The trainer provided two strategies, but an RD explains why focusing on weight at all during the holidays can do more harm than good.

By Renee Cherry
November 19, 2019
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With Thanksgiving nine days away, everyone's dreaming of stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie right about now. That means some people might also be struggling with the thought of what enjoying the season could mean for their weight.

Unsurprisingly, star trainer Jillian Michaels tends to get a lot of weight loss Qs this time of year. So, she decided to post a video to Instagram and offer her best tips for anyone concerned about weight gain during the holidays.

Credit: Liliboas/Getty Images

Her first tip is to use workouts to balance out the extra calories you'll eat during the holidays. "How do you gain weight?" she says in the video. "You gain weight by eating too much food. You gain weight by eating more calories than you're burning. So first things first, we can offset the amount of food we're taking in by moving more." So if you're anticipating a heavy holiday meal, Michaels suggests upping the length or intensity of your workout that day to help balance out the extra food intake. (Related: This 8-Minute Workout Video from Jillian Michaels Will Exhaust You)

But if you're reading this and thinking the holiday season should be about enjoying the delicious festive food and not worrying about how it'll affect your weight, you're not alone. More on that below.

ICYDK, Michaels was explaining the concept of calories in, calories out. The basic idea is pretty intuitive: If the amount of calories you're taking in is equal to the number of calories you're burning, you'll maintain the same weight. Take in more calories than you're burning, and you'll gain weight; similarly, taking in fewer calories will likely lead you to lose weight. However, it's a little more complex than just balancing the calories you eat with the calories you burn during workouts. Your basal metabolic rate—how many calories you burn at rest—factors into the "calories out" side of the equation. To further complicate matters further, getting too few calories can actually lead to weight gain. "When you are not supporting your body with enough calories or fuel, your metabolism actually drops, and you burn fewer calories," Libby Parker, R.D., previously told us. "This is an adaptive response to the body believing it is in famine and wanting to conserve energy (aka hold on to those calories)." With those caveats in mind, this concept, in its simplicity, is a commonly used tool for weight management.

In addition to her fitness advice, Michaels provided another tip: She's in favor of following the 80/20 rule not just during the holidays, but every day. The philosophy is all about aiming to make up 80 percent of your diet with healthy food (usually whole, unprocessed foods), and the other 20 percent with other, less nutrient-rich foods. "The idea here is we don't overdo it," explains Michaels in her video. "We have a couple of drinks; not 10. We work these foods into our daily calorie allowance. And if we know we're going to eat more one day, [we try] to eat a little less the next." Michaels suggests sticking to the 80/20 rule on a daily basis instead of alternating between strict days and "cheat days" in order to achieve a sustainable balance over extremes. (Related: 5 Myths and Facts About Holiday Weight Gain)

Both of Michaels' suggestions leave room for enjoying the holidays. But some nutrition experts argue that focusing on weight around the holidays at all does more harm than good. "Treating exercise as a way to cancel out food intake is actually a hallmark of disordered eating," says Christy Harrison, R.D., C.D.N., author of Anti-Diet. "That view of exercise turns movement into a punishment rather than a joy, and it turns the fun foods you eat during the holidays into 'guilty pleasures' that need to be atoned for through physical activity." In some cases, this kind of thinking can lead to full-blown eating disorders, she adds. "Although I want to stress that all disordered eating is harmful to people's well-being even if it doesn't meet diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder."

And in Harrison's eyes, the 80/20 approach isn't ideal, since it calls for sorting foods into "good" and "bad" categories. In her view, true balance is "achieved by dropping the rules and restrictions and guilt about food, moving your body for joy rather than punishment or calorie negation, and learning to tune in to your desires and your body's cues to help guide your food and movement choices, acknowledging that eating and physical activity will never be 'perfectly' balanced over short periods like hours or days." (Related: This Blogger Wants You to Stop Feeling Bad About Indulging During the Holidays)

No matter which approach you agree with, fixating on your weight shouldn't take up all your energy at holiday celebrations. Between political arguments and nosy love life-related questions, there's plenty enough to deal with.

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