How to Navigate Holiday Eating and Maintain Weight Loss

The holiday season is a tough time to start a new weight-loss diet— tasty treats, social gatherings, and vacations galore! However, that doesn’t mean you have to lose all the progress you’ve made prior to November. By leaning into a maintenance phase, you can prevent rebound weight gain from previous diets.

What is maintenance?
 

A maintenance phase means a period of eating such that you maintain your weight. Typically, this is best right after a weight loss diet. You’ll gradually increase calories up to a manageable baseline; giving your body a chance to reset.

Why should you use a maintenance phase?
 

A period of maintenance is important to combat the mental and physical fatigue that comes with restriction. You have a better chance of dropping fat efficiently on a subsequent diet phase if you spend plenty of time eating at maintenance load.

 

Eating adequate calories increases appetite-suppressing hormones, thyroid hormones, and metabolism. At the same time, appetite-stimulating hormones are reduced, putting you in a better mindset for eating. This helps prevent weight loss plateaus and reduces the likelihood of an unhealthy relationship with food.

How do I enter a maintenance phase?
 

After a period of caloric restriction (weight-loss diet), it’s important to start slow and ease into calorie increases. It can be tempting to go ‘all-in’ during the holidays, but you’ll have better results if you slowly increase the amount of food you’re consuming. This can be something like 250-500 calories more per day, adjusting every 3-4 weeks. Continue adding calories each week until you’re eating calories that match your expenditure.

 

If you’ve been dieting, an easy way to gauge caloric load is simply recording everything you eat in an app like MyFitnessPal or MyMacros for 3-5 days, and averaging out intake. From there, you can slowly increase calories and check-in every few weeks by recording intake and ensuring you’re on target.

Things to watch out for during the Holiday Season…
 

Avoid the ‘all or nothing’ mentality. Just because you’re not focused on weight loss doesn’t mean you should eat every single treat you are craving. I like using the ‘treat scale’ by Renaissance Periodization: “Try rating your food temptations on a scale of 0-10 with 10 being your absolute favorite. Then, only eat the treat that score a 7 or higher.” If the treat monster is hard to tame right after a caloric deficit, give it time… you’ll be less likely to go overboard once your diet is filled with high-volume, nutrient-dense foods.



Don’t be afraid of the number on the scale. As you enter the holiday season, it’s realistic to expect some weight gain. That’s not a reason to jump back into restriction! Set your expectation early, and make peace with the increase. It can be helpful to look at average weights to ensure the maintenance phase isn’t turning into a bulking phase.

 

Take it slow. Plan to spend 6-10 weeks at maintenance before starting a new weight loss phase. November 1-January 1 can be a really helpful period to loosen the reigns on dieting, and set yourself up for a New Year commitment. Again, manage your expectations and you can enjoy the holiday season without guilt!

 

Ultimately, the holidays can be a chance to focus on connection with others, maintaining your mental health, and enjoying the season. By setting aside restriction and diet, you free yourself to do just that. With balance, you can maintain a healthy weight (and lifestyle) without guilt or fear.

 

What questions do you have about Weight loss, Maintenance, and Bulking Phases? How are you feeling about the upcoming holiday season?
KATE DAUGHERTY, M.S., CNS

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