The holiday season is officially upon us! I would know—I went to Target the other day.
Holidays are a joyous time full of friends, family, traditions, and celebrations. And while these celebrations and traditions are vast and varied, there is usually one through-line in most of them: food. Excessive, indulgent, delicious food.
For those actively working toward a fat loss goal, the holiday season can present some challenges. The office parties and the Friendsgivings and the family gatherings can quickly turn into a months-long challenge of your willpower.
How do we navigate this constant barrage of temptation? Consider these Dos and Don’ts...
Don’t... Stress Yourself Out!
While the rest of these are in no particular order, I made sure to put this one first because I feel it is the most important.
It’s the holiday season, and there will likely be some deviation as far as regular exercise and nutrition go. And you know what? That’s fine! The last thing you want to do is stress yourself out about it.
Stress is bad. We know this. Chronically elevated stress hormones wreak havoc on your health, weaken your immune system, impede any other efforts you may be making in the gym or in the kitchen, and just generally make you feel like garbage. There’s an old saying (first introduced to me by Chris Kresser) that “It’s better to eat the wrong thing with the right attitude than the right thing with the wrong attitude.”
The holiday season, as wonderful as it can be, is stressful enough. Don’t add to it.
Do… Keep Up With Your Routines
Try your best to keep everything about your routine—your sleep, how you manage stress, your workouts, and your nutrition—exactly the same as always, and just know that some less-than-ideal things are going to sneak in.
If you’re keeping up with your new habits, then anything that doesn’t fit will simply be confetti through a fan. No big deal.
Don’t... Mindlessly Eat
Whether it’s from proximity (having a conversation while your hand is right next to the snickerdoodles) or boredom (being at a gathering with a table of food before anything starts to happen), mindless eating can be a good way to feel really lousy in fairly short order (and for no good reason).
Whenever you can manage it, don’t hang out around the food. Eating something, especially if it’s junk, should be a choice, not an unconscious act.
Do… Consciously Choose Every Bite of Food
Make sure that every time you put something in your mouth, it’s because you’ve consciously decided to do so. Decide to go over to the table, decide what to eat, and then enjoy it. I know I’m not the only one who’s gotten down a bunch of desserts without even really noticing (and then felt like crap). Make it count.
Don’t… Feel Compelled to Eat Anything You Don’t Want To
Most people put a lot of heart and soul into their cooking, especially when it’s for other people. So it’s natural to feel like you have to try everything that everyone makes. But here’s the thing: you don’t.
I’m offered food I don’t want to eat all the time, and trust me - refusing becomes easier and easier.
Do… Simply Smile and Say “No, Thank You.”
It really doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. If someone asks why, it’s usually best to answer with an inarguable response like “I feel better when I don’t eat (grains, sugar, chocolate, mousse, whatever…).” Or you can come up with all manner of excuses, true or not (that decision’s on you, my friend), to simply skirt the issue.
Either way, do NOT feel the need to start explaining your new way of eating (we’ll call this a sub-don’t). Whether you feel the need to justify your choices or try to convert/convince those around you, trust me - this will get you nowhere but stressed out and frustrated, especially in a public setting. Just...just don’t do it. For your own sake.
Don’t... Use This Time of Year as an Excuse to Go Crazy
Treat treats like treats and there really isn’t anything wrong with them. After all, we’re in this for the long-haul, right? We’re not elite athletes: we’re the decidedly non-hardcore, making changes and choices today so we can attack life’s challenges head on and continue to do so until we’re in our 90s. Most of us aren’t trying to step on stage in a bikini or beat any world records.
That being said, though, do not use the entire holiday season as an excuse to abandon everything you’ve been working for. Treat yourself to a piece of cake (or two), but don’t get caught up in a cycle of “I’ll start again on Monday” or “After next week.” Think of these occasional treats and deviations as part of what you’re doing, not a break from it. Taking a break requires starting again. Having a treat as part of your plan, though? Well that’s easy - you’re still on track!
And with that in mind, be conscious of not letting special events spread out too much. Thanksgiving is a day (ideally, a meal), not a week. The office party is an evening, not a weekend.*
*If any of you work in places that have weekend-long office parties for the holidays, let me know. I’ll send you my resume.
Do... Practice a New Form of Portion Control
There will be a lot of junk food at your holiday gatherings. It’s pretty much guaranteed. But there will likely also be some things that you would eat during a normal day that would fit into your new eating routine.
Find these things and fill up on them first. We’ll call it Portion Manipulation rather than Control; the goal being not to limit how much you eat, but rather to try and manipulate the ratio of nutrition to calories in your favor. [I don’t like to talk specific numbers with calories, but I’m sure it won’t surprise you that, calorie for calorie, a steak is more nutritious than a pumpkin pie.]
If you know there probably won’t be any nutritious foods where you’re going, there’s nothing wrong with eating something before it all even starts. Swing by Chipotle, grab a steak salad with guac, fajita veggies, and cheese (he says, imposing his Chipotle values on you). No one’s going to notice that you only took two hot wings when the hungry you would have taken six.
Around this time of year, your social media feeds are going to be inundated with ways to “Hack” your Thanksgiving or trick your metabolism or make a “guilt-free” sweet potato pie. All out of fear of some stalled fat loss or even that you might “lose your gainz, bro.”
Don’t worry about all that. The only real concern should be that you don’t abandon your new habits and routines. This is about mindset more so than life hacks and healthy swaps. Keep your head in the game and your focus on your goals, and no holiday party can throw you off course.