By Helen M. Ryan, Certified Personal Trainer
With the Holidays around the corner and the new year sneaking around the bend, it’s time to consider your waist line – and your dream of flat abs.
In last year’s Holiday article I focused on tools you could use to avoid gaining weight through the Holiday season (read “The 5 Easiest Ways to Stay Fit Over the Holidays“). This year, we are considering some very simple things you can do before the Holidays to actually lose some weight. Losing weight and burning fat beforehand gives you some extra breathing room to enjoy your festivities, so continue reading the 12 Days of Holiday Weight Loss to get started. The tips provided are both surprisingly easy and effective. The key is to be consistent with them and follow through.
(Start with Day 1, then keep that going while adding Day 2. Then keep Day 1 and Day 2 tips working, add Day 3’s, and so on. When the Holidays actually arrive, not only will you have possibly lost weight, but you will also have gained something far more valuable:healthy new weight loss habits.)
Day 1: Water. First thing in the morning and 15 minutes before every meal drink a full glass of water. Why? In addition to providing your body with the fluids it needs to work efficiently and clean your pipes, water also helps you feel fuller. Feeling fuller helps you eat less. Eating less leads to weight loss. So drink up – before every meal.
Day 2: Commercial break bust-out. Americans watch an average of 4.5 hours of television at night. Some of that time can be put to good weight loss use. Pick two commercial breaks each hour (if you are watching an hour-long show, do the exercises twice. For a 30-minute show, do them once). Perform this short but intense exercise sequence. It won’t make you too sweaty but will really get your heart rate going. Every time you step up your heart rate, your metabolism follows.
If you have a staircase available, step up and down on the bottom step for a count of 20 with your right leg, then repeat on left leg. Then, placing both feet together, hop up on that bottom step and then step back down one foot at a time. Hop and step. Repeat for a count of 10. If you don’t have a step, do knee pull ups from a standing position using both arms and alternating legs. Or do a series of jump squats (20-30). Repeat next commercial, working harder as you go along.
Day 3: Veggies and fruits. On your trusty calendar or PDA, make a note to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day (though the food pyramid recommends nine servings, that’s a hard ideal for most people to reach). Write down your veggie goal each day and what you actually ate, then try to make them match. Create a game out of it. Eat your veggies before your other foods at dinner or lunch where possible. You will fill up on good stuff, leaving less room for the not-so-good stuff.
Day 4: Work your stomach. Every two days, take about 15 minutes to exercise all the muscles in your core. Aim for exercises that move you naturally and work all the muscles, including the deeper ones. Perform planks, slow mountain climbers, bicycles, and knee tucks on a ball. Pull up with your belly button and up and in with your pelvic floor (lifting up towards your ribs as you work) as you exhale on the effort(s). Not only will these moves help flatten your abs, but they will also provide internal support for your back.
Day 5: Start snacking. Eat three light and healthy snacks a day to keep your metabolism going and your hunger in check. Light string cheese, lean lunch meats, cottage cheese, fruit or a small serving of nuts will do the job. If you have a piece of fruit, add some protein and/or fat with it (nuts or cheese, for example) to balance out your blood sugar. Just keep the snack fairly small and healthy.
Day 6: Breathe. Add deep breathing into your daily routine. Take a few moments to clear your head and bring fresh oxygen into your body mornings before you rise and at bedtime. Relax your abdomen, breathe in deeply (expanding your ribs out towards the sides rather than front/back) and then exhale completely while pulling in and up with your diaphragm and pelvic floor. A bonus is that this helps tone your abs, too. Breathe slowly and deeply.
Day 7: Vitamins and minerals. Take a daily multivitamin and 800 IUs of Vitamin D3 (remember that multivitamins also have Vitamin D in them). Recent guidelines from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) have increased the daily IUs for Vitamin D from 400 to 800. Some experts feel that is still too low, so use your own judgment.
Day 8: Try something new..a new exercise class, routine or equipment. Experiment with something you have not done before. Each day, pick a new activity and make it fun. Start your own “12 Days of Fitness” with a new routine every day. Try a kettlebell, Spinning®, Pilates or Zumba class or DVD. Or change up your weight training by working slow and heavy one session, and faster and lighter the next. Give yourself room to play and experiment.
Day 9: Balance. Add some balance training to all of your exercise routines. You can even add this into your “commercial fitness” (Day 2 above). Use an unstable surface like a thicker mat, BOSU or pillow. Go barefoot. Practice standing on one leg, squatting with one leg, plank with your elbows on the unstable surface. Unstable surfaces make you work harder and use more muscles, thus burning more calories.
Day 10: Cut down on sweets. From this day on, cut back on the sugars you know about. There are so many unexpected products that contain sugars we are not aware of (ketchup, anyone? Bread?). When you reach for a snack, try plain yogurt with fresh berries instead of the sweetened kind. And those pre-packaged snack packs that have a “low” calorie value? They are loaded with sugars. Pick a more natural option without added sugars. A sugary snack won’t do anything for your health. Save the sugar for where you will really enjoy it: Holiday desserts.
Day 11: Fiber. The easiest way to get enough fiber (experts recommend 30-40 grams per day) is with Day 3 above (fruits and vegetables) as well as legumes (like peas and beans) and high fiber grains. Rule of thumb? Don’t eat any grain product with less than 5 grams of fiber per serving.
Day 12: Like yourself.It’s easier to stay healthy and on track when you like yourself. When you a truly happy with who you are you are less likely to treat yourself poorly. Eating less-than-healthy foods, not exercising and not getting enough sleep is treating yourself poorly. See yourself as others see you and ask yourself, “Would I let my kids eat that? Would I let my mom exercise to little? Would I be concerned if I my spouse slept this short of time every night?” If you wouldn’t do it to them, don’t do it to yourself. You count.
Start with these easy steps to improve your health, weight and fitness. Eat healthy and clean 80% of the time over the Holidays and indulge 20% of the time. The important thing is to not binge or beat yourself up if you eat too many yams or an extra serving of dessert. Just let it go, move on and forget about it. It’s not the end of the world.
A good life is having balance, and the Holidays are about celebrating with family. Have both.