Next week is one of the most widely celebrated holidays in the country: Thanksgiving. I'm sure you didn't already know that. But the question for those of us who are fitness-focused and health conscious can quickly become how to enjoy the holiday season. For 11 months of the year, we work on eating healthy foods, getting our workouts in, and generally improving our health. Then for approximately 6 weeks at the end of the year, the entire focus becomes how to enjoy the holiday season. With all its cakes and cookies, alcohol and large meals, the holidays can be a major stress point.
Good news: they don't have to be.
The holiday season's main goal is ENJOYMENT with your friends and family. For almost everyone, that aspect of enjoyment includes food. Maybe it is your grandma's famous apple pie. Or your family's favorite Christmas cookies. Whatever the food that you enjoy during the holiday season is, it is a piece of enjoying the holiday season. For many others, alcohol also plays a role. Toasting to a great year with a glass of wine, mixed drink, or a beer is very common during the holidays.
So, the question once again is how to enjoy the holiday season while not letting it stress you out about the effects on your health and fitness. However, the FOCUS of this season is on enjoying the holidays. Unless you are preparing for a big competition which falls right after the holidays (not many do, even Wodapalooza gives you a few weeks to prepare) the most likely priority for the next six weeks is enjoyment. Taking the food and drink you love out of your holiday experience can negatively impact this priority.
For the normal person, you can expect to have 5-7 large, celebratory meals during the holidays. Now, if you are hitting up a holiday party every other day throughout the end of November and December, you will most likely experience weight gain. However, for most of us, we are having one or two Thanksgiving celebrations, two to three Christmas celebrations, and one New Years celebration. That equals at most six big celebratory meals. Let's throw one more in there for safety to hit our seven number.
Now, you're maybe thinking, "Yes that is seven times where if I go completely off the rails I'm going to get fat!" But slow down. Here's how you make sure that doesn't happen: focus on keeping your other meals healthy.
What does this mean? Half of your plate is vegetables. One quarter of your plate is lean protein. The rest is complex carbohydrates like brown rice, sweet or white potatoes, or whole grain bread/pasta. Then include one serving of healthy fat like avocados, olive oil, and nuts. Boom. Healthy meal which keeps your weight in line through the season of indulgence while allowing you to really enjoy those holiday celebrations.
Here's the last part on the meals themselves. You should focus on fully enjoying those meals. Blow them out. Don't concern yourself with portion control, or only having one spoonful of mashed potatoes and gravy. Have it all. At the end of the day, how much can you really comfortably eat? According to this study, a normal holiday meal has 3,000 calories. You'd have to eat that on TOP OF YOUR NORMAL DIET to gain a pound of fat from your meal. Which means if you're eating 2,500 calories on a normal day with your breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner, you'd have to eat all of that PLUS your holiday meal to add a pound of fat. That isn't going to happen. Relax. Enjoy the food and the connection it brings.
Your body will do what you tell it to do. It is exceptionally adaptable, which is one of the best things about your body. If you eat and don't move, it will hold onto fat, because you're telling it to do so. However, if on the flip side, you tell your body to use these extra calories to build muscle it will do that instead.
Most people treat the approximately six week holiday period as a chance to kick their feet up, miss the gym, and live the easy life. There's nothing "wrong" with that, per se, but how great does it sound to start January already a leg up, rather than trying to catch up to some lofty New Year's resolution? What if you were already on the way there, and could use that extra motivation to truly get you over the hump? Sounds kind of great, to me.
The best part is, this takes no extra work from you. All you need to do is stick to your normal routine. You workout four times per week - great stick to that. Hit it HARD. Really push yourself in the gym, and see if you can use some of those extra calories to add muscle and fuel performance. This is the ultimate version of having your cake and eating it too.
There's a chance you'll still put on a little bit of weight during the holiday season. You're most likely in a caloric surplus, after all. But, most of this will be water weight. Carbs love to hold onto water, so increasing your carbohydrate intake will increase the amount of water you retain, which will make it appear like you've gained weight. You haven't. Go back to normal eating and that water weight is gone as fast as it came.
Also, remember, if you put on a couple of pounds through the holiday season, who really cares? If your main goal is on how to enjoy the holiday season, a couple of pounds on the side shouldn't worry you. Enjoy. Your. Holidays. They only come once per year, and they're a chance to make great memories with all your loved ones. Take advantage of that time, and don't stress about a few cookies.