A gourmet donut from Five Daughter's Bakery. Barbecue. A glass of wine. Samples of pimento cheese on crackers at the Farmer's Market. A few slices of a French baguette. Sushi. Lots of sushi.
And yes, I ate it all.
I'm just coming off a great trip to Nashville, Tennessee, where I spent my birthday weekend with my husband and my family. Unbeknownst to them, I went into the weekend with a mission:
To gain weight - water weight to be more specific - for the express purpose of writing about it here and teaching you 3 things:
- A temporary bump in scale weight is no reason to freak;
- Taking a brief, occasional break from a caloric deficit is GOOD for your metabolism; and, of course,
- How to shed the water weight after your weekend of fun.
Party's Over: The Aftermath
When you come home from a weekend of vacation or celebration and step on the scale Monday morning, what happens? In many cases, the number on the scale is higher than when we left, and this is enough to send many women into a tailspin:
"All my hard work. All my results. Gone in one weekend!! UGH. Why did I do that? I was doing so well. I guess it's time to get serious...."
So we double down on cardio, slashing calories (especially from carbs), and ramp up the negative self-talk. We book in for a double-cardio session at the gym to burn off our indiscretions and restrict our food intake to get that weight off ASAP.
As women, we are almost programmed to freak out about "weighing more" - and we'll go to extreme measures to reverse it.
Not only is NONE OF THIS IS NECESSARY, it is also a mistake.
Weight: Is It Water or Fat?
I did not gain 3 1/2 pounds of fat from my birthday weekend. It is mostly water weight - maybe a little fat - but mostly water.
Water retention is a physiological response to many things: what we eat, what we drink, nutrient deficiencies, lack of sleep, and stress.
"Losing or gaining 5 pounds of fat over a weekend is physiologically impossible, but the scale has convinced many that it can happen. A significant portion of those playing the weight loss game believe the weight they lose or gain on a day to day basis is fat. And the popular media and weight loss experts do nothing to help them understand that not only is this not true, but it also is one of the major reasons they continue to suffer from yo-yo weight regain and can’t lose fat as they age." - "Why Your Scale Can't Be Trusted," Metabolic Effect
So the extra poundage isn't fat. Well that's a relief. Sort of.
Yet, water retention is hugely frustrating for those who want to look and feel lean. A few pounds of water weight is all it takes to bury your muscle definition and make your fave jeans feel tight.
There are a couple factors at play here:
- Our bodies use water to store carbohydrates. You ate a lot of carbs during your vacation weekend? Now your body is holding on to extra water to accommodate the several hundred grams of carbs you consumed.
- The immune response to foods can often take a few days to occur, and it includes water retention as well. Just because you don't vomit, turn red, and/or stop breathing immediately after eating a slice of bread or a bowl of pasta doesn't mean your body is not being negatively affected by it.
Bottom Line: You did not gain 5 pounds of fat. Your body is retaining water.
Diet Break = Happy Metabolism
One of the most unforgettable statements I've heard in my 10+ year fitness and nutrition career is this:
"Women's bodies need to feel safe to get lean."
My former coach Corey Baird told me that, and I've continued to pass it along here at Fat Loss Foodies.
Ladies, if you want your body to lose fat, to build muscle, to work for you and stop fighting you - it needs to feel safe.
Taking a "diet break" - 48-72 hours of a deliberate caloric surplus - can often be exactly what our bodies need to rest and relax, especially in light of how hard many of us push ourselves and our bodies. (Please understand: this is not a license to spend every weekend binge drinking, eating whatever you want, and skipping the gym. That is not what I'm talking about here - just so we're clear!:)
Staying in a significant caloric deficit for extended periods of time elevates cortisol levels and has a slowing effect on the metabolism. The harder you push on the metabolism, the harder it pushes back. Yet many people falsely believe that the way to get lean is to stay in a deficit forever.
"If I just keep eating less and exercising more, I will lose fat and my body will change."
No it won't - because your metabolism doesn't work like that, especially if you're female.
The sooner you accept this, and start working with your body - not against it - you can start to crack this body change-thing wide open. Make your body feel safe by eating well, training smarter, and prioritizing sleep and stress management.
Now that we know what's going on, and that there's no cause for alarm, let's get down to the nitty gritty of how we bounce back. PLEASE for the love of all that is Holy - stay away from sketchy pills and teas and other quick fix hocus-pocus to shed water weight. The only things you need are water and good food and some exercise.
It sounds counter-intuitive, but the more water you drink, the less you retain. Drink 3-4 liters of plain, filtered water and sip on it throughout the day.
Unsweetened teas and black coffee are also fine, provided you hit your water goal.
2. Fast for 12-18 Hours
Fasting is all the rage right now, but even if you aren't ready to commit to it on a daily basis, starting your vacation recovery with a 12-18 hour fast can help reduce bloating and reset your body.
Since you ate richer food and more calories for a few days, you may even wake up the next morning still feeling full. It is 100% fine to delay your first meal by a few hours.
