The SparkPeople Blog

The Cost of 'Taking a Break' for the Holidays

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
11/29/2011 10:00 AM   :  97 comments   :  20,045 Views

I’m writing to you as a card-carrying SparkPeople member today!  I’m in my third year of maintenance so I’ve learned a few things about both losing and maintaining weight loss.  The year is drawing to a close and I think it’s appropriate now more than ever to discuss what it means to "take a break." 

The first few weeks of losing weight are exciting.  You are ready to get rid of the extra pounds that you carry and you are motivated.  Your reasons are personal and many of you may be motivated by extrinsic factors.  Counting calories, points, or whatever your system is easy and you are exercising with consistency.  The pounds are flying off (mostly in the form of water weight) and your clothes are starting to feel looser.  You may even start to get some compliments that provide even more fuel to keep going for yet another day.  But (I know you saw this coming), after some time that “new diet” feeling starts to wear off and you start to struggle.  Most people hit the first rough patch within the first two weeks.  It may take others a couple of months before they start to lose steam and start to wonder why they can’t go back to doing things the "old way." But, there comes a time when you will struggle to stay on track and the lure of returning to your old habits seems almost impossible to resist.  There is even some evidence that suggests your own body is sending out hormones to try to convince you to return to your old ways!

If you started your journey at SparkPeople, you are well-aware that what we are not proponents of diets.  Diets, as commonly defined, have a start date and an end date.  The end date of the diet signifies the day that you begin to return to your old habits thus also signifying the date you begin to regain the lost pounds.

But, let’s be realistic here.  It’s not possible to keep your motivation and willpower strong at all times.  There will be times, usually during stress, that you need to focus on more pressing matters.  There will be illnesses, job changes, relationship problems, financial problems, etc.  These stressors, in many cases, will erode your willpower and motivation and will make it more difficult to stay on track. 

What are your options during these difficult days? You can go with the “all or none” mentality and choose "all" to stay on track or you can choose "none" and go back to your old habits.  Alternately, you can choose a middle ground.  What I want to highlight today is the danger of choosing “none” and “taking a break” and to give some examples of what it’s like to choose somewhere in the middle. 

Giving up and “taking a break” is probably not the best choice to make.  I’ve heard many people say that they are “taking a break” and will resume living a healthy lifestyle after a certain date.  It’s not uncommon to hear someone say that they are going to start again “after the holidays.” 

So, let’s look the caloric toll and add up what might happen between November 1 and January 1 if you decide to “take a break.”

The numbers used here are simply estimates of calorie needs and expenditures.  Please do not get caught up on them because your body is not a calculator.  SparkPeople has wonderful trackers that enable you to figure out your personal caloric needs based on your level of activity.  However, I am using these generic numbers to illustrate the caloric differential of weight maintenance vs. losing vs. gaining.  The caloric differential of what your body needs vs. consumes is ultimately the key and the point of the following examples.

Our sample SparkPeople member is:
  • an extremely motivated obese female
  • actively losing 1-2 pounds a week
  • on 1,500-calorie per day plan
  • exercising five times per week burning 300 calories per session
Her (sedentary) basal metabolic rate: about 2,000 calories per day (the calories needed to maintain her current weight).  

Her deficit: about 5,000 calories per week
  • 500 a day from diet X 7 days = 3,500
  • 300 calories X 5 days a week from exercise = 1,500
  • That equals her about 1-2 pounds per week on average weight loss (3,500 calories=one pound lost but remember that your body is NOT a calculator)
Result:  If she continues her lifestyle change from November 1 through New Year’s she could lose about 12-13 pounds of fat and will be down a dress size for the new year!

Now, let's see what happens when she “takes a break” for the holidays. 
She is now:
  • eating an average of 2,500 calories per day (a surplus of 500 calories over her basal metabolic rate)
  • not exercising (she has lost the 1,500 calories per week she burned by working out) 
Result:  She is now gaining 1-2 pounds of fat per week as opposed to losing. 
January 1 rolls around and it is possible for her to have gained 12-13 pounds of fat. 

However, the scale might show she has gained about 15-20 pounds (she probably has 7-10 pounds of water along with the new stored fat).  That’s a 25 pound swing!
Happy New Year! 

