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It happens every year: the holiday season.

With all its joy and cheer, it can also be an annual curveball to our health plans, starting with the fun-size Halloween candy bars, then shifting to seasonal coffee-shop lattes and family baking traditions, and concluding with the clank of a champagne glass on New Year’s.

This approximately eight-week stretch is full of temptations, stress, and celebration — a perfect cocktail for accelerated fat gain and plummeting energy levels if your strategy goes from balanced to unchecked.

For most, holiday weight gain from any one single year may seem more of a small annoyance than a significant problem. However, it has been found to have a cumulative effect with each passing year, meaning that without action those couple of once-annoying pounds can be a significant contributor to the extra 10, 20, or 30-plus pounds many struggle with over the decades. If you’re someone who’s had a challenged routine, it may be helpful to take action and hit the reset button.

Read on for a time-tested primer on what to do to start this next year off well.

Water and Fiber: Your Reset Starting Point

Adequate hydration and high fiber intake might sound like old news. But for clients, I’ve found them to be a best-kept secret to jump-start their results. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get sucked into the latest juice cleanses and other fads while ignoring these non-negotiable and effective basics.

Water is our most important nutrient. At the risk of belaboring its significance, hydration is a key stakeholder in maintaining energy levels, supporting detoxification, and managing appetite and cravings.

As a general rule of thumb, aim to drink half of your goal body weight in ounces of water per day. To switch things up, try sparkling water, unsweetened organic herbal teas, or your own water infusions made with fruit and herbs at home. (A few favorites of mine include pineapple and mint, raspberry and lime, or lemon and orange.)

Once you’re consistently hydrated, then begin increasing your fiber intake. If you’ve never used an online food tracker before, it might be a good time to try it out to see how many grams you’re getting in each day. Most Americans are getting half (or even less) of the minimum fiber goal of 25 grams per day, which sets the stage for hormone imbalances, cholesterol issues, challenges in moving bowels regularly, and increases in appetite.

Once you track and establish your baseline fiber intake, slowly increase your intake by about five daily grams each week until you’re getting 25 grams per day at a bare minimum. You’ll yield a solid 37 grams by aiming for six to eight servings of non-starchy vegetables each day, one to two scoops of a prebiotic plant fiber blend, and one to two tablespoons of chia or flax seed mixed into a shake or on top of a salad.

Don’t underestimate the power of water and fiber: Hitting the goals for these two consistently can be a total game changer.

Go All in With Two Weeks (Or More) of Unprocessed Foods

If you’ve ever found yourself unintentionally at the bottom of a bag of chips, box of cereal, or pint of ice cream, a black-and-white approach may be a great catalyst for you in the short term.

Sometimes, going cold turkey on our top temptations can be liberating — and effective, especially after two months of off-track celebratory eating. The concept of moderation does not work for everyone, and unless you struggle with disordered eating patterns, drawing a temporary line in the sand can often be helpful.

Having a predefined, realistic period of time (such as two to four weeks) to include only what your body optimally needs to function at its best (plenty of non-starchy vegetables, some fruit, healthy fats such as nuts and seeds, ample protein, and unprocessed starchy carbohydrates) and to remove common sensitivities and triggers (added sugars, refined carbohydrates, alcohol, gluten, and dairy, to name a few) can reap not only metabolic benefits, but also a sense of confidence about implementing a healthier nutrition program moving forward.

I’ve seen firsthand that a quality jump-start of both habits and results can serve as a launching pad into a longer-term, successful approach.

If the above strategy sounds much easier said than done, know that we can help simplify the process for you with the Life Time D.TOX program. It comes with grocery lists, meal planning guidance, and an approved/non-approved food list to guide the entire process, plus an optional upgrade to a D.TOX kit to help enhance your results.

There’s an app-based class you can join (complimentary for Life Time members) for additional guidance. To enroll, open the Life Time Digital app and in the “Workouts and Programs” section, select “View All,” and then scroll until you see the D.TOX program and click into it to enroll. You can also learn more about the Life Time D.TOX here.

Be Stubbornly Committed to Your Schedule

Holiday festivities, time off from work, and skipped workouts can really throw a wrench into our regimens. Because so much of health and functioning is tied to circadian rhythm and routine, now is the time to set some boundaries and parameters to maintain a schedule that works for metabolism, not against it.

