Thoughts on the Holidays: Ten Tips for Success
I hate all those holiday party survival guides that tell you to stick to the veggie tray, don’t you?
It’s like, "No shit, Sherlock."
Give me something more. Give me something better.
I’m headed down to my Sicilian in-laws place for Christmas and I’m already starting to get nervous about how to maintain my program while I’m there. In the past, I’ve just thrown the baby out with the bathwater and said, "screw it, it’s all a loss. I’m going for it." This year, with a body comp test scheduled the day after I get back, that’s not an option. (That was extremely purposeful :) )
As I put together my strategies, I have to take into consideration the fact that my Sicilian Mother makes some of the best pasta on the planet – and she’s not very happy when you don’t eat it. The pasta is just the beginning, of course – deep-fried rice balls, fried prawns, taralli (Sicilian cookies with anise glaze), spedini (rolled meat stuffed with all variety of delight), cioppino (Italian seafood stew), fresh-steamed clams… the possibilities are endless.
I need to be prepared to enjoy myself and also stay within the range that is going to contribute to my success, not bring me down in a deep-fried ball of glory.
Tom Venuto recently published his version of the holiday survival guide and I really enjoyed it.
The ten tips are listed here in full (I’ve highlighted my favorite parts) – you can view the entire blog entry on his site here.
1. Expect to stay on your program over the holidays
“Fail to plan and you plan to fail” is a time worn and cliched statement, but it’s still some of the best success advice you will ever hear. Not only do most people fail to plan, they consciously plan to fail over the holidays. Most people expect to “blow” their diet and skip workouts over the holidays. They expect to eat more, to exercise less and to gain weight. As a result, they don’t even make the effort. Instead of taking control, they resign themselves to maintenance at best, or back-sliding at worst. This negative expectancy leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy. By the first week of January, they’re in the worst shape they’ve been in for a year and they frantically make New Year’s
resolutions to shed the excess fat they’ve gained. You can avoid this trap by planning to succeed during the holidays. Set up a positive expectation. Resolve now that you will not tolerate slipping backwards. Keep your standards up and don’t settle! Not only can you plan to “stay in shape” over the holidays, you can plan to improve! All you have to do is make the decision and expect success.
2. Plan all your workouts in advance
You know your schedule is going to get hectic over the holidays. You’ll be cooking, shopping, wrapping gifts, sending cards, going to parties, traveling, visiting family, and so on. To stay on your training and nutrition regimen is definitely going to take some sound time management skills. Plan your schedule in advance. Anticipate what’s coming up. Write it down. Put it on your calendar. By doing so, you won’t be caught unprepared. Use a schedule book or monthly calendar and “make appointments” for ALL your workouts for the entire holiday season. Then, post a copy where you will be forced to look at it every day. This is a powerful exercise that will keep you focused and force you to think about and prepare for each upcoming workout. If you try to “wing it” and squeeze in your workouts and meals whenever you have time left over, you’ll find that there never is any time left over! Somehow your daily activities always seem to “expand” to fill the hours in every day. So schedule your workouts and meal times in your calendar just like you would any other appointment or event. Once you’ve done that, stick to your schedule religiously.
3. Set some compelling training and fitness goals over the holiday period
Don’t wait until January 1st to set your goals just because you think it will be harder to achieve them over the holidays. On the contrary, studies on personal achievement have shown that you’ll usually reach 80% of the goals you put onto paper. The problem is that few people set any goals at all, and fewer still set them during the holidays. Why wait? Why not do it now? Set some big goals that you can start working on during the holidays: Set a goal to lose the 25 lbs you’ve always wanted to lose NOW Set the goal to gain 10 lbs of solid muscle NOW Been contemplating a competition in bodybuilding, fitness or the new ladies figure division? Pick an early spring show and GO FOR IT – START TRAINING NOW! Goal setting should not be a once a year affair, it should be a continuous process. You should always have your goals in writing and your list should be regularly updated and rewritten. If you only set goals once a year, you’re not going to accomplish much in your life.
4. Give yourself permission to have “cheat meals” – and schedule them in
A planned “free meal” or “re-feeding day” helps you to stay on your program better in the long run. If you’re too strict all the time, you’re setting yourself up for cravings and bingeing. A few free meals per week will have very little effect on your physique. Also, if you’ve been on a strict, low carb and/or low calorie regimen for a long time, a full day of maintenance level calories might actually be good for you! It will boost your metabolic rate and give your body the signal that you’re not starving and that it’s ok to keep burning a lot of calories. Over the holidays, schedule your dinners and parties so they become your “free meals.” Then, for the rest of your meals, be steadfast! Just the fact that you know you have free meals coming up will relieve the pressure of staying on a strict diet for a long time. Also, when you do have your free meal – ENJOY IT! If you’re going to eat it and feel guilty, then don’t have it at all. If you’ve stayed with the program all week long, then when your free meal rolls around, you deserve it!