Some people can do much worse than this.  I know I can--and I have!

What are some other potential scenarios?
She can:
  • keep her same exercise schedule (burning 300 calories 5 days a week)
  • still eat 2,500 calories per day. 
Result: She will save herself 3-4 pounds of weight gain. 


Alternatively, she can:
  • keep her exercise the same
  • eat an average of 2,000 calories a day
Result: Using this example, she will do more than maintain she will lose 3-4 pounds by the first of the year! She had her cake and ate it, too!

Why should you keep exercising even during break time?  As you can see, exercise can help you minimize the damage while you are getting back on track.  Exercise in and of itself relieves stress and can help you stay on track during those times when you feel like you need to take a break.  If you are feeling burned out by your current exercise routine, this is the perfect time to find a new way to stay active!

The bottom line:
  • Taking a break should not and does not have to be an all or none decision.  Minimizing any weight gain through exercise and practicing at least some moderation with your caloric intake will make a big difference and is worth the effort.  Understand that the “all or none” mentality does not work well in the real world, and there is no such thing as an "end date" for a true lifestyle change that leads to successful weight management. 

     
  • Resist the urge to take a break.  If you are tired or burned out, attempt to minimize the damage while you troubleshoot why you are having a hard time staying on plan.  Enlist the support of your family and/or join a SparkTeam!  My hope is that you take rethink the urge to throw caution to the wind and continue to work towards your goals year round.   
Pick yourself up after every fall and keep sparking everyone!
 
 What is your plan for this holiday season?


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Comments

  • 97
    Just found this in my email, wish I would have read it soooner - 2/17/2014   2:15:26 PM
  • 96
    Instead of taking a long break I gave myself 1 'cheat day', Christmas day. I allowed myself to pretty much to eat whatever I wanted that day. I surprisingly managed to maintain. I was almost positive I'd have gained at least 1-2 pounds with all the treats and wine. I usually give myself 1 cheat day per month (not as extreme as christmas day). It seems to help me stay on track and not feel like I'm giving up everything for the rest of my life :) - 12/29/2013   10:49:21 PM
  • 95
    Thanks for the data and alternatives. Compromise seems both possible and positive. - 12/18/2013   1:51:04 PM
  • 94
    Awesome article and such a timely post. I'm fighting the urge to "take a break." Thanks for those great examples!!! - 12/10/2013   11:36:55 PM
  • SANDRACOLATO
    93
    I know how it feels to gain weight during a "break" last year I was a couple of pounds heavier in comparison to my present weight… but then I had a really stressful couple of weeks and end up with constant binges for more than a month! (I gained 10 pounds). I felt so bad, and the problem continued for almost all 2013! Its been thanks to hard work and all the help of the spark people community that I have come down to where I'm now. So my tactics will be "somewhere in the middle" now: a lot of veggies (tons!), keep my work out and give myself that piece of cake that I really want (with moderato!).

