Let’s be honest, even if you are a fitness fanatic, during the festive season training and diet are not the most important things on the list. Everybody loves relaxing around the Christmas tree and no one can be blamed for celebrating New Year’s Eve with a champagne party, followed by a life and body changing new year’s resolution (…because this year’s resolution was forgotten by the end of January…)
It’s around this time of year that the fitness industry/media starts to tell us how to deal with Christmas:
– Behave yourself and skip the pie!
– Eat whatever you want, it’s Christmas!
– Eat with moderation and figure out how to prepare low-calorie, fitness friendly versions of every traditional meal!
Which advice is best? That depends on your own view about having a fit lifestyle. I think there’s no correct answer to how you should spend the holidays. As a grown adult you make your own decisions and you deal with the consequences.
Taking the middle course seems the most sensible decision to me. I don’t want to miss out on any festive pleasures. Like most people I love all the high calorie foods but at the same time I want to stay in good shape. I have no unchangeable rules but I do have a few tips that might work for you too:
1. Enjoy the Christmas season as you wish!
If you decide to be disciplined and stick to your usual eating habits over Christmas, then do that, but don’t moan about missing out when others are having pie while you’re snacking on broccoli. If you decide to take the week off and eat like the other 90% of the country, accept that you’ll gain a little weight. And if you fall in the middle, that’s good too. Whatever you decide to do, just make sure it makes you happy, regardless of what others say. Decide for yourself what is right or wrong, own your decision and feel good!
2. Maintain a normal daily routine between the celebrations!
Although the festive season this year might be slower than usual, there will probably still be plenty of dinner invitations and small gatherings. Try to keep some days normal and free of festive indulgences. Even in December there are some days when you can eat, work out and live like you do any other day of the year. If you get busier around Christmas don’t skip exercising completely. Try to do your workout at least once or twice a week (even between Christmas and New Year’s Eve). If you have very limited time, change your usual training regime and choose a more intense exercise form that requires less time. Do you usually spend 60 minutes on the treadmill (or if gyms are closed any other similar activities – hiking, walking), do just 30 minutes instead but make sure to work harder in that time. Or if you prefer weight training or a body weight home workout? Do 40 minutes instead of one hour. Just don’t let the shorter time affect the quality of your movements. Pay attention to ensure you execute your moves properly but do fewer sets (2-3 instead of 3-4) and swap resting between sets to light activity such as small jumps, squats or lunges. Never leave the warm-up and cool-down sessions out! Don’t be in a hurry, just train with more intensity than usual!. And if you really don’t have time for a workout make your daily routine more active. Take the stairs instead of the elevator; walk instead of taking the bus or just walk faster everywhere. These small efforts will add up at the end of the day. If you need something to motivate you, you can use an activity tracker (Fitbit for example). If you see on your tracker that you hardly had any activity during the day, it might encourage you to stand up from the TV and go for a walk; just to feel like you’ve done something for your health even in the festive season.
3. Take a longer break between big meals!
I fast regularly. I don’t follow any strict rules when I do it but when I feel like I ate/drank too much, I give my body a little break. I check the time when I had my last meal and I try not to eat for the next 10, 12, 14 or 16 hours, depending on how the fast fits into my day. Your willpower is always stronger in the morning than in the evening. Use this time! When you start to snack on sweets and consume bigger meals, your body gets used to it very quickly and will constantly signal hunger. After overeating all day, you can easily wake up starving in the morning. This feeling is caused by hormones and after a while it’s quite hard to control it. Most of you were probably taught to eat a large breakfast and consume smaller meals throughout the day. Yet the festive season is definitely not about eating small in the evening. So try to be more disciplined in the morning. Wait 3-4 hours for your first meal after waking up. Drink tea or coffee (without sugar) and/or drink lots of water. Water will fill you up and cleanse your body. This is not classic 16/8 intermittent fasting (when a 16 hour fast is followed by an 8 hour eating period). While it seems to be an effective method, it is very hard to stick to on a daily basis. Usually your brain is set to break the rules; if you are told not to eat after 6, you will want to do only one thing: eat late. Fast as you can. Be flexible. Of course you will need discipline but I’ve noticed that it is much easier to skip a meal in the morning than in the evening. Also, after fasting you think you will eat a lot but in fact you consume much smaller portions than usual.
4. Think instead of feeling guilty!
If you already ate something, it’s done. It is pointless to worry about it. Think before you eat something, if it will really make you happier. Sometimes with small cuts you can save a lot of calories. For example, after a big dinner do you really need cream in your coffee? If the answer is yes, enjoy! But if you feel full already and the cream doesn’t give you extra pleasure, it is better to leave it out. Or if you tried every chocolate in the box (I usually do), why would you eat another round? Just because it’s there? It is the same with grocery shopping. Everything is on sale at Christmas and if something is cheaper it’s tempting to buy it. And if you buy it, you will eat it. It is really hard to stay in control if something is in front of you. Especially during the holidays with a ‘now it’s allowed’ mindset. So, before you put something in your cart, think twice if you really need it. (Click here to read an article on how to do grocery shopping).
Being fit and healthy is not about dieting. It’s a lifestyle, a way of thinking about food and training all year round. It doesn’t mean that you have to torture yourself constantly and sacrifice everything, it only means a little bit of self-discipline. Even during the festive season.
When I’m having a 5-course Christmas dinner with cocktails, I am aware of what I’m doing and I’m doing it because I enjoy it. I’m also aware that at some point I will have to make an effort to burn off the extra calories. I will. When I’m not living a social life, I will go train and I will eat sensibly and put everything back in balance.
Merry Christmas everyone!