Thanksgiving & Christmas are fast approaching and the panic of staying in shape and committed to your goals starts to set in. Perhaps you have committed to a fitness and nutrition journey over the past several weeks, months, or years and are feeling good, looking fabulous, and have a little more strut in your step! However, in the back of your mind you are thinking “how do I survive the holidays and still reach my goals?"
The answer is BALANCE & FLEXIBILITY. All you need to do is give yourself a little bit of flexibility, and try to balance the good with a little bit of naughty. We've all heard of the 80/20 rule right? This means 80% of your food choices should come from nutritionally sound, nutrient dense, minimally processed foods (whole grains, fruits, veggies, lean meats…), and 20% of your food choices are reserved for your fun food choices or ‘treats’ (processed/fried foods, sweets, cookies, dessert, chips, alcohol…). Trying to eat 100% ‘clean’ typically is a recipe for failing at some point. For many people trying to adhere to strict ‘clean’ eating, means they typically eat foods they don’t necessarily like. Deprivation of any food or food group you enjoy leads to significant cravings, which leads to over-indulgence and the inability to get off of the weight loss/weight gain roller coaster.
You also need to go into the holiday with a positive mindset. You have made the commitment to take control of your nutrition and your exercise. You must believe you have the ability to be mindful around food. You know food should not be looked at negatively or with added stress. It should be looked at as an important fuel source to keep you energized over the next few weeks.
A positive mindset means you shouldn’t enter the holidays wondering how you are going to make it; and definitely don’t start making promises to yourself - “well I promise I will get back on track in January”, “I’ll just have this piece of Christmas cake and then I will never have a piece again.” This doesn’t work, and only creates more stress around every meal or social event you will attend. Allow yourself the FLEXIBILITY to experiment with new food, allow yourself treats, allow yourself to indulge in the foods you truly like in moderation – this is BALANCE. If you are consistent with your eating and exercise 80% or more of the time when you are in your 'normal' routine, then having a day or two out of your routine is NOT going to turn your world upside down!
Strategy #1: Move it!
You probably have a little bit of extra time over the holiday season. Maintain your exercise regime or add in some extra training days. Exercising will help balance your food consumption. Exercising will help burn off excess calories, decrease any stress around the holidays, and maintaining your exercise plan can also help you to stay on track with eating. You can also use this time to exercise in new fun ways with family & friends (snowboarding, skiing, tobogganing, skating, snowshoeing, or if you're lucky enough to be somewhere warm - surfing, watersports, hiking...). Just continue to MOVE IT!
Strategy #2: Stay the course!
Keep to your regular eating schedule as much as possible - whether that is 3 meals a day, 6 meals a day, or somewhere in between! Skipping a meal makes you hungrier later in the day when you are likely to go for more of the holiday snacks and goodies, or overload your dinner plate. Holidays can be stressful for some, eating the right nutrient dense foods (for the majority of the day) will give us the necessary nutrients to maintain our energy and decrease stress levels.
Strategy #3: Prepare! You typically will know when you have big nights and meals planned over this holiday season (Thanksgiving dinner, office Christmas parties, open houses, Christmas eve, Christmas day...). If you track macronutrients 'bank' some of your carbohydrate & fat grams for those events. This means your first few meals/snacks of the day may be heavier on protein and lighter on carbs & fats, so you have more room to indulge for that evening party dinner. I would also suggest planning your workout or training schedule to coordinate with the big event days. This means ensuring you are exercising the day of a big event as well as the day after. Put any excess calories to good use - you may find you have your best workouts on the days after a 'larger' meal!!
Strategy #4: Whose plate is this??
Your plate shouldn’t look unrecognizable. Remember that 80/20 rule I mentioned? It not only applies to your weekly or daily eating strategy, but also to what you put on your plate. Ensure you have lots of the 80% choices (veggies, lean proteins, etc), but do try new menu items as well. Limit the amount of sugary, deep fried, and fat laden items on your plate – but go ahead and try one. BALANCE! Take control, be mindful, and make good decisions. Does dinner come with mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, scalloped potatoes, and bread rolls? Which of those do you prefer? Which one do you really want? Or do you want only a small serving of one or two so you can make room for that delicious dessert you've had your eye on? Eating more of something tasty doesn't make it more tastier! Don’t think of it as avoiding food – more that you are allowing yourself the FLEXIBILITY to choose what you really do want. Enjoy the plate you DO recognize!
Strategy #5: Oh the egg nog!
Don’t forget alcohol contains a lot of empty calories – meaning the calories in alcohol have zero nutritional value. Just as you are balancing your nutrition, you must balance your alcohol consumption. Back to the 80/20 rule, alcohol should be in the 20% group. Will a glass of wine, beer, or cocktail unravel your hard work? Of course not, just like any other treat a drink can fit into your lifestyle, as long as you are not over-indulging regularly. There are also lower calorie cocktail (use club soda, diet tonic water, or diet pop as a mixer) versions to try!
Final Strategy: Enjoy the moment!