One holiday is in the books; Thanksgiving has come and gone and hopefully expanded our belts for a few hours. If you are like me and my family, then you may be finishing off the last of the mashed potatoes and turkey slices today, and preparing to enjoy some turkey noodle soup over the next week.
I genuinely hope that everyone has enjoyed quality time with family and friends, good cooking, and made memories that last. That is what this time of the year is about - period.
A lot of fitness professionals, magazines, and internet articles are barking about how to avoid putting on unwanted pounds during the holiday season. The intentions are pure, but as they say:
The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Plain and simple, if you have worked even moderately hard throughout the year to train your body, eat nutritionally-dense foods, and avoid temptations, then you shouldn't fret about a Thanksgiving dinner, and a few "holiday" events that will pop onto your schedule.
I get a bit irritated when I see articles that say -
"skip the potatoes, and pass on the bread"
"eat chicken and broccoli about a half hour prior to thanksgiving dinner to keep you from eating too much".
Unless you have a fitness competition in the next few weeks - you shouldn't care about one meal on one day out of the year. (or 4 meals over 4 days).
Now, with all of that said - let's not interpret this as a license to stuff your face with everything, go back for seconds and thirds, and skip workouts in favor of sleeping on the couch all day.
You still need to be a responsible adult after all.
Now, going forward as the Holiday season is in full effect and we cruise towards a new year - let's establish some actionable intel for enjoying the season without undoing months of hard work.
1 - Choose What Matters - Do It
If you aren't careful your social calendar can fill up quickly with happy hours, dinners, holiday parties, and small social gatherings that include plenty of eating and drinking. If you try to do everything - you will absolutely experience negative weight gain.
Your best solution is to focus your attention to a couple of those activities that actually matter to you. If you enjoy catching up with old friends at local bar when you are back in town - then it is on the list. If you absolutely love the feast your mother prepares for the night of Christmas - then it is on the list.
However, if your friends open bar holiday party doesn't appeal to you, or a co-worker is bringing cookies to the office everyday - avoid them
For me, catching up with family and friends that I don't always see is more important than indulging in random holiday parties, happy hours, and snack foods that I'm not a huge fan of anyway.
Find the activities that you really don't want to miss out on and do them as you normally would, and should. For everything else put it through a filter and don't back down to peer pressure, or the guilt that you should attend everything that gets thrown your way.
2 - Exercise becomes non-negotiable
During the holiday season you will end up eating more of the things that you don't normally have on a weekly basis. You'll be taking in more calories, specifically in the form of carbohydrates and fats, then you would typically.
Instead of just accepting it for what it is - you can do your best to combat it by ensuring that you find yourself engaging in intense exercise as often as possible.
Now, I'm not saying you should view exercise as a punishment for eating unhealthy, or that eating unhealthy is a reward for still working out on Christmas day...
Tis' the season for the gains
Rather, it's like your bank account. You may do your best to try to earn a few more dollars during the holiday season because you know you'll be spending more on gifts and travel expenses.
You are just trying to keep the boat level.
Focus on the exercises that are proven to activate the whole body. These moves will ignite the metabolism. Heavy deadlifts, squats, and presses with pullups, pushups, sprints and sled work can be all you need to navigate.
3 - The New Year is not a Fresh Start
It is important to be realistic about what January 1st brings. At the conclusion of 2015, and the beginning of 2016 nothing will have changed except that last number in the year and the time on the clock.
I talked about this last year...as well as a lot of references to cake. (I don't even like cake).
While I certainly embrace the sentiment that new beginnings can be great for inspiring change and new direction it is important to understand that you are the same person on both sides of 12 midnight.
Do not give up in December because "I'll get back at in the New Year". Do not pretend that you'll suddenly feel an uncontrollable urge to exercise on January 1st "because 2016 will your year"
Focus on ending December on a high note - one which allows you to roll into January with momentum, which has a higher probability of turning 2016 into a fitter year.
4 - Set Goals BEFORE the New Year
A lot of people will set new goals at the onset of a new year. I do too.
I do not; however, wait until I'm already in that year to do so. I want to wake up January 1st with a clear picture of what I am trying to accomplish. I want to spend the last weeks of December aligning my focuses on what I need to do to achieve my goals.
Focus on things you can measure - such as new personal records on a lift, events that can be conquered, and actions that you can track.
If your goal is to eat more meals at home in 2016 - spend time researching healthy grocery stores in your region, local farmers markets, recipes as the current year comes to close. On the 31st go shopping so that you wake up the next morning with food in your house.
If you want to master the deadlift and max out 405 during 2015 - then spend time purchasing e-books like Dave Dellanave's "off the floor". Learn the lift and follow a program instead of just winging it and hoping you get there.
If you really want to lose body fat in 2016 - then be honest with yourself about your needs, habits, and weaknesses and begin putting change behavior into place before you get into the new year.
5 - Bring those around you UP instead of going down to them
If you travel home for the holidays it can be very easy to fall out of your routine. You aren't near your gym, your kitchen, your favorite store. You'll eat what is available, and skip the gym because you don't want to pay guest pass fees.
Your friends may not work out like you do. Your family probably doesn't count calories like you do.
So, one way to navigate the holiday season is to be the beacon that elevates those around you instead of abandoning your habits to "fit-in".
Offer to cook a dinner at home so that you can control the ingredients. Tell your friends that you'd love to catch up over dinner and a few drinks, but you'd really like them to come to the gym with you too. Take a long run with your significant other and enjoy the scenery of one of your hometowns together.
You are the person who can inspire someone else to become interested in fitness. If you can make exercise and nutrition a part of someone elses life instead of them making you abandon your habits, then everyone wins.
Or they'll be like "watch me fitness...this whole cookie in my mouth".
Your friends who don't fitness
Don't be a dick about though. Some people won't match your intensity or even express an ounce of care. Don't push it on them, rather offer an opportunity and let them make their choices.
The Holiday season is meant to be enjoyed with family and friends. Unless you have a specific competition that requires elite level conditioning, then you shouldn't be overly concerned with one or two meals.
If you are pursuing a weight loss journey and afraid of falling off the wagon - then look at yourself in the mirror and understand that the rest of your life will have challenges to your eating. At some point you need to exert discipline and the ability to say no. The holiday season can still be enjoyed without being an example of gluttony.
Remember that fitness is a ongoing adventure and not a life event you can enter into Facebook. Sure, everything starts somewhere, but it never stops in this case. Work hard all year so you can relax the few times you should.
Be Fit. But be Flexible.