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Preventing Weight Gain Over the Holiday Season

Stew Smith, CSCS

Each year, millions start off the holidays with a rather large meal on Thanksgiving Day followed by a few more days of left over pies, cakes, and candies. Many gain a significant amount of weight. Some estimates say people can gain 5 to 7 pounds in the few weeks of the holidays, but according to a University of Texas SW Medical Center, most people only gain 1 to 2 pounds during the holidays.

No matter who you are, the weight gain cycle can easily continue throughout the winter months and by spring you can have 5 to 10 pounds to lose. Hold that pace for a decade and you have significantly gained 50 to 60 pounds. This is the way weight gain occurs – slowly, over the years.

The good news is that, although it can take a few to several years to gain 50 to 60 pounds, it can only take 6 to 12 months to lose it. So by the 2008 Holiday Season, when I feel the urge to write the annual “Holiday Weight Gain Article”, perhaps I can feature the success stories of 2007-2008 instead of trying to scare people into exercising and eating healthful food plans.

Left untreated, without a life style change of daily exercise and proper food habits, the 1 to 2 pounds of weight gain can lead to obesity. This places you in a higher percentage category of other related health problems such as hypertension, stroke, and diabetes.

So how can people avoid adding holiday weight? Healthy food choices, eating habits, food preparation, exercise and a few extra tips:

1. Walk more. When safety is not an issue, try to walk further than normal when going about your normal day. Burning a few more calories by walking is one of the easiest ways to walk off that extra weight. Just twenty minutes of brisk walking can burn over 100-150 calories. That equals a cookie or soda in calories!

2. Continue to Drink Water. Water is naturally going to help you not eat as much if you drink a large glass 20-30 minutes prior to having a large dinner. Plus water will keep you hydrated and help you burn fat more efficiently. Some people confuse hunger with dehydration. If you just drink a glass of water, that will usually take care of the food yearning. THIS IS NOT SKIPPING A MEAL – just a way to work through temptation. An optimal level of water per day as stated by the National Institute of Health is ½ to 1 gallon a day. Add one extra glass (8oz) of water per every 10 lbs over weight too!

3. Eat Slowly. Eat very S-L-O-W-L-Y and enjoy the flavors. Try to chew your food at least 30-40 times per mouthful. It works and will allow the “hungry – full” response from your brain to tell you are satisfied. It takes the brain about 20 minutes to let you know you are full. Stay away from buffet tables at parties and use smaller plates when selecting foods.

4. Brush Your Teeth after Meals. Right after eating a meal, especially dinner, go straight to the bathroom to brush, floss, and mouthwash so that your mouth is feeling nice and clean – this makes it less appealing to eat more (especially before bedtime). Ever try to eat or drink something after brushing your teeth? Not tasty!

5. Cardio Ideas. You can do cardio workouts such as walking, jogging, biking, swimming, rowing and many others any day and it only takes 20-30:00 to receive a good cardio-vascular benefit. Keep the heart rate at about 50-65% of your maximum heart rate. A good way to determine maximum heart rate is the theoretical formula of 220 – age = max heart rate.

The best part of this part of your workout is that you can do your cardio exercise around your neighborhood, on a treadmill at home, or go to the gym if you choose. So on days when time is critical, get your cardio done or make them your 1-2 days of rest per week you should give yourself.

Here is a Full-Body Weight Circuit Routine that can be used to get you back in the gym again (use machines or dumbbell / free weights). Do this weight routine 2-3 times a week:

Bench press – 15,10* reps or pushups

Pulldowns – 15,10* reps

Squats or leg press – 10-15 reps

Leg Curls – 10-15 reps

Rest with abs – do 25-50 reps of any crunch exercise

Military press (shoulder press) – 15,10* reps

Bicep Curls – 15,10* reps

Triceps Extensions – 10-15 reps

Plus Exercise of choice – pick a machine and do two sets of 15 reps on it.

Repeat above again if you have time / energy

*Complete this set with lighter weight for 15 reps on each exercise listed with immediately drop the weight a few pounds and perform 10 reps without rest.

On days you cannot get to the gym to lift weights, give this superset a shot. Add dumbbell investment of $20-30 to fully supplement your home workout:

Pushups – 10-20

Crunches – 20

Wide Pushups – 10-20

Rev crunches – 20

Bench dips – 10-20

Double Crunches – 20

Squats – 20

Lunges – 10-20 / leg

Bicep curls – 20

Triceps Extension – 20

Military Press – 20

And the Light weight Shoulder workout

If you do some of these suggestions 4-5 days a week, you will burn enough calories to lose weight and inches as long as you are not getting too carried away with your eating habits. See Food Plan for more ideas on what to eat and when.

Good luck with the Holidays. Try to work off many of the stressors of the Holidays by giving yourself a present of 30 minutes to exercise or walk. You will feel better after any type of exercise compared to not having done any activity. Feel free to email me if you have questions at

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