Anyone who reads my work knows that I LOVE the holiday season! A video of me after I got a new Christmas mat proves it; I could hardly control my excitement.
Now, I know that not everyone shares my festive joy. The holidays can be stressful. December becomes nothing but holiday eating, obligations, and shopping; we wake up January 1st exhausted, drained, and unhealthy. This feeling is not inevitable. It may be unrealistic to try to lose weight in December, BUT you don't have to gain weight either.
Yes, making healthier choices can be tricky in social situations, but it is possible to adopt a healthier lifestyle and still socialize — it just takes some mindfulness, preparation, creativity, and most importantly, a really good PLAN!
If you remember one thing from this blog remember, "always have a plan...and then a back-up plan."
Kathleen's holiday survival plan — the 2016 edition!
1. If you tend to "snowball," aim to stay in the top two "tiers of the cake."
"Snowballing" is when you let one missed workout snowball into a week of slovenly behaviour or one glass of wine domino into five. Portions count. And missing one workout is not the same as missing five. Enjoy a few Christmas treats — just don't mindlessly indulge. Eat something because you love it, not just because it is there. Enjoy your downtime, but at the same time, don't use the holidays as an excuse to do absolutely nothing.
To decrease your tendency to snowball, aim to stay in the top two "tiers of the cake." Imagine a wedding cake with food choices written on each of its multiple tiers. Each tier represents the number of unhealthy choices made. The top and smallest tier has something like a 100-calorie cookie written in it. In each lower tier the choices get more extravagant. This holiday, aim to always stick to tier one or two: mindfully eating small portions of indulgences we love is a healthy part of life — but mindless binges are not physically or psychologically healthy.
If you decide to have a treat or skip a workout, enjoy your choice and then immediately get back on your "health horse." Decide to make healthier choices — not "tomorrow," but now. If you regret an unhealthy choice, learn from the experience; make a better choice next time. Create new goals based on your new-found knowledge. For example, if you keep missing evening workouts, consider setting up a home gym or training before work.
2. Be mindful of not only what you are putting in your mouth, but how quickly you are eating it.
At dinner parties, try placing your cutlery down between bites so that your brain has time to register when you are full. At parties, never stand near the food table; if you stand there you inadvertently graze. If you need to nibble while you talk, take a small portion of food (preferably vegetables) and then step away from the food table. That way you can keep a tally of what you have eaten.
3. Be mindful of how much alcohol you drink.
I am not saying "don't drink"; for most of us that is unrealistic. All I am saying is be mindful of how many drinks you have. Consider alternating between water and alcohol and/or diluting your alcohol; consider a white wine spritzer for example.
Not only does alcohol provide 7 kcal/g (vs carbs and protein which have 4 kcal/g and fat which has 9 kcal/g), which means drinking it can significantly increase one's total calorie intake, but drinking it can actually encourage the body to store fat.
Why? First, alcohol cannot be used directly by muscles for energy during exercise. Only the liver has the specific enzymes needed to break down alcohol, and unfortunately the liver carries out its job at a fixed rate. This means exercising harder doesn't help your body burn more of the alcohol off. Second, alcohol cannot be stored in the body. It must be oxidized and converted into energy. While this is happening, the oxidation of fat and carbs is suppressed and they are channeled into storage instead.
Main takeaway: Don't let yourself rationalize binge drinking by thinking "I will just work it off tomorrow." If you are trying to lose weight, curtail your alcohol consumption. If you drink, have a moderate portion and chose options with fewer calories and less sugar.
4. When you can't make your regular gym workout, don't use that as an excuse to skip your workout altogether. Get a great workout in a small amount of time with Tabata intervals.
Tabata intervals are an awesome — and very convenient — workout. One cycle of Tabata takes four minutes. The four minutes is made up of eight sets of 20 seconds of intense work followed by 10 seconds of complete rest. After one four-minute Tabata set, rest for one minute and move on to your next exercise.
Warm-up with 5 minutes of light cardio (speed walking, jogging, or high knees). Then for each exercise alternate 20 seconds of intense work with 10 seconds of rest for a total of four minutes.
Tabata options include jumping jacks, burpies, running up and down the stairs in your house or condo, high knees, bum kicks, and/or lateral leaps side to side.
5. When you have a busier-than-normal week, use my "piggyback" strategy.
Pinpoint daily, non-negotiable habits that you already do, then turn them into a workout: turn your daily dog walk into a jog or interval workout or have meetings with your colleagues while walking.
For example, on short dog walks do fartlek intervals. Warm up for five minutes. Then pick a random landmark — such as a stop sign — and speed walk, run, or sprint toward it. Walk or jog to recover. Repeat until it is time to go home. If you take your dog to a dog park, once you get to an off-leash area throw a ball for your dog. As he or she goes to fetch it, do body-weight exercises such as squats, lunges, burpies, or jumping jacks.
For more useful ideas (and some fun photos of my holiday socks) check out my two holiday-themed blogs from last year. Holiday survival blog #1: https://www.flamanfitness.com/blog/seven-tricks-to-survive-the-holidays.
Holiday survival blog #2: https://www.flamanfitness.com/blog/stay-fit-and-healthy-this-holiday-season-part-2.