Q: I’ve been having a great year when it comes to exercise and eating. After years of going up and down when it comes to workouts, my fitness and my weight, I’ve finally “figured it out” this year and am in a good place working out at home and going to a gym. Having said that, I don’t want to blow it all over the next few weeks over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. I’ll be travelling a bit and will be attending parties and dinners at least two to three times per week. What tips or advice could you provide that could help someone like me enjoy the holidays without setting my health and fitness back too much?
A: “Own the morning” on the day of a big celebration. When you know that the day ahead will include lots of food temptations, start the day as you would any other day with a wholesome, nutritious breakfast. This wouldn’t be the day to indulge in pastries to start your day.
- Workout for shorter amounts of time at a higher intensity rate. Break your normal workout in half, but, push a little harder and eliminate as much rest as you can between sets. If you normally train for 60 minutes, try to go non-stop for 20 minutes.
- Have an extra snack during the day before feasting at night. Trying to “save” calories for a big splurge at dinner time doesn’t work. You’ll arrive at the meal with low blood sugar, famished and eat way more than you normally would. Willpower is nothing more than the absence of hunger; arrive at the celebration with control to really enjoy all of the things on offer.
- Try something different for your workout so that you don’t compare what you do over the holidays with your “normal” routine. Being different is OK. If you are travelling or just stressed and lacking in focus, it’s totally fine to swap the gym for a power walk or stair climbing session. You could also try snowshoeing or go for a skate. For more formal exercise, try doing a body weight routine or yoga class from YouTube at home if you normally go to a fitness centre. Treat the holidays like an adventure and have fun moving your body in new and different ways.
- Make an extra effort to have enough lean protein to help offset carbohydrate and sugar crashes, which drive uncontrollable hunger. When you eat a meal or a snack, start with the protein component before adding carbohydrates. Chicken, eggs, nuts or whey protein before fruit, bread, biscuits, potatoes, pastries ETC …
- Enjoy nature a bit more. Get outside for a walk as much as possible. There is just something calming and reassuring about being outside around plants and nature. As little as 10 to 20 minutes can bring you back to a more relaxed, comfortable, confident place mentally, which will manifest in the choices that you make the rest of the day.
- Practice mindfulness for at least five minutes every day. Breathe, meditate or walk in nature with no distractions. If this isn’t already part of your day, there is even greater value in sitting in silence and focusing on your breath. Just a few minutes every day has been shown to make actual changes in our brains and in the way that we process information and react to external stimuli. To take things a step further than just sitting quietly, you might consider downloading a guided meditation app on your phone for more structure and accountability.
- Write a plan for the coming year with moments that you’d like to “peak” for, which also includes down time or recovery periods. The holidays can be written in as a down period. Some people call this the 1,000-foot view. Pull back from the daily grind to get a really good idea of just why you started exercising and eating more healthfully. If you can think of specific events upcoming in the next 12 months, write them down and plan how to get to them. There is a good chance that the current holiday season can be considered a time to take a measured break. If your first “peak,” however, is scheduled to happen within the next four to six weeks of writing your plan, it will create some urgency to get things done as perfectly as possible “right now” while enjoying the festivities.
- In German, there is a word called “Gemütlichkeit” which is used to convey the idea of a state or feeling of warmth, friendliness, good cheer and “cosiness.” To me, this is exactly what the holidays should feel like; like a cabin with a roaring fire atop a snowy mountain. Consider that all of the hard work you’ve put in over the past 12 months have brought you to this place. Be good to yourself and accept the reward of gemutlichkeit. It’s really the reason why we do this in the first place.