Fighting the “Freshman 15” During the Holidays

College years are busy. So where does that leave room for keeping up with your personal fitness? It’s hard work staying healthy with all of the unlimited junk food, parties, and lazy weekends that the college experience provides. But being at school makes it easy to forget all the delicious homemade meals you’ve left behind.

So what happens when it’s time to go home for the holidays?

If you don’t want to be tipping the scales when you return in the Spring, consider for a moment how you’ll survive this most delicious time of the year.

As if Thanksgiving—with its stuffed turkeys, buttery side dishes, and homemade pies—wasn’t hard enough to survive, the remainder of the holiday season usually means big family dinners, plates upon plates of treats, and non-stop snacking during your time off from school. It certainly is tempting to break off a piece of fudge every time you pass by the fragrant kitchen, but if you’ve been health-conscious all semester long, it shouldn’t be too hard to stay in control.

holidays

But let’s talk about the other side of the story for a second. Forget the rules for ruling out junk this season; let’s talk about how we can enjoy the holidays, and all its wonderful flavors, without feeling guilty all December.

You’ve heard of training in the gym, but have you heard of training your stomach?

Doctors warn that tales of limiting food intake to shrink one’s stomach are mythical. However, getting in the habit of eating less per meal can essentially “train” your body to expect less food, thereby reducing appetite. If a variety of holiday flavors is what really tempts you, try eating more often during the day, but less per session. This way you can enjoy the tastes of hearty breakfasts, sumptuous snacks, and favorite family recipes without forgetting to leave room for dessert.

On the other end, there are people who fear that their stomachs grow during weeks of extra eating. In fact, whether your body is large or small, your stomach doesn’t grow to match your current weight, doctors say. This means no, you are not stretching your stomach with those last few spoonfuls of sugared sweet potatoes. Instead, eating overly large portions only makes it mentally easier to continue downing big meals throughout the day.

If your body, by contrast, is used to small amounts of food spread throughout the day, you’ll be less likely to gorge yourself on a tasty meal, and less likely to make excuses like, “I guess this second piece of cake is okay, since I’ve already ruined my diet with dinner today.”

Find alternatives to traditional sweets.

It’s almost expected that us college kids stuff our faces with candies and pies when we come home for the winter. Avoid typical sugar highs by serving fresh fruit after dinner. Save the heavy favorites (like pumpkin pie loaded with whipped cream) for after lunch, while your body still has time to digest and burn off the fat-packed treat. Then, not only will you not have to wait until late to dig into your mom’s famous fudge, but you can arrange a colorful, thirst-quenching fruit plate to munch on after your last meal.

Don’t forget to keep up with working out!

Winters at home are the hardest times to convince yourself to break a sweat. Not only is it cold and windy outside, but fun family gatherings and unending plates of food convince you to laze out. But just because the semester is over doesn’t mean that you should slack on exercise. Try the following tips to remain tight and toned during the holidays:

Jog, Jump, and Jab in Place

Stay indoors with these easy exercises. Some fast-paced dance-exercise routines include bursts of jogging in place. If you’ve enjoyed aerobics or hip-hop exercises in the past, get your heart pumping with a few moves, then incorporate bursts of intense jogging on the spot. This a great way to get in some cardio without a treadmill or going outdoors. Similar moves include jump roping, and kick boxing, which will get you jumping and jabbing with no equipment or extra space.

Focus on Balance

A break from school might also be a good time for a break from your normal routine. Students who can’t get enough of the gym’s machinery often forget about two essential components of fitness: balance and core strength. Try something a little different during the holidays by working on mental focus and balance, which will improve the effectiveness of your muscle-building workouts, and strengthen parts of your body you didn’t know you could. Stand with your toes sticking over a curb or other raised surface, and lean forward on one foot (while extending the other leg backwards, and arms forward) to work on slow, controlled leaning movements. The curb will be the barrier that your feet cannot slip from, which reinforces the strong, deliberate movements needed to improve balance over time.

To focus on strengthening your core even more, which is essential to almost every exercise movement, lie on your back and, holding a heavy object (in place of a medicine ball if you don’t have one), tuck your elbows to your side and experiment with a variety of lifts, rotations and crunches. Tighten the stomach muscles, and feel your whole middle-section sink evenly into the ground, as you imagine only your core contracting to cause movement. Reinforcement of balance and focus on the mid-section will improve your ability to do workouts in the future.