 30 to 60 mins with slightly higher intensity. For those who have never tried working out on an empty stomach, consider working out for a shorter duration, or at a lower intensity as the body may not be metabolically flexible enough to convert fat as fuel. This can cause low blood glucose, causing you to feel faint.

  1. Caffeine and EGCG before exercise

Caffeine and EGCG are the fat metabolic agents that have shown to help the body use fat as fuel in general. Green tea and black coffee are good choices.

  1. HIIT

If you are not a fan of fasted exercise, you could try some High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). HIIT allows you to build some muscles, increase growth hormones and testosterone, and uses more fat as fuel even after exercise.

Personally, I really enjoy the holiday season. If I’m being honest, I do also allow myself to consume slightly more food. Life is about balance; too many good things may not be the best for us. On the other hand, excessive bad habits for sure are not good for the body and mind.

Enjoy your holiday season and have a Merry Christmas!

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