    Great blog! - 12/10/2013   7:30:13 PM
  • 92
    I am one of the lucky people who come back from a holiday lighter than when I started. This is because I don't have the same opportunities to "graze" as I have at home. - 12/10/2013   3:18:04 PM
  • 91
    Excellent clarification of this issue. - 12/10/2013   12:34:08 PM
  • ETHELMERZ
    90
    The only wobble in this report, is forgetting the "addiction" factor, that is why some/many of us have an all or nothing attitude. Same as an alcoholic, 12 is not enough, 1 is too many, etc. Our minds tell us what we should be doing, but something "somewhere" unknown causes us to over indulge..........REPEAT & REPENT. Wish more scientists would figure this out, look how many years of this has been going on!! There is more to it than "just eat less and move more". - 12/9/2013   8:32:57 PM
  • 89
    Great article!! I posted in a message board about not tracking during the holidays and asked if others weren't going to track either. The comments led me to the realization that I should focus on healthy exercise since I am at maintenance, didn't have much to lose to begin with and am not an over-eater (especially of unhealthy foods). This article reinforces what I realized. WooHoo!!! - 12/9/2013   6:14:57 PM
  • 88
    Great article. Last year during Thanksgiving and New Years I gained 17 lbs. I did not take a break and I did keep exercising or it probably would have been worse but what I did was to bake and bake and bake. I know myself and I know what happens when I have the baked goods, candy and cookies around. They are trigger foods to me and I just cannot have them around. It took me a whole year to get rid of that exta weight and I have vowed not to let it happen again. For Thanksgiving we made the whole meal for the family and didn't let anyone bring anything so we could be in a controlled environment. We will celebrate Christmas at my daughters and that day we will eat a meal have a dessert and not bring anything home. I know it sounds strange but that is the way it has to be for me. - 12/9/2013   5:52:10 PM
  • 87
    I am going to do my best to stick to my calorie range i am having surgery so exercise wont be a option for me for at least 4 weeks. - 12/9/2013   5:34:13 PM
  • 86
    The reality of the numbers really hit me in the face. My first thought was why am I sitting here reading when I should get up and move! Thanks for the post! I needed that. Gotta get up and at em! - 12/9/2013   4:59:57 PM
  • 85
    Excellent article! Yes to moderation. Yes to exercise. And yes to picking yourself up after you have fallen. My plan is to focus on fruit and veggies while I'm at the holiday parties. And exercise at least five days per week. The month isn't over yet, there is still hope! - 12/9/2013   4:59:24 PM
  • 84
    I really needed to read this! Thanks for putting the perfect article out at the right time. It is so easy to get caught up in the excuse of the holidays, the hectic (but fun) party schedule that inevitably means more food, more alcohol, and less time time and energy to workout.

    However, like this article shows, the benefit of sticking to it when you can are real and can be the difference between getting through the holidays with little to no "damage" or starting over all over again when the new year rolls around. - 12/9/2013   4:08:04 PM
  • MJ7DM33
    83
    What a timely and much needed blog! Thanks so much! I really needed this! - 12/9/2013   2:52:12 PM
  • WOMANOFTOMORROW
    82
    Thanks, I needed to hear this! - 12/9/2013   1:25:16 PM
  • 81
    I am trying to still watch what I am eating but not to beat myself up if I do eat something I am not to or to much. Just still walking and doing my regular workouts - 12/9/2013   12:59:17 PM
  • 80
    I didn't take a "holiday" break, I took a mental health one. One thing I had forgotten was how to stay away from sodium. I gained 18 pounds in 4 weeks and was considering quitting altogether. Then I started watching what I ate again and saw that sodium was taking over my life. And I had to learn to just say no to LITE ice cream too. Unfortunately, I am a night eater, so I need to chain the fridge shut at night and just leave fruit all over my room. - 12/9/2013   12:17:36 PM
  • XTINA56
    79
    Great blog. I choose to stay on course, adapt whatever I eat to my 1700 cal/day plan. No remorse, no "going back," etc. I am a food addict and recognize the consequences of "well, only this ONE drink..." mentality. Merry Christmas to all!!!
    - 12/9/2013   11:58:37 AM
  • 78
    Loved this entry! It's essentially what I am trying to do, but it makes me feel better seeing it like this laid out for me. I think it also inspires me to do the best I can during the holiday season with exercising and eating within my calorie range. I can still enjoy holiday food without eating so much I will gain or not lose weight! :) - 12/9/2013   11:22:17 AM
  • 77
    I take "breaks" during the holidays but do so by trying to maintain rather than actively lose. I allow myself to indulge in whatever everyone else is eating, but I watch my portions and calories carefully. Doing so keeps me from feeling deprived and going on an all out binge that I can use as an excuse to completely give up for a few weeks. - 12/9/2013   11:21:16 AM
  • 76
    My plan is to up my workouts so that it will counter the odd treat that I will have during holiday gatherings. I will continue to have healthy, well balanced meals during the week and will chose healthy snacks. - 12/9/2013   11:13:28 AM
  • CASS6631
    75
    My plan continues to portion the food when I go out to family get together that way you look like you have more food on the plate then you really do. because I have done it in the past. and continue - 12/9/2013   11:04:08 AM
  • 74
    Thank you so much - just what I needed to hear today! - 12/9/2013   10:52:23 AM
  • 73
    Excellent article ... this should be required SPARKreading! - 12/9/2013   10:23:20 AM
  • 72
    Thank you so much for this article!!!!! I am a complete numbers person, so it really helped. So my plan is to throw caution to the wind only on Christmas day. However, it is at my house, so I will be doing everything I can to make healthy dishes. I am already planing on supplying a relish tray with low fat dressing to be in the kitchen while we cook, and for breakfast we will have an oatmeal buffet. I have already revised my cookie/candy list to only 5--I normally do 15, and will be sending all the leftovers home with family; except of course for the turkey and ham, I will use those for lunch the rest of the week---one less meal I have to think about=) - 12/9/2013   10:15:28 AM
  • 71
    Wonderful post! I usually live by the "all or none" mentality, and this is definitely to my detriment! I was at goal weight for about a year and have since gained back 2/3rds of my lost weight. Very frustrating! I need to 'kill' this all or none mentality once and for all!!! And, I need to get through December & the stresses of my life by enjoying the benefits of exercise & weight loss & not the temporary relief of eating junk food. - 12/9/2013   10:03:28 AM
  • 70
    For Thanksgiving, I cheated and was miserable the next day. I snacked before and attempted to eat food that I normally would not.
    I vow to not commit the same mistake this holiday. - 12/9/2013   9:44:38 AM
  • 69
    Awesome info. As someone who decided to 'relax' a bit concerning my healthy lifestyle which in fact led to a long break that had incredible weight gain as the consequence (think 24-30 lbs in 3 months) I am a big proponent of skipping break taking. It's not a good thing by any stretch of the imagination. This is supposed to be a journey, journey's don't end so why should we step off the path just because the holiday season has arrived? - 12/9/2013   9:43:24 AM
  • 68
    Thanks for the info. It's easier to see when its written out like that. - 12/9/2013   9:42:49 AM
  • 67
    Great info, great blog. This was a prefect statement to share with SP at this time.

