The holiday season is
notorious for unwanted weight gain. Although the average weight
gain isn’t all that high—1 to 2 pounds—the real danger is
that people rarely lose the
weight they gain during the holiday season. So, if you go
through ten holiday seasons, you’re looking at a very realistic
and permanent gain of 20 pounds.
But it’s not just the weight you gain. Even if you manage to
avoid gaining any weight, the onslaught of sugary foods you’re
not used to consuming will play havoc with your blood sugar and
insulin levels, leave you bloated and fatigued, and generally make
what should be a joyous time a sluggish, low-energy one.
Imagine having your full measure of energy over the full
holiday season. Imagine putting on a Santa suit and
clambering around on the roof and shimmying down the chimney,
giving your kids a real show. (Not recommending this literally of
course.) Imagine enjoying the winter weather, rather than holing up
indoors with a box of cookies waiting for it to pass.
One thing I like to do in suboptimal food conditions is use it
as an opportunity to fast. If I’m traveling and my choices are
airplane food or McDonald’s, I simply don’t eat. If I’m at a
hotel where the idea of a complimentary breakfast bar consists of
bagels, orange juice, and those tiny boxes of cereal, I don’t
eat. Quite honestly, the holiday season is one big block of
suboptimal food conditions.
Sure, it’s delicious. Sure, some of it is even nutritious, if
we’re talking roasts and gravies
crispy birds. But the quantity of food we consume and the
frequency at which we consume it—combined with the prevalence of
delicious treats and the “emotional” context—makes for an
impossible situation. It really is the perfect scenario to pack on
some mass—or the perfect opportunity to employ an intermittent
How should you do it? Are there any tips, tricks, or strategies
particular to the holidays that make fasting easier and more
Breakfast around the holidays can get quite ridiculous. How many
of you have done this or know someone who has done this: having
pumpkin pie/a half tin of Danish butter cookies/big bowl of mashed
potatoes for breakfast? Even if no one is digging into the
leftovers (although a turkey leg is a nice way to begin the day),
you’ll see the likes of pastries, quiches (heavy on the crust),
bagel spreads, pancakes, and waffles, etc.
So, just skip it, particularly when treats abound and beckon.
You’ll avoid the problem entirely, give your digestive
system a rest, keep the fat-burning going, and make any subsequent
feasting later in the day more rewarding and less
damaging. Have some coffee and cream instead. Heck, you
could even whip the cream if you want to feel like you’re having
a “treat” with everyone else.
Snacking kills during the holidays. While in more normal times I
recommend against constant or absentminded snacking, at least then
it usually just means a handful of nuts, a few pieces of jerky, a
cup of broth. During the holidays, snacking means candy, cookies,
and pie. There are mountains of junk almost everywhere you go and
dozens of evangelists scurrying around foisting it on you. I
don’t see it because I move in a curated culinary environment at
my places of residence and work, but back before I went Primal, I
can remember the ubiquity of treats during the holidays. If
you’re the snacking type, you’ll likely make some bad
Simply “not snacking” doesn’t sound like much of a fast,
but going those 4-5 hours between meals can allow you to slip into
a mild “fasted” state multiple times per day.
Don’t Nibble As You Cook
Whoever’s in charge of cooking the myriad holiday feasts and
meals needs to understand how to handle themselves behind the
stove. Quality control is one thing. Checking how things taste is
understandable and necessary. But that’s not what gets you into
trouble. What gets you into trouble is the constant nibbling and
gnawing and chomping throughout the cooking process.
Spoonful of gravy here. Handful of mashed potatoes there. Oh,
how’d that turkey skin turn out? Gonna have to try that. Oh, I
wonder how it tastes dipped in the gravy. Boy, that dark meat sure
is looking nice. Hmm, does the breast look a little dry to you?
I’m going to try it. Now with some gravy and cranberry
sauce—yeah, that does the trick.
By the time dinner is served you’re 800 calories deep,
and you’re not even very excited about eating more (but you still
do). Imagine if you’d fasted during the 4-5 hours you
were preparing dinner. Not only would dinner be more satisfying and
taste better, you wouldn’t have spent 4-5 hours in “fed
mode.” Rally others to do the sampling. It’s never too hard to
Make Fasting a Tradition
Our success as a civilization rests upon our traditions. Heck,
the Primal Blueprint is about respecting the oldest human
traditions around, the “informal” and natural ones established
by hundreds of thousands of years of hominid evolution. And yes,
specific traditions can become outdated or run counter to currently
accepted modes of thought and behavior, but the idea of
tradition—a foundational behavior whose utility and importance
has been tested through time—remains essential.
