November is here: time of the holiday season ushered in with cooler weather. The hubbub of Thanksgiving, then Christmas and followed by New Year’s. Of course, with all social customs involved this season, nothing says togetherness like food. It’s a time we create memories with family and friends, and when our bodies want the extra carbs and fat to insulate itself. Before you know it, aside from the previous month of scarfing down cream and sugar laced pumpkin lattes, your mouth has become an ingoing floodgate for potatoes with gravy, pies, Christmas cookies, red and green M & M’s, candy canes, and plenty of booze. What’s even more frustrating is that no one else around you wants to moderate the intake either!
During this time of the year we already know deep down that we want to buckle down and stay on track with keeping our fitness and nutrition goals. Worst case scenario, we want to just hopefully plateau and not put on any noticeable weight.
But, it’s hard. It is just so MOTHER FREAKING…….HARD!!!!
So what can you do to prevent over-eating all the mesmerizing goodies and keep some semblance of consistency with your workouts? I have a few helpful suggestions for you, but it will take some effort. Yes, you will have to commit some mental energy, invest a little time, and a bit of physical work. No one ever brags when something is easy, right? If you can make it through this holiday season with a bit of resolve, then maybe you can prove to yourself that you are a dedicated champ.
Let’s start with the eating part, because let’s face it: nutrition is already a big stumbling block for many of us in our daily lives for most of the year already. Also, since we get blindsided at every turn for the next several weeks with fats and carbs we have to try twice, if not thrice, as hard to control ourselves.
First off, give yourself some slack and try to be flexible with all the holiday madness. Just because you want to stay on track doesn’t mean you have to be a martyr. Resist beating yourself up because you want to indulge, even if just a little bit. This is an essential time to spend with your loved ones so don’t let your maniacal tendencies or narcissism over your macros ruin it. However, be true to your priorities and have a little balance.
If you already know beforehand that grandma is going to heap multiple carby servings on your plate, then it’s time to have a heart to heart with her. Buck up and initiate a discussion with your family and friends about your fitness goals. Imagine that by the end of the conversation you want them thinking “help me to help you” and get them on your side. It’ll work a lot better than an adversarial “I can’t eat your crap and risk getting fat.” By doing so you establish clear boundaries and they are also forewarned if you don’t consume anything they put out for you. Communication is the key, so put the word out.
The following eating ideas are a bit black and white without many detailed examples. That’s on purpose. This is meant to plant the seed of possibility in your mind that YOU CAN DO IT! You are an intelligent and capable adult. With a little creativity and fortitude I am sure that you can fill in the blanks and make it through to January feeling good about yourself.
Now, if you are planning to attend that dinner that you just can’t get out of, try eating very clean and light – right up until you arrive. Then once you do get there – go to town! Eat whatever you want. By eating clean earlier in the day you’ll balance out your nutrients a little more evenly by the time the evening is over. So whether clean and light for you would be reducing your carbs to just veggies and fruits, cutting out your fats (i.e. oils & nuts), or eliminating processed foods, you won’t feel as guilty if you overdo the chowing down at the party. Make sure that you do eat enough proteins for lean tissue maintenance and recovery. Sufficient proteins during the day will also keep you satiated. Just in case you’re wondering how much protein is enough, the range is 35-50% depending on your goals (maintaining, fat loss or muscle building). The key is to make sure the C & L meals are spaced a few hours apart so as not to put too many calories in your body before you go wild.
However, if you are at a critical stage where even some flexible eating will be detrimental to your progress, consider eating a satisfying clean meal (according to your needs and goals) at home an hour before you head out. Feeling satiated with a meal before you attend will keep the mindless munching at bay, and at worst you’d only have just enough room for slivers of what is offered to you. It would at least also make you appear to be an appreciative guest. But make sure you have discussed your nutrition needs with your host so that there are no misunderstandings.
Some parties that you attend may be a potluck, so prepare a tasty nutrient rich alternative that will work for you and hopefully everyone else will appreciate it as well. Just because it’s good for you doesn’t mean that you can’t like it. Consider making a dish with low fat proteins such as chicken breast, ground turkey, egg whites, and lean fish or even combine them with rich carbs like beans and quinoa. There are countless recipes on the internet, so look a few up and enjoy!
As a last resort you may need to make the decision to limit your social engagements. You might already know that you’re going to crack at the first round of appetizers and not make it back alive with any willpower. Choose wisely which functions will be worth your time and effort.
What if you’re the host? How can you find the middle ground between “staying the course” and not turning off your guests? Remember that since this is your party you don’t have to eat as much, so you might opt for the preemptive meal as mentioned earlier. But if you know that you’re going to be feasting at the table with everyone else then try offering “A” and “B” alternatives for each course. The “A” dish will be something less fatty, carby or more fiber/protein rich, while “B” will be a little more flexible for anyone that isn’t thinking about their waistline. Depending on how many people you will be hosting, you can designate the meals to sides, entrees and dessert.
All that might be a lot of hassle to go through if you dislike kitchen work, or are single, have no kids, or are hosting only a few friends. Consider offering a small, intimate evening of hors d’oeuvres and drinks. Intentionally focus on the company of your friends while serving up small smaller portions. Schedule it as an after dinner affair so everyone else has an opportunity to eat something filling beforehand. You might even save a few bucks and a lot of time too.
So, how do you fit in exercise with the runaround of parties, gift shopping, or even working later hours (especially if you are in retail)? It seems like there’s no time for the gym and you may not be sure exactly what to do at home. If this is you then adjust the priority here to just be consistent to keep the muscles moving. Strength training, fat burning and muscle building might have to take a backseat just for a few weeks. Focus on keeping the muscles moving so that you maintain the habit of a weekly routine and keep them from atrophy. So, what would that look like if available time is not on your side?
There are your main five lifts: bench press, squat, pull-up, deadlift and military press. Utilize all five in your routine correctly and you will effectively work all of the major and secondary muscle groups as well as engage your abs. If you are able to make it to the gym, how about trying a two day split where you do all your upper body lifts for 4-5 sets of 8-10 each on one day, and lower body lifts for the same set/rep scheme on another? If you can only make it to the gym on 3 days per week, then you would do upper, lower, then upper. The following week make sure you alternate to lower, upper, lower to balance it out!
An alternative to that would be to work with hybrid moves that combine 2-3 exercises all in one calorie blasting set. Something like a straight leg deadlift – bicep curl – shoulder press or a static lunge (aka split squat) with a core rotation. These workouts would be a lot more intense, but would take up a lot less time since you work a lot more muscle groups simultaneously.
Maybe you won’t be able to make it to the gym at all…..then what? The challenge for many is that unless they actually make it to the gym they won’t drum up the initiative to do anything at home. I have been a victim of the black hole known as the couch many times myself. Do you think you can set aside 20 minutes in the morning or before bed for a simple bodyweight exercise circuit? Among the many exercises that you can do without equipment: push-up varieties, squats, lunges, bridges, mountain climbers, and planks to name a few.
You might feel like you need greater external loads so consider picking up a set of resistance bands (with handles, a door anchor and ankle straps) and a doorway pull-up bar for a greater challenge and more variety. Combine them with a few bodyweight exercises and you’ll be able to work all of your muscle groups.
Shameless plug coming: if you need ideas for routines, check out my YouTube channel for exercise ideas. Among some of my routines:
4 exercise “Pushing” muscles circuit:
4 exercise “Pulling” muscles circuit:
Burn it up with abs and cardio:
Whatever strategy you use, it all starts with the decision to be victorious. January is going to be here no matter what. So decide if you are going to be dedicated and carry the momentum into the New Year, or let the next few weeks of holiday madness push you around.