Yeah, I’m not sure how it happened either, but somehow this year has completely flown by and we’ve officially hit the holiday season.
(I’ve tried to deny it for as long as possible, but since there’s a massive Christmas tree in my city’s town square and Thanksgiving is in a week, I guess I can’t avoid it any longer…)
Every year, one of the biggest concerns people tend to have around the holidays is how they can avoid destroying all the hard work they’ve put into their fitness and nutrition all year round—yet still actually enjoy the holidays.
It’s a pretty good question to ask yourself, especially since the average American gains one to two pounds over the month of December. This isn’t a huge problem in and of itself—it’s fairly easy to lose that tiny bit of extra weight if you put your mind to it—the bigger issue is that most people never lose those extra pounds after the holiday parties and baking extravaganzas are over, which can add up significantly over time.
But all is not lost. I promise you that not only can you go to all your holiday parties, continue your family cookie baking tradition, and even indulge in some of those fun holiday drinks, you can do it all without significantly halting your progress in the short-term, and definitely not do any long-term damage.
Here’s how to survive holiday eating like a sane person:
Save your treats for only your favorites
Smart eating around the holidays doesn’t mean avoiding everything you love. It just means being a little bit picky about what indulgences you allow yourself to enjoy.
For example, I will fully admit that I have a weakness for homemade pie (pumpkin and marionberry are my favorites), anything ginger-molasses flavored (the spicier the better), and pretty much any type of dark chocolate candy. I also really love peppermint bark, despite looking at the nutritional label nearly every time I eat it to try and convince myself to stop liking it (for some reason, this tactic never seems to work).
So when the holidays come around once a year, do you think I actually allow myself to eat these things?
Of course I do!
Early on in my health and fitness journey, I actually tried to avoid eating anything unhealthy around the holidays. I counted calories on Thanksgiving. I avoided big holiday gatherings because I knew I’d have to deal with too many temptations. I made cookies with my family only to not allow myself to taste even a single one out of fear that I’d go on a cookie bender and eat the entire batch.
Well, not only did this way of avoiding all unhealthy foods around the holidays leave me feeling totally bitter and seriously jealous of everyone around me, it also made my family and friends think I was a total weirdo (big surprise).
These days around the holidays, if you offer me one of my favorite unhealthy holiday foods, I’ll gratefully accept and savor every bite.
But offer me a store bought cookie, a piece of sub par chocolate, a stale candy cane? I won’t even think twice about saying no.
Being picky and saving your treats for only your favorites allows you to get through the holidays without putting on much (if any) extra weight, while still getting to enjoy yourself (and, of course, remain sane).
Eat plenty of protein and veggies
One of the biggest mistakes people tend to make around the holidays is to stop eating as they normally would in order to “save” their calories for all the holiday parties and cookie plates they know they’re bound to encounter.
But although it may seem counterintuitive, this is really one of the worst things you can do.
Instead, you should try and make an effort to eat as you normally would, filling up on veggies, protein, and good carbs whenever possible.
Not only will doing this ensure you still have enough energy to get through your workouts, it will also help you curb cravings, which means you’ll likely eat less holiday cookies, candy, and other holiday staples than you would have if you’d had a sub-par meal (or no meal) before being around all those holiday temptations.
Because really, holiday eating doesn’t have to be much different than how you would eat the rest of the year. Just do your best to follow the 80/20 rule and eat healthy most of the time, and not only will you stay in pretty good shape, you’ll be less likely to binge on all those forbidden foods at a moment of willpower weakness.
Keep working out
One of the most important things you can do to retain all the progress you’ve made so far this year is to keep working out, no matter how busy you are over the holidays.
Maintaining a regular workout schedule is important for so many reasons:
- It will help you maintain the muscle you’ve already built and keep your metabolism running high (a good thing especially if you’re eating more)
- It definitely helps you burn off all those cookies from the night before
- It ensures that you won’t go significantly backwards on any of your fitness or skill-based goals and have to completely start over again at the New Year
- It can help with any added holiday stress (family get togethers, gift buying, surviving holiday traffic…)
I could go on, but you get the idea.
And don’t even try to give me the excuse that you don’t have time to work out over the holidays. Because really, if you think you don’t have an extra 12 minutes 3-6 days a week to work out, you’re just not being honest with yourself.
Make it a priority.
Remember, it’s only a month
The most important thing to remember this holiday season is that it really only lasts for about a month… and then we’re on to a brand new year.
That doesn’t mean you should entirely let yourself go for the whole month (please don’t!), but it does mean you can enjoy yourself at a few holiday parties and family meals without feeling like you’re going to ruin all of the progress you’ve made leading up till now.
Because here’s the thing: if you follow the advice in this post and try and approach holiday eating with a sane (non-extreme) mindset, you’ll get through this next month just fine.
Sure, your strength may go down a little bit this next month, but only if you get lazy and stop working out as much. In fact, you may actually see strength gains this month—all that food may not be great for helping you get leaner, but it can definitely help you reach some new PRs.
And yes, you may gain a pound or two and your body fat percentage may go up a tiny bit. But really, it’s not the end of the world if that happens. Just add in an extra day or two of HIIT workouts (and maybe an additional tabata here and there), cut your daily calories a little (while maintaining a high protein diet), and bam, in a week or two you’ll be back to normal.
However you decide to approach them, just remember: the holidays are temporary. They’re a chance to savor the tastes of our childhood, to embrace nostalgia, and to eat foods we wouldn’t dare touch the rest of the year. You might as well enjoy them.
Because trust me, in the long run, you’re going to regret not eating that piece of your grandmother’s pie a lot more than you’re ever going to regret eating it.