If you don’t have any traditions of your own, if they’ve
been lost or ground down to pathetic shadows of their former
selves, what do you do? You make your own. Fasting is a good
choice, and it’s one that many other populations and cultures
have performed. Pick a time frame—maybe a single 24-hour
fast every Saturday, or “fast before each big holiday feast,”
or “skip breakfast the week before each major holiday”—and
suggest to everyone that the entire family get on
Do Leangains Style Fasted Training
Skip breakfast. Train around midday, lifting hard and heavy.
After training, break the fast. Eat your last meal by 7 or 8 P.M.
Aim for a 16-hour fasting period and an 8-hour eating window. Fast
every day, train every 2-3 days. There’s even a
book if you want more details.
This intensive method of fasting and training allows you
a little more leeway with the food choices when you do
eat. Much of what you eat will go toward repairing and
rebuilding what you’ve broken down during training, and the
everyday fasted periods will help you minimize fat gain. It can be
quite intense, and people may have disparate responses to the
rigidity of the schedule. If hard boundaries work well for you, if
you like establishing rules and then sticking to them, this is the
holiday fasting method for you. If you’re more fluid and balk at
hard lines, you may have trouble. Women may have more success using
12-14 fasting windows.
Pair Your Dietary Transgressions With Fasts.
Are you the type to really go all out during
Thanksgiving—dropping the Primal guidelines and just going for
it? Mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, that weird
sweet potato dish with marshmallows on top, pumpkin pie, the works?
A one- or two-day fast right before or after the meal can mitigate
the damage of the meal.
Even if there’s not much of a physiological benefit
other than reducing your calorie intake to balance the
overindulgence, the psychological boost we get from not eating will
stave off the potential guilt of abandoning the Primal
guidelines. I don’t support guilting or shaming
ourselves because of what we eat, but I know it does happen. This
can be a powerful antidote.
Whatever You Choose, Stick To a Schedule.
Once you figure out which fasting plan seems to work for your
holiday situation, stick with it. Skip meals if you like,
but try to eat at roughly the same time each day. This
conditions your body to expect food (and get hungry at the right
time, not before), and it improves the metabolic response to
This applies whether you’re fasting in the morning or
at night. In one recent study,
the authors actually tested the effect of breaking your eating
habits by separating overweight women into habitual breakfast
skippers and habitual breakfast eaters and then having them either
skip breakfast or eat breakfast.
Habitual breakfast eaters who skipped breakfast experienced way
more hunger at lunch, had worse blood lipids, and higher insulin
levels. They had worse blood lipids and their insulin skyrocketed.
Habitual breakfast skippers who skipped breakfast experienced none
of these deleterious effects.
Meanwhile, habitual breakfast eaters who ate breakfast were more
satiated at lunch. They had better blood lipids and normal insulin
levels. Habitual breakfast skippers who ate breakfast were
still hungry at lunch. Eating breakfast didn’t inhibit their
regular lunch-time appetites.
Fasting isn’t a magic bullet. IF won’t fix all your
metabolic issues and counteract every cookie, cake, and slice of
pie you eat during the holidays. But it is a strong bulwark against
the worst of the holiday excesses.
Are you going to fast this holiday season? Have you used IF in
the past? What do you do to get through the holiday season without
unwanted weight gain?
Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care!
Yanovski JA, Yanovski SZ, Sovik KN, Nguyen TT, O’Neil PM,
Sebring NG. A prospective study
of holiday weight gain. N Engl J Med. 2000;342(12):861-7.
Thomas EA, Higgins J, Bessesen DH, Mcnair B, Cornier MA.
Usual breakfast eating habits affect response to breakfast skipping
in overweight women. Obesity (Silver Spring).
Farshchi HR, Taylor MA, Macdonald IA. Beneficial
metabolic effects of regular meal frequency on dietary
thermogenesis, insulin sensitivity, and fasting lipid profiles in
healthy obese women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;81(1):16-24.
Pot GK, Almoosawi S, Stephen AM. Meal irregularity
and cardiometabolic consequences: results from observational and
intervention studies. Proc Nutr Soc. 2016;75(4):475-486.
The post Intermittent
Fasting (and Feasting) At the Holidays: 6 Ways to Do It
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