The holiday season is a time filled with celebrations. Many of these include socializing with friends and family while enjoying a bevy of high-calorie foods and drinks. There’s nothing wrong with spreading a little holiday cheer—in fact, we encourage the indulgence. But going overboard can leave you feeling desperate to “undo” whatever damage you’ve done to your health over the course of the holiday season. Hence why so many people rush to the gym come January 1st and start focusing on sticking to a healthy diet. It’s nice to start the year with a clean, fresh slate, but make sure you get started on the right foot by avoiding these all-too-common post-holiday diet mistakes.
Going “All Or Nothing”
With the the start of the new year, you might be tempted to do a total clean out of your fridge and pantry. It’s not a bad idea to remove certain temptations or unhealthy treats. However, experts warn not to do any extreme purging of food or going “cold-turkey” with a strict and rigid diet. “It can be difficult to stay motivated and adhere to such a strict diet plan. This type of change is generally short-lived,” says Jessica Tosto, MS, RD, clinical coordinator at the Nutrition and Dietetics College of Health Professions at Pace University. “Instead, focus on small incremental changes that, once achieved, can help increase those feelings of success and encourage you to continue making long-lasting sustainable lifestyle changes.”
Hitting The Gym Hardcore
You and everyone else you know (and don’t know!) are likely making a significantly stronger effort to get to the gym now that the holidays are over. However, it’s important to take it slow if you haven’t exercised consistently in a while. “Often, people who want to lose excess holiday weight or make a New Year’s commitment to start exercising again begin with such enthusiasm that they can actually hurt themselves,” warns Tosto. Especially if you’re looking for fast results, you might work yourself a little too hard—to the point where you risk winding up with an exercise injury.
Instead, Tosto recommends taking it slow in the beginning. “Pace yourself, build up your strength and endurance, and consult a professional trainer if possible,” she says. “And, remember that exercise alone is not going to result in dramatic weight loss. Food intake plays a big role, as well!”
With the laundry list of low-carb diets trending left and right, you might be tempted to jump on the bandwagon, especially after all those latkes, holiday cookies, and glasses of eggnog. Cutting out all the carbs can seem like a reasonable approach. But, Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN and author of Eating in Color, says that too many people ditch the healthy carbs, like whole grains and fruit, in addition to the sugary and processed ones. “This may result in quick weight loss of around five pounds. But you’ll be missing out on key nutrients that may leave you vulnerable to winter colds,” she says. “Don’t set yourself up for failure due to deprivation and try to avoid low-carb diets or any diet that omits whole food group[s] entirely.”
If it seems like everyone you know is starting a detox of some kind, there’s a good reason for it. It’s the best time of year for these businesses promoting these sorts of plans to pop up. Most of them promise quick results for pretty much whatever ails you, namely weight gain. “While they have potential to jump-start weight loss, they are not at all a normal way to eat and don’t teach people how to create healthy, balanced meals they can eat all year,” says Largeman-Roth. “They are also generally expensive, and who needs that after the holidays?”
You’ve heard it a million times. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” And it is! “Breakfast is literally ‘breaking the fast’—eating within an hour of waking up jumpstarts your metabolism,” says Becky Kerkenbush, M.S., R.D., media representative for the Wisconsin Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She recommends selecting a balanced breakfast that includes healthy fat, sufficient protein, and whole grains. It will keep you energized and satiated throughout the day. Plus, this may also prevent overeating at your next meal.
Setting Unrealistic Goals
Whether you’re looking to drop five pounds or 50, it’s important to be realistic about how much weight you’ll lose in a given amount of time. According to Kerkenbush, a realistic weight loss goal is a ½ pound to two pounds per week. “Aiming for more is unrealistic and may result in feelings of depression and disappointment,” she warns. “The large weight loss that some people initially experience is usually water weight that will return once people start eating their usual foods.” Instead of weight loss, she suggests focusing on another goal. This could be running a mile without stopping or becoming more mindful through the practice of yoga.
A new year is a great time to focus on your health and fitness goals, but don’t sacrifice your diet, metabolism, and long-term success with quick fixes or unsustainable post-holiday diet habits. Focus on whole foods and habits you can stick with to feel the results you want.