As great as the holiday season is for many, it can be tough on your fitness goals if you are not careful. Here are some tools to help avoid any major setbacks.
1) Try to maintain your normal eating frequency:
If you’ve read my book, you know that I am an advocate of eating 4-6 smaller meals throughout the day to help maintain an active metabolism. This is even more important during periods of time where you will be surrounded by things not normally on your “have at it” list. Maintaining as much structure to your diet as possible will help you avoid overeating due to hunger. Try not to go longer than normal without food because it will be that much more difficult to keep from overindulging when a tray of holiday goodies is unexpectedly shoved in your face. By keeping on your usual schedule as much as possible, you can hopefully avoid making an entire meal out of brownies, snowman cookies, and eggnog! It’s generally not that special meal that causes the biggest problem, it’s all the snacking we can do throughout the day while we are watching the game, or the parade, that can easily throw us off track. By keeping to a regular meal schedule as much as possible, we won’t have a lot of room or desire for too many extra goodies and can often eliminate some of their appeal.
2) Don’t eat sweets by themselves or to alleviate hunger:
Having some fun food on occasion is not the end of the world. However, you do want to try to avoid the double whammy of extra calories combined with increased insulin release. When you eat sweets by themselves or at times when your blood sugar is lower due to a period of fasting, they can have the effect of rapidly increasing your blood sugar level. Your body gets this back under control by triggering an insulin release from the pancreas. The insulin gets rid of the excess sugar by turning a lot of it into fat. So, not only are the extra calories working against you, but hormones are victimizing you as well. Better to have those sweets with some protein food. This will help keep your blood sugar level more stable, hopefully avoiding an insulin dump. It will also help satisfy your appetite so that the amount of sweets you do eat will be a little more conservative. This is a method I use quite a bit during the holidays. If I didn’t eat some of my normal protein foods with my “treat” foods, I could easily be 2-3 pieces of pie into snacking before I realized that I really didn’t want or need 2-3 pieces of pie. Having a little protein food first could make a big difference.
3) Try not to be the food preparer:
Many times the toughest situation to be in when you are dieting is to be the one hosting a big event. Not only are you preparing a lot of food, chances are you will also be fixing some things that it would be easier to not be around. In addition, when you are hosting there is a great possibility that others will be bringing more food (usually of the simple sugar variety) with them. If you have the option of being the attendee as opposed to the host, it will be much easier to maintain your diet in this scenario. You can always bring things for yourself to have some control over what you eat. The main thing is that you won’t be spending hours (if not days) surround by and focused on food, and it will be a lot easier to maintain that all important structure we talked about previously. Not to mention the fact that you won’t be overloaded with a weeks worth of tempting leftovers that are constantly calling your name.
4) If you are the food preparer:
Hey maybe it’s your year to host the big Thanksgiving event, (or something that you immensely enjoy) and there’s nothing you can do. No worries. The thing to do is to be as generous as humanly possible when it comes time to send people on their merry way. Everyone loves holiday leftovers and you won’t have much problem getting people to take along extra amounts of their favorites. Lie if you have to and say that you made double of everything. What you don’t want is to have tons of foods left over at your house. It’s OK to have enough for another meal but if you really want to stay in charge, not much more than that. That little bit of extra generosity will pay off in smiles when you step on the scale a few days later and the news isn’t so bad.
5) Plan to have some “fun meals” without guilt:
I once had a new client who I started working with right before the holidays. She called me one day in a very determined voice and said, “My mom is preparing me special foods for Christmas so that I can stay on my diet.” It only took a five-minute conversation to determine that as dedicated as she intended to be, she was already feeling a bit deprived and depressed about not being able to have many of her once-a-year favorites. “Tell your mom not to fix anything special for you,” I said. “You can eat what everyone else eats for a day without it keeping you from reaching all of your goals on schedule.”
Many times, the emotion involved with the dieting process is the biggest obstacle. People don’t “fail” on their diets because of one food, or one meal, or even one week of eating the wrong foods. They fail because something happens to cause them to change from their new good habits back to their previous, ineffective ones. Nothing causes this to happen as quickly as feeling depressed and deprived. In my experience, it is much better to avoid those feeling by having some fun foods on occasion in a planned scenario than “will powering” your way through it, only to crack later and have more than you would have originally eaten. That later breakdown often leads to feelings of failure, self-doubt, and lowered self-worth. All too often this triggers a fatalistic attitude and can cause you to embrace old bad habits because you all of a sudden believe that you won’t succeed, are not worth the effort, and shouldn’t even try any more.
