The Holidays 2017: What’s your Approach?
The holidays are upon us, and it is a good time to check in to see what our approach is for the next 6 weeks (including New Year’s). For those of you who find your schedules, social events, and training are not changed by the holiday season, you likely can disregard this post. For all others, if you find your nutrition tends to change, your training is impacted, and your social life is revved up, I encourage you to continue reading.
First, as a note, I have posted 2 blogs in the past that I recommend re-reading – ‘Surviving the Thanksgiving Holidays’ and ‘Healthy Holidays or Deadly Holidays.’ Yes, Thanksgiving is behind us, but many of the principles still hold. These 2 blogs provide many practical tips and strategies for approaching parties, events, and other challenging food environments, so please review. Now I want to really hone in on 2 key components to a healthy holiday season: first, let’s look at your mentality when it comes to the holidays, and second, upon which daily behaviors are you placing a focus?
Mentality. How do you approach the holidays? What is your mental script? Starting Thanksgiving Thursday, do you have the attitude that the next 45-ish days become one long cheat day? Or do you struggle with the excessive cheat days on the holidays and at parties, and then try and compensate by restricting and overly rigid eating on the other days? I will suggest both approaches are unhealthy and honestly, are unnecessary. There is a much more pleasant, enjoyable, and healthy way to approach the holiday season. It’s called moderation.
I do not mean to say that facetiously. I think the extremes – the excess and then the compensation – are the ends of the spectrum where our society most likes to live. In the moment it seems easiest to enjoy a holiday party or event and say, ‘I will enjoy this today and then make up for it tomorrow.’ The unfortunate effect of this mentality, however, is that we cannot usually make up for it tomorrow: for Thanksgiving alone, the average consumption for the day is 4,500 calories! That is 1,000 calories more than what the average person burns running a marathon. So, unless you plan on running 30-ish miles the next day, you simply cannot just ‘make up for it tomorrow’.
Secondly, I believe this approach has many adverse psychological effects. It conjures up feelings of guilt for what we’ve eaten resulting in us feel poorly about ourselves. It cultivates an unhealthy relationship with food whereby we can start to experience anxiety and stress about the holidays and events, knowing we are likely to overdo it and thus enter into the vicious cycle of excess and restriction. I know many athletes that end up fearing the holidays because of the inevitable weight cycling that ensues (our weight becomes like a yo-yo). Or, perhaps we don’t compensate – we just end up overeating – and then we inevitably gain weight, and that leaves no one feeling happy about themselves.
What to do: If any of this applies to you, here is what I recommend.
- First, avoid all-or-nothing thinking (I can have whatever I want tonight at this party, and then I’ll eat celery tomorrow). Instead, try foods that truly look good at an event, just in smaller portions; don’t bother trying something if it really isn’t worth it (don’t normally like cheesecake? Don’t try it). Maybe your calories that night are a couple of hundred higher than what they normally are – that will not result in weight gain like the few thousand extra calories will. Better yet, you won’t feel awful the next day and feel the need to start an unnecessary compensatory cycle.
- Second, remember the holidays includes 3-4 actual holidays (depending upon which days you celebrate); it is not 45 days’ worth of holidays. Three to four days will not significantly affect your health and fitness goals, but 45 days will. Try and be as balanced (& normal) on the other 41-42 days of the season.
- As for behaviors, there really are some great strategies on the previously mentioned blogs – I highly recommend revisiting those (such as, don’t arrive to a party overly hungry, always bring a healthy dish to share, keep using the plate method at parties with half your plate being fruits and vegetables, etc.). Above all, however, keep meal planning. Planning your meals during the busiest time of the year truly helps prevent unnecessary eating out, and helps to make sure when we’re not at events and functions that were eating balanced, healthy meals. This will ensure we are properly fueled for the week long training sessions and can get back to homoeostasis even when we get slightly thrown off every now and then.
There are several meal planning tips and strategies on our site, be sure to check them out. We may want to eat healthy over the holidays, and meal planning is how we implement those intentions.
As always, let me know what questions you have, or what other resources and topics you’d like to see addressed!