This is not going to be one of those holiday-inspired posts telling you the best tricks to avoid any weight gain (and maybe even lose 5lbs!) during the holidays. Nor is it going to tell you to just say ‘Screw it. Eat all the cookies. Drink all the wine. Start fresh in the new year’. After some years of working with people through this time of year, I’ve learned that people are pretty good at aiming towards one of these two directions already.
These approaches lead many to be absolutely terrified of the holidays (aka the period between the week leading up to Thanksgiving and the few days following new years).
On one hand, I see those who avoid the parties, only eat the white meat from the Thanksgiving turkey, and skip out on valuable family time to get their fasted cardio. These people see the holidays as a period to ‘survive’ rather than enjoy. Every holiday event causes anxiety, and if they can’t maintain their ‘perfect’ eating and workout schedule they feel like they have failed.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are those who take a 7 week hiatus from any physical activity and a 100% break from health-conscious eating behaviors. These are typically the people for whom exercise and healthy eating feels like an enormous burden. Taking a complete break from these behaviors feels like some well-deserved respite from the difficult to manage world of health.
Find the middle ground.
Unless you are competing in a bodybuilding competition in February, eating one of grandma’s secret recipe chocolate swirl cookies (or a few) is not going to ruin your physique. Skipping one workout to spend time with your mother who you haven’t seen in 3 months will not ruin all your progress.
But eating those same cookies for breakfast and dinner for 7 weeks straight sure will. Immobilizing yourself on the couch until January 7th sure will (that’s the first Monday in January this upcoming year and everyone seems to be under the impression that fitness begins on Monday).
So let’s look at some strategies so we don’t:
- Throw an anxiety tantrum when we find out the eggnog was made with full-fat milk instead of skim
- Start to see our bodies begin to decompose into the rocking chair
Find physical activities to do with your family and friends
This is a tired line. Everyone always gets the same advice to move more (and eat less). I’ve found that the desire to sit in the living room with cookies and wine is not so much about laziness but more about not putting in the effort to create fun activities. Go ice skating. Take a hike around the lake. Gather the family and take a yoga class. Try to find fun family/friends activities that don’t center around food and drinks.
Eat nutritious meals on ‘non-special meal’ occasions
No one wants to eat chicken breast and steamed broccoli for holiday dinner. Holiday meals are filled with sauces, gravies, chocolate, and cheese. And that’s fantastic. Eat the delicious meal. Drink the wine. But instead of stopping at Subway on the 3 hour drive to grandma’s, have a nutritious meal beforehand. Just because certain meals are going to be inevitably unhealthy doesn’t mean you have to get away from normal, healthy eating the rest of the time.
Become comfortable with ‘good enough’
‘Tis the season for imperfection. You’re going to miss your regimented 7am workout. Maybe for a few days in a row (gasp). That doesn’t mean you have failed. It certainly doesn’t mean you have to make up for it by killing yourself in the gym for days after. Just do your genuine best to get back on track as soon as you can.
Eat mindfully and enjoy the treats
You know what’s better than eating grandma’s secret recipe chocolate swirl cookies? Enjoying them. Try to avoid feeling guilty. You’re not ‘bad’. It’s a cookie. You didn’t burn down an orphanage. Appreciate every bite. If nothing else, it will keep grandma happy.
Recognize that your fitness life just one important part of your total life
Are you getting paid to be in shape? Yeah, me neither. Is fitness important? You betchya. Remember that you have other important areas in your life as well. Like sharing ice cream with your kids. Unless someone is paying you an income to be in shape, this should not be your sole focus.