By allowing yourself the freedom to have that holiday dinner with your family or co-workers, by eating all of your once-a-year Thanksgiving favorites, you are keeping yourself mentally prepared to avoid other potential setbacks. Now, if you’re the type of person whose resolve only gets stronger by avoiding temptations and you know this is better for you, then by all means stick to your guns and stay strict. But if the feeling of missing out has made it more difficult for you to stay on your program in the past, it will probably be a better idea to take a planned little break than risk a setback. Those uncontrollable setbacks can do far more damage than 3-4 family fun meals over the holiday season. So, plan to have you special days as part of your diet. It will only help you be stronger and more successful in the long run.
6) Begin or increase your workout and activity level:
One advantage of knowing that the holidays are coming is that you can try to compensate for the extra calories you may consume by increasing your activity level. Don’t wait until after you’ve gained weight to get back into the gym like most people. Better to get going on a program now and keep yourself from having to recover lost ground. If you’ve never done any type of exercise before, this is the perfect time to start. If you have always considered joining a gym or health club, many have specials before the New Year in order to help secure there share of that post-holiday rush. Plus, you won’t have to deal with overcrowding as a lot of people vacation through the holiday season. If you have been working out regularly all along, try doing just a little bit extra for a while. Either go one more day a week, add another set or two to your weight exercises, increase your cardio length by 5 minutes a session, or some combination of these. This will give you a little metabolic boost, plus burn a few more calories than usual. You will have extra energy if you have been consuming more calories so why not put them to the good use of helping you reach your goals? When your diet normalizes, you will have a lot of workout momentum and can either maintain your new program, or return to something more manageable for the long term. Either way, come New Year’s, when everyone else is just getting out there and feeling uncomfortable due to the few extra pounds they are carrying around, you’ll be in full fledged weight-loss mode and on your way to a great look for spring.
7) Always maintain awareness in order to maintain control:
Recently at the gym, I climbed on the scale and weighed myself. Another member who I did not know laughingly asked me if I was trying to lose weight. “No,” I replied. “Are you trying to gain weight?” he asked. “No, I’m just seeing what my body is doing.” He seemed puzzled by my response. Many times when we know that we are not following our ideal program, it seems easier to go into a denial state and just deal with it later. This is something to avoid at all cost. It is better to know how much your body is changing so that there are no surprises. Too often, we are willing to acknowledge that we are gaining a few pounds without really owning up to just how much or for how long. By taking a weight measurement at least once a week during the holidays (or for that matter regularly) we are giving ourselves enough information to have control over our situations. It’s when we go for a prolonged period without making ourselves be accountable that we end up in a place far beyond where we intended to go. Regular feedback will help maintain awareness, which is necessary for us to have any sort of control. If we see ourselves going beyond an acceptable range, we will be more likely to do something to prevent it as opposed to just letting it happen and hoping for the best. That doesn’t mean you need to weigh yourself everyday or become emotionally attached to the scale. It simply means that you should always maintain an awareness of what your body is doing. Taking pictures, using measurements, checking your weight, etc. are all tools for awareness so that you can make the necessary adjustments.
8) Get back on the horse:
If things just don’t work out the way you want and you find yourself eating more than you should and not able to get to the gym, the thing to do is to put it behind you. Always get back on your program after you have had a problem. It’s not the temporary setbacks that will stop you. The holiday season has a beginning and an end. Once it is over, get back to the normal good habits and lifestyle that you have been embracing. If you happened to have gained some unwanted weight, don’t let it discourage you. Understand that it was simply a matter of cause and effect, and know you are going to make the changes necessary to get you headed in the right direction once more. Hey, we had our fun, it was good while it lasted, but now we are focused on the big picture and understand what we must do. Nothing or no one will stop us. If you’ve read my book you know that I have written that there is no such thing as linear progress when it comes to weight loss. We will always be in a state of losing, gaining, and then losing again, even if we always do everything “right”. That is just how the body works. If you did gain a few pounds, it will actually be easier to lose it now because you have more to lose. That is also how the metabolism works so we might as well take advantage of it.
The journey to find our ideal weight or look can sometimes seem long and filled with obstacles. But as long as we understand that it is a journey in which we have a lot of control, we can still live and enjoy our lives and wind up where we want to go. Not even a little detour during the holidays can sidetrack us for long.
Happy Holidays to you!
Photo: C. Redd