5. If you fall off the wagon, get right back on it
So you had about a dozen too many of those Christmas cookies did you? Don’t worry; because you have free meals built into your plan, you shouldn’t let guilt immobilize you. Even if you fall completely off the wagon, don’t beat yourself up. All you have to do is get right back on your program without missing another beat. Too many people mess up once and then think their entire diet is ruined. They feel as if everything they’ve done prior to that day was wasted and there’s no sense going on. Or even worse, they rationalize to themselves, “Well, I already cheated, so it doesn’t matter now, I might as well keep pigging out.” That’s nonsense. If you threw in the towel every time you didn’t score 100% on your diet, most people would never get through more than a few days on any structured program. Just because you slip up once doesn’t mean you should quit! You’re only human. Don’t let one small slip keep you derailed. Firmly plant your wheels back on the tracks and start rolling again.
6. Maintain your consistent eating schedule
If there’s one thing that all people who successfully get lean and stay lean have in common, it’s consistency. Without it, you never get any momentum going. It’s like taking two steps forward, only to take three steps back. Many people allow the busy Holidays to throw them off their regular eating schedule. They completely veer off their usual meal frequency, or they start eating foods they would normally never eat (because “it’s there”). Once you have a habit pattern going, it’s fairly easy to keep it going. But once you lose momentum, it’s very difficult to get it going again because you must overcome inertia all over again. (An object at rest tends to stay at rest!) On the major holidays, when there’s a big dinner scheduled, many people think that skipping their morning and afternoon meals to “save room” for the big one later is a good idea. It’s not. This is actually a good way to invite a binge that could set your back for days. Don’t lose your consistency or your momentum. Continue with your pattern of eating small, frequent meals all year round. All you have to do is count your holiday dinners as one of your regular meals and keep them small.
7. Control your portion sizes.
You can have your cake and eat it too – you just can’t eat the whole thing! One of the most important rules to remember this holiday season is the law of energy balance, which states: To lose body fat, you must consume fewer calories than you burn up each day. There are two corollaries to the law of energy balance: 1. A caloric surplus gets stored as fat – even healthy food.
2. Small amounts of anything – even junk food – will NOT get stored as fat if you stay in a calorie deficit. There’s no reason to deprive yourself of things you enjoy. Just make sure you don’t overindulge. As long as you enjoy your favorite foods in moderation, and you keep working out, it won’t end up around your waistline.
8. Don’t buy into the low standards and expectations of others
Keep your standards high, but don’t expect other people’s standards to be as high as yours. Remember that most people have already planned in advance to fail at fitness over the holidays. You’ve decided to stay strong (haven’t you?) Don’t let their negative influence drag you down. When you’ve reached your pre-ordained drink limit, say “When” and switch to water or a non alcoholic, non caloric beverage. When they offer you seconds on dessert, politely say, “No thank you, it was absolutely delicious, but I’m full, I can’t eat another bite.” And when the wee hours of the morning start to roll around, and your friends are egging you on to keep partying, politely tell them you need your sleep. Tomorrow is a work out day. If they’re really your friends, they’ll understand.
9. Make the best choices possible in every situation.
You know those tables you see at holiday parties that are covered with yards of chips, dips, pretzels, cookies, salami, candies, punch, liquor, and a seemingly endless assortment of other goodies? Well, did you also notice that there is usually a tray full of carrot sticks, cauliflower, celery and other healthy snacks too? No matter where you are, you always have choices. Sometimes you have to choose between bad and worse. Other times you can choose between good and better. But always make the best choice possible based on whatever your options are. If nothing else, you can choose to eat a small portion of something “bad” rather than a huge portion, thereby obeying the law of calorie balance. Chances are good that there’s probably something healthy on the menu at every holiday gathering. As you know, lean proteins and fibrous carbs are a great for getting lean, so fill up on the turkey breast, try to get a vegetable in there, and go easy on the desserts.
10. If you drink, enjoy alcohol in moderation
If you enjoy having a few drinks on special occasions, then go ahead and have a drink or two. But if you’re serious about your fitness goals, you must drink infrequently and in moderation. Alcohol puts fat oxidation on hold while providing a large amount of calories. When there’s alcohol in your bloodstream, you’re not in fat burning mode. I’ve never met anyone in my life that was truly serious about fitness or bodybuilding who was a heavy drinker. Alcohol and muscles just don’t mix. The impact goes beyond added body fat; your energy levels and workouts can be ruined for days after a night of heavy drinking. A glass of wine actually has some health benefits. But there’s NEVER any never reason or excuse for binge drinking or getting drunk. So go ahead and toast to the New Year, but know when to say when. In conclusion, there’s no reason to let your exercise and nutrition program spoil your holidays, but there’s also no reason to let your holidays spoil your exercise and nutrition program! Put these 10 holiday tips into practice and you can start losing fat today, not next year.
PS – Thanks for voting in the poll! If you haven’t yet already, cast your vote – the marines are winning! The marines are winning!
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