Dieting during the holidays is the pits. Food is one of the most enjoyable elements of a celebration. No one (including me) wants to be “diet guy” or “diet gal” around the holidays. Avoiding good food just isn’t necessary if you’re taking a gradual, long-term approach. I’m going to outline some basic thoughts and strategies on how to avoid digging a gigantic hole in your body re-composition. This will should set you up well going into the New Year.
When the holidays get busy the first thing to go tends to be working out. Here is what I do in those instances. For people used to CrossFit and high intensity work, it sometimes doesn’t occur to them that low intensity workouts are an option.
Here is an example of a holiday at home:
- 7:00 am to 7:15 am 4 sets of 15 hand release push ups
- 7:15 25 GHD sit-ups (if you don’t have a GHD or want more of a challenge try weighted sit ups using a weight plate or a dumbbell)
- 8pm 30-seconds-on-30-seconds-off burpee tabatafor 8 minutes.
This isn’t enough to put you into a CNS recovery mode or even enough to really damage your muscle tissue. Just something to keep the body on edge, the central nervous system stimulated and your mind out of (its the holidays, damn it all to hell mode)
There are basically two “dead times” during the holidays where there’s not much going on celebration- wise, and this where meal preparation becomes a pretty big deal. You need to plan for when things get busy and have some of your regular meals ready so you can stay on track towards your goals. Whichever holidays you celebrate, the key is to not only limit the celebration to a small window, but to keep things in line leading up to the “big days” or “big events”. Unless you are training for a specific event, the goal should be to eat mostly whole foods.
That brings me to my last point: have some rest days, allow your body to recover, and don’t feel so guilty if you don’t do everything perfect. One of the limiting thoughts that a lot of people have is that when they don’t prepare and something comes up, they panic. Let’s say an office party you forgot about becomes a necessity…Well, don’t sweat that. The preparation that you can do the following day will likely be as effective if not more with all that energy (food and drinks from the party).
To sum things up:
- I would highly recommend a food prep day so you can mostly eat whole foods when it isn’t party time. Have 4 to 5 meals planned out so you don’t have to opt for convenience when things go haywire but make sure the food is enjoyable for you and for your family as well.
- Have workouts ready for the days that going to the gym isn’t going to work, but don’t sell yourself short. When you split up the workouts throughout the day, you can get a lot done. It’s also a refreshing change of pace.
- Enjoy your rest days and don’t try and kill yourself to “earn” your holiday meals. If you can be MOSTLY prepared around the holiday season, you won’t dig a huge hole that you need to fix later. One or two incidents of overdoing it that occur randomly are no big deal, but using those as an excuse to let the wheels fall off is just being irresponsible.
- Last but not least, if the opportunity presents itself, try to eat a little less during the “dead periods”. This is typically a good time to attack a little fat loss.
How NOT to Overdo Things
When the party starts matters, but another important part is grazing. Let me run down some ideas that might help you get to the good stuff without going overboard. I will use Thanksgiving as an example.
My family eats around 3 p.m. so it’s unrealistic to think that I would run a 5k and not eat until much later (trust me I have tried). Here is how the day unfolds for my family and the adjustments I make.
The games start at 11:30 CST but we show up around noon most years. All manner of energy dense snacks await us.
A hungry person could plow through 2,000 calories before the turkey is being buttered
so I don’t allow myself to go there hungry.
Before I leave (because it would be rude to bring a meal to someone hosting a meal) I eat about 10 ounces of full fat Greek Yogurt with some berries. Another great strategy is to bring a big salad to the party – something with a lot of nutrient-dense greens and some protein. I am the vegetable guy in my family – I can’t count on other people bringing vegetables I eat and I am not concerned if they go wasted.
I don’t load up while everyone else is grazing. That doesn’t mean I won’t have some of the other snacks afterwards but mostly I am just sampling. I am there for Turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie for size. While everyone else is full from all of the grazing I am usually eating half of a pumpkin pie. I also load up on the meat – it’s not the best strategy in terms of getting in your protein for the day but this day doesn’t need to be perfect. I find it difficult to just plow down a bunch of meat with no carbs so I will start with the meat first and then add in bites of the side dishes as I go (that’s just what works for me).
I don’t drink calories in general but I certainly would avoid it on this day. Carbonated drinks aren’t great for hydration and besides, water will keep you full. Now its TURKEY TIME! At this point in the day I am enjoying myself and this is my “main event”, when everyone else was filling up on Tortilla Chips and Queso I fill up on turkey and pumpkin pie. It’s just a matter of priorities really.
Also I wouldn’t be overly weird about sodium. Sodium actually increases the bioavailability of carbohydrates in your small intestine and you are going to need them for tomorrow…..becaaaause
Tomorrow is PR day!!!!
After major holidays, you will hear the hum of treadmills and ellipticals rolling along in most gyms. To be fair, lots of trainers program long WODs intended to “burn” up all those calories as well. Let me make an argument for another approach.
With all that energy in your body, why not put it to use rather than burn it off? Why not go for some PRs? Preferably, something like squats, clean and jerks, deadlifts or snatches (and not all of them either – there is way too much of that already). If you ever go to a powerlifting meet there are hours before lifters switch from squat to bench, and bench to deadlift. The same can be said for Olympic lifting contests. So just take one lift and make that one your own for this day. This isn’t an argument against volume by the way – drop setting to about 60-70% for a 5 x 5 is good and even down setting with 40% for sets of 10 is highly encouraged. Still up for some cardio now? Probably not but if you want to do an 8-minute Tabata like I mentioned above, knock yourself out. The point is that food produces energy that can be used to transform your body.
Don’t view your workouts as the inevitable punishment you must do to burn off the calories you shouldn’t have eaten.
Enjoy your food, enjoy your family, be part of the festivities, and use that fuel to power a better you in the New Year. ●