Health & Fitness

Act now to shed fat added over the holidays

Did you get wider over the holidays?

It’s a common belief that most folks will gain weight between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, but according to experts, that gain actually averages only about a pound. However, that pound will make you fatter.

Here’s the science: A pound of fat and a pound of muscle weigh exactly the same – one pound. But the pound of fat is bigger. Muscle is dense and heavy, while fat is lightweight by comparison. If you gain a pound of muscle, it will hardly be noticeable. But if you gain a pound of fat, it will be distributed throughout the body: both under the skin and around the internal organs. It may be a thin layer, but you will gain girth. It may take an extra tug to fasten your jeans.

More science: You can get rid of that new layer of fat quickly and easily, provided you do it immediately. The body takes time to adjust to newly gained weight. It may even take a couple of months. But if you get rid of holiday weight gain before the body resets itself and adapts to the new amount, it will simply melt away.

On the other hand, if you allow that new fat layer to remain, even the brain will adjust to it – and crave more of the same. If you strayed from your normal diet for a few months during the holiday season, and suddenly began stuffing yourself with rich food, gooey desserts and luscious chocolates, the brain will respond by creating increased cravings for those calorie-heavy treats and food will seem more enticing.

If you act quickly, you won’t need strong willpower to resist the cravings. They will return to their pre-holiday level almost automatically. But there’s an additional problem: many athletes get distracted during the jingle bell season and skip their regular workouts and exercise programs. It’s cold outside, darkness comes early, and it’s easy to continue neglecting your training program.

This is where you have to get back in your groove. You may lose weight by restricting calories, but you will also lose muscle. As every athlete knows, it’s much easier to build up fat than to build up muscle.

But remember, your body was already accustomed to your previous muscular level. Regaining the muscle lost from a few months of sedentary living is something like losing holiday weight gain: if you start immediately, before the body has time to adapt to the changes, it’s much easier to restore the body to its previous condition.

During this time, don’t worry about cutting down on calories to lose fat. Eat the normal diet that you previously consumed before the holiday indulgences began. You need the calories of healthy carbohydrates to restore the muscle you are trying to regain. As you continue your physical conditioning, recently gained fat will fade away.

If you’ve been physically off for the past few months, don’t return immediately to your previous intensity. Start regular workouts again with about 15 percent lower resistance and give yourself more recovery time between workouts. The adjustment period won’t take long. If you’ve been a sloth for three months, you should be able to return to your regular routine within three weeks, doing two or three resistance workouts a week and half an hour of aerobic activity every day.

Your seasonal weight gain will usually disappear within a month.