    If your thinking of throwing caution to the wind then you are not on this journey to live a healthy lifestyle. Balance and moderation will get you through the rough times be it holidays or any situation you are around an abundance of food. - 12/9/2013   9:07:19 AM
  • 66
    LOVE this article. I know "taking a break" is not acceptable for me but seeing the numers like that was still an eye opener. I could gain 10 pounds easily in the month of December but I refuse to do that.

    I indulged a bit this weekend but I stayed active, did some intense ST so I'm keeping the holiday pound creep at bay! Normally after a weekend like I just had, the scale would be up three - five pounds but this morning I'm only up a half pound since Friday morning. I call that a win for me!

    Thanks for the info! - 12/9/2013   8:41:51 AM
  • 65
    This is the most informative article I've read in a while - so glad to have things set out this way. It's why I like Sparkpeople so much - they give you the information you need exactly when you need it. Thanks!!!

    I will continue on my healthy eating path with just a treat or two over the holidays and keep to my exercise schedule as much as possible... it just makes sense! :)
    - 12/9/2013   8:41:41 AM
  • 64
    This is a great article. A few years ago I decided to "take a break" during the holidays. I took a break all right. It was an extended one that lasted three years and resulted in a 60 pound weight gain. January came and the break continued for years. It is a slippery slope and I have learned to allow my self the occasional holiday treat but to be weary so that I don't get into the habit of constant indulgences. - 12/9/2013   8:16:43 AM
  • 63
    Good Article, Thanks! - 12/9/2013   7:22:34 AM
  • SMITTY4RL
    62
    Great blog and very timely as I'm coming out of a slump right now. - 12/9/2013   7:06:43 AM
  • CARLITA37
    61
    I wish I had seen this *before* Thanksgiving. Back on track now! - 12/9/2013   5:36:52 AM
  • SUESPA1
    60
    Like the Sparks Article! About if you have a relaxed day too much more than 1. Boxing Day we are almost always in during the day at our home. Then night time we go to mum`s if she is not going out with sister`s boyfriend`s parents. So STRAIGHT BACK ON TRACK! ATMY HOME! Christmas Day could have a relaxed day. - 12/9/2013   12:23:58 AM
  • 59
    Great to see this in time for the rush of December activities and food. - 12/7/2013   6:21:41 AM
  • 58
    it always strikes me how easy and quick fat gain is, and how difficult and slow weight loss is...
    i've had holidays where I'd gain, stayed the same and lost too. this year I'm determined to lose. Being vegan, I know the holiday feast won't tempt me. I'll stick to my christmas salad and lentil loaf, and if i have dessert, it will be small and won't trigger a sugar binge day, because I AM FREE TO EAT WHATEVER I WANT. I just WON'T EAT ANYTHING UNLESS I REALLY WANT TO. I'm not a garbage bin. As for exercise, I know I'll be more active than I am now, as I'll be assisting with the family business all day long, and my breaks will be spent at sea (we live on an island), walking my a$$ off the city outskirts. Even if I slip and gain a few pounds, I'm determined NOT TO MAKE IT THE END OF THE WORLD, but get back on track as soon as possible! - 12/2/2013   5:34:27 PM
  • 57
    Yes, very appropriate for me, and part of my Holiday's is the amazing food, I love it and look forward to it, and it tastes even better to me when I have been avoiding it. That first bite of turkey and gravy went through me like a shock wave - 12/2/2013   10:58:04 AM
  • DANAG49
    56
    Excellent blog! The result of my "break" was gaining 10 lbs and weighing more than I have ever weighed in my life. While I know that everyday will not be perfect,the basics always have to be there, fruit, veggies, water and movement. I am saving this blog...in case I think about taking a break again! - 1/11/2012   12:54:33 PM
  • 55
    OMG, are you KIDDING? I can (and do) easily gain 10 lbs per month. That's even more than the poor, hypothetical woman in your scenario. (I most recently did it this summer during July and August while I was feeling sorry for myself recovering from rotator cuff surgery and not being able to kayak.)