A 12-hour fast is easy, as most of your fast will happen during sleep. Start with a 12-hour fast by making note of when your last meal was on Sunday, then add 12 hours. Example: if you stopped eating at 8 p.m., don't eat your first meal until 8 a.m. If you're able to, extend the fast by 4-6 more hours, which takes you to mid-day.
3. Real Food Only
This is a mainstay of a Fat Loss Foodie lifestyle because of the positive impact that real, whole, quality food has on hormones, digestion, and overall satisfaction with how you eat.
No protein bars. No artificial sweeteners. No diet this or that.
Just real food. Lean meat, poultry and seafood. Vegetables. Less-sweet fruits. A little healthy fat from good sources. Since you topped off your glycogen stores with all those celebratory carb intake, you can even try reducing your starchy carbs for a couple days.
4. Eat Hypoallergenic Foods
To help shed excess water, source your carbohydrates mostly from vegetables, less-sweet fruits, and limited amounts of hypoallergenic grains like rice and oats. Avoid common allergens like wheat and other gluten-containing grains, dairy, and soy.
You don't have to have a food allergy to be negatively impacted by wheat, dairy, and soy. These foods are allergens that provoke an immune system response in the body even if you don't have food allergies.
"Many people react to gluten without even realizing it and the gluten compound they are most reactive to is gliadin from wheat. This reaction can cause whole body inflammation and result in an appearance of looking puffy/bloated - hence the common dogma that bread and pasta make you 'hold water.'" [source]
5. Eat Your Greens
Covering half your plate in non-starchy vegetables at EVERY meal is a daily practice for Fat Loss Foodies. We eat vegetables for their high water and fiber content, but there are vegetables that can pull double-duty by helping you shed excess water weight. Asparagus, leeks, leafy greens, and parsley, can help shed excess water by acting as a mild diuretic. Have a big salad with a base of leafy greens for lunch and roast asparagus as a side dish with dinner.
6 . Resist Over-Correcting In the Gym
The tendency to go slash and burn at the gym after a couple days of "bad" eating is exactly what keeps so many women struggling and unable to see positive change in their bodies.
Two hours of cardio may burn a lot of calories, but it's also going make you a bottomless, sugar-seeking pit of hunger when you get home from the gym.
Eat too much. Workout like a fiend. Eat too much again. Workout again - but more, and harder.
Do you see how this cycle just keeps repeating?
Instead, go back to business as usual. Do not do more. Do not do double. Stop fighting one extreme with another extreme.
Get in a quick, intense workout that gets you sweaty, breathless and burning! Do a 20-30 minute HIIT workout. Lift some weights. Get in, throw down, and go home.
Exactly What I Ate + How I Trained
Those 6 strategies are what I use to return to normal after holidays, vacations, and weekend getaways, and I've been doing them successfully for years.
Here's exactly what I did to tackle my 3.5 lbs. of post-birthday weekend water weight:
First off, I didn't stress. Not even a little!
Monday morning, I started with a ~17 hour fast. I stopped eating around 8 the night before, so I had my first meal at 1 p.m. on Monday. During my fast, I drank coffee with MCT oil, and drank about 30+ ounces of water. I felt great. Zero hunger.
Meal 1: A big slice of FLF Breakfast Casserole. It had turkey sausage, spinach, sweet potatoes, caramelized onions and goat cheese in it; I'll get the recipe up for you soon!
Meal 2: Spicy Sonoma Caesar Salad with Mexican Goddess Dressing at Chop't. This salad was delish - baby spinach, chicken, spicy peppers, avocado - and it was so massive, I could only finish half of it. I decided to omit starchy carbs in this meal.
After lunch: 1 oz. 70% dark chocolate. Yep. Because this is my normal. I know that having a little dark chocolate a few days a week keeps me from craving bigger hits of sugar later.
Workout: 30-ish minute lower body workout. Barbell squats, lunges, hamstring curls, weighted step-ups, glute bridges. I also taught CXWorx, a 30-minute core class. This, plus several walks with my dog around the neighborhood, gave me a very active day with lots of quality movement, but nothing too strenuous or crazy.
Post-workout shake: 1 serving Ascent Vanilla Bean protein powder + 8 oz. unsweetened So Delicious cashew milk.
Meal 3 : 4 oz. Raspberry Chipotle Pork Tenderloin, Brussels Sprouts, Roasted Potatoes.
Meal 4: 1/2 c. 2% cottage cheese* with 1/2 c. unsweetened applesauce before I went to bed.
The result? Down almost 2.5 pounds of water weight after only one day of returning to normal life. I course-corrected immediately, simply by using the six strategies above. I woke up looking and feeling better, and did so without deprivation, over-exercising, or feeling guilty about my birthday weekend. I had plenty of quality protein, vegetables, fruit, and even some starchier carbohydrates like potatoes. I ATE DARK CHOCOLATE FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.
I enjoyed every bite of fun food I ate during my Birthday Weekend 2018 - just like I did last year, and the year before.