If nothing else, having consistent bedtimes and wake-up times are powerful moderators of how well we feel and function. If possible, focus on staying within similar windows of time for sleep both during the week and on the weekends. Keeping a consistent schedule with exercising and eating may be also be beneficial.

You may find that limiting the number of hours per day that food is consumed to an 8- to 12-hour window may be better for your metabolism than grazing the entire time you’re awake. Recent studies have shown that restricting feeding to less than 12 hours per day may provide certain metabolic benefits, and some additional research on time-restricted eating has even shown support for certain blood markers and fat loss. If you’re considering this approach (a form of intermittent fasting), be sure to work closely with your healthcare practitioner, as it may not be appropriate for everyone.

Outside of sleeping, eating, and exercising during routine times, other tips to support a healthy circadian rhythm (and therefore metabolism) include ensuring you get midday exposure to sunlight and limiting evening screen time, which can fool your brain into thinking its daytime and disrupt your sleep.

Ease Into Exercise — And Focus on Strength

At the start of every year, it’s common to see a lot of new faces at the club trying to torch calories through cardio while neglecting strength training.

From experience, the new faces that last and turn into regular exercisers are the ones who decide to take the intensity down a notch and balance out their routines with resistance training. Prioritizing consistency over intensity yields more success in the long run and higher energy levels in the short term.

Strength training is important for building lean tissue (a must-have for anyone desiring a lean and toned look), supporting healthy blood-sugar control, and boosting metabolism. If someone is focusing only on daily caloric deficits, metabolism (which is programmed for survival, not jean size) will hormonally compensate to “save” the person from a perceived lack of food and a perceived need to be to be on the run or require a high level of activity to survive.

The result is often slow fat loss, sluggishness, and lightning-quick weight regain when returning to a previously normal caloric intake. On the other hand, building lean tissue and fueling with adequate nutrition revs up metabolism and sets the stage for long-term success.

Strength training in a progressive program often is the biggest piece of a weight-loss approach that gets overlooked by those going at it alone. If you’ve never done any strength training before, this is your year to meet with a fitness professional, get an evaluation, and determine the best program approach for you.

Whether in person, through a video, or instructed to you through an app, at least three days per week of strength training, when done properly, can yield more results than six days per week of random workouts, no matter how taxing they might feel.

Don’t Lose Weight to Get Healthy — Get Healthy to Lose Weight

That’s a mindset shift worth reading again.

There are a thousand different ways you can lose weight for the short term, but if your underlying health is not improving during the process, it’s just a matter of time before the fat reaccumulates (and then some). It’s probably safe to say that during those short-term fixes, fatigue and crankiness are also rampant.

At Life Time, we think a bit differently. We believe in optimizing your underlying health to set you up for long-term success (that’s part of the reason we’re passionate about regular lab testing and quality supplements). Excess fat, along with other common issues such as cravings, poor sleep, and low energy are signs that point to your underlying physiology. The better your physiology and health, the better you feel.

The goal is to make fat loss one of the many positive “symptoms” of getting healthier — along with freedom from cravings, more restful sleep, and soaring energy levels.

My clients tend to love starting the year off with a full check-in on their blood work to learn more about their unique levels of inflammation, help evaluate their blood-sugar regulation, monitor their status of important nutrients like vitamin B12 and iron, and get a reading on their hormone balance. By monitoring trends in these markers, you’re able to customize your nutrition and exercise approach to better suit your body and how it functions.

You can’t improve what you don’t measure, and looking under the hood with thorough blood work can provide you with the data you need to build a smarter program.

Wrapping Up

We have a full calendar of fresh opportunities and goals ahead. Despite past successes or challenges, make this year different by marrying good intentions, hard work, and a plan to truly reset your metabolism from the inside-out.

Keep the conversation going.

Leave a comment, ask a question, or see what others are talking about in the Life Time Health Facebook group.

Samantha McKinney, RD, CPT

Samantha McKinney has been a dietitian, trainer and coach for over 10 years. At first, her interests and experience were in a highly clinical setting in the medical field, which ended up laying a strong foundation for understanding metabolism as her true passion evolved: wellness and prevention. She hasn’t looked back since and has had the honor of supporting Life Time’s members and nutrition programs in various roles since 2011.

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