    And yeah, it has taken me 3 months of very hard work and dedication to get it back off again. Not. Worth. It.

    So, yeah. "taking a break" is simply not an option for me. Not happening. I LIKE this awesome, athletic body, and I'm going to do what is necessary to keep it.

    Besides, I have a kayaking trip coming up in January to Costa Rica, and if I want to be able to style those tropical class III and IV rapids, I need all the advantages I can get! LOL (a little extra motivation)

    As usual, a solid column. Keep it up, Birdie! :-D - 12/5/2011   5:08:20 PM
  • 54
    I agree so many of us are all or nothing types of people. Based on this shades of gray is much better. It so much easier to get back to "all" healthy living when we do not give up on all of new habits. As someone on this site had as a slogan:

    Eat Healthy
    Be Active
    Repeat Consistently - 12/3/2011   9:11:05 PM
  • IZZYBEBOP
    53
    I took a break this summer and at first actually lost weight. But by month three I couldn't get into any of my clothes. I didn't gain that much, but had lost almost all the muscle I'd worked so hard to get. I definitely do NOT recommend taking a break longer than a week. Also, it's taking me three months to get back into a routine. - 12/3/2011   10:20:14 AM
  • 52
    great post! makes perfect sense. i don't do as well over the holidays as i usually do, but i usually am able to keep from gaining. maintenance is success in my book!
    http://dragonfly180.wordpress.com
    - 12/3/2011   12:29:37 AM
  • 51
    thank u so much! i have been drifting off track but have kept exercising. this helps me to not beat myself up or throw in the towel. - 12/1/2011   1:24:41 PM
  • 50
    I never take time off from tracking, but I do make allowances. For instance, I knew on Thanksgiving Day I was going to splurge a little, but I made sure to track it all. Tracking still kept me reigned in and I only went about 100 calories over for the day. I still enjoyed myself and felt some freedom but I didn't go out of control. It was the only day I allowed myself to go over.

    I plan on doing the same thing on Christmas Eve because I know one day with only a small amount of "overage" won't ruin all my progress. It's good to push the boundaries just a little bit, but not enough to break through theme completely. - 12/1/2011   10:11:04 AM
  • ROGERSBABE1
    49
    I loved this article and how you broke it down numerically, even though it may not be exact. It really hit home. I sort of overindulged during Thanksgiving---2 out of the five days that I didn't have to work, but stayed on track with exercise and all. I am learning not to do the "all or nothing thing" and am praying I can do better during Christmas. Thanks! - 12/1/2011   9:39:58 AM
  • 48
    Excellent article. Thank you for spelling out the consequences of taking a break in black and white. Thanks for sharing with us! - 12/1/2011   12:38:29 AM

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