If life were fair, yes. However, it takes roughly a 3,500 calorie deficit to lose one pound. That’s approximately 6 hours on a treadmill at 5 mph, 9.5 hours of running at 6 mph, 13.5 hours of playing tennis, or 10.5 hours on the elliptical1. Looking at it in these terms, it’s more reasonable to plan ahead for the holiday season (unless you love torturing yourself or completing Ultra Marathons).
Theoretically, all calories are created equal, so 800 calories of pumpkin pie should do the same as 800 calories of white meat turkey. If we consider calories in vs. calories out, consuming an equal amount in kcals of any two foods should look exactly the same. If you’ve ever eaten an entire bag of grapes or an entire bag of bite-sized Snickers, you know that the difference is in how you feel. Your body processes the fiber and natural sugar in fruit much differently than the refined sugar and fat in candy bars. In a nutshell, one gives you energy and hydration while the other makes you feel like lethargic junk.
While eating an overabundance of any food may make you gain weight, foods that are packed with protein and fiber help you maintain and create muscle mass. Even foods rich in fats, like avocados and certain fish, help your body create energy and absorb nutrients and vitamins. You’re also able to eat more volume of healthier foods, as they aren’t as calorically dense as the sugary, processed options. Foods full of nutrients and fiber help you feel satiated for longer periods of time, so eating a healthier diet will help you consume less calories overall.
Exercise, exercise, exercise. Don’t feel guilty for enjoying your favorite foods during this season. Instead, make sure to plan your workouts ahead of time (and stick to them). Exercise is not a punishment for food, so don’t feel like you need to sprint for two hours straight or do 75 pull ups to work off your caramel apple from Halloween.
Consistency is key. You don’t put on excessive weight from one day of less-than-stellar choices, so you won’t work it off in one day of exercise either (unless you’re doing 9.4 hours of swimming laps or 11.1 hours of rows1). As there are 7 days in a week, you’ll want to burn at least 500 calories per day, while being mindful of your diet, to lose 1 pound. You can split your workouts up during the day, vary the intensity from one day to the next, add jumping jacks or air squats during commercial breaks, walk the dog the long way home, or any other form of exercise you will actually enjoy and stick with.
Try virtual subscriptions. If you’re not ready to head back into the gym, don’t fear. There are plenty of options for digital on-demand or live-streaming fitness classes. Whether you like high intensity, Yoga, body-weight only, or equipment-filled workouts, there are classes you can take from the comfort of your own living room (or bedroom or kitchen or wherever you have some available space)! With varying time commitments and modalities, it’s easy to make a commitment to yourself without leaving the house or sacrificing much time.
Consider weights. Does it surprise you to hear that anaerobic exercise (or intense shorter physical activity) burns more calories over time that cardio? Activities like weight lifting and sprints result in longer Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption than straight cardio. When your muscle continues to break down, your body uses more energy, or calories, to repair it for longer after the work is completed. If you’re new to strength training, try sprints, jump roping, or using soup cans and water bottles for dumbbells2.
There’s a lot to celebrate at the end of the year (this year specifically)! When we’re happy and festive, we tend to eat more! Don’t let the upcoming holidays derail the progress that you’ve made the first ¾ of the year. Plan your physical activity, be realistic about your upcoming calorie intake, and don’t forget to allow yourself some moderate indulgence!