One solution to holiday feasting is to simply take the Spartanesque route and consume oodles of sparkling water and gum while avoiding the caloric excess altogether.
To me, that doesn’t sound like much fun. And I certainly do my fair share of eating and drinking during the holiday season.
But at the same time, we could all use a little help ensuring that the body fat doesn’t get too high by the first week of January. After all, who wants to spend the entire first month of the year battling the bulge? So in today’s guest post by author Abby Maroko, you’re going to get seven mental and social hacks to staying slim this holiday season. Enjoy, and leave your comments, questions and thoughts below the post!
As athletes and exercisers, we are strongly connected to our bodies and physical pursuits. So of course, when the winter holidays roll around, gaining weight – especially in the form of fat, can pose a giant concern.
For others of you, you might be worried about gaining weight causing depression and/or guilt, which can drain your motivation and become all consuming, leading to skipped workouts.
I don’t want to let the fear of gaining weight eat away at you, or myself. There is too much fun to be had – and too much mingling and bonding to do, to be spending this precious time of cheer staring at your plate in indecision.
Thanksgiving is behind us, but we have a whole holiday season ahead. That is a lot of days and a lot of opportunities to eat, especially if you are hibernating inside and spending too much time in the kitchen. You are going to need a bulletproof plan to ensure that you maintain the physique you desire and the one that is conducive to your fitness goals and overall happiness over the rest of the Winter holiday season.
This is not a guide to dropping pounds. I do not encourage you to set that goal over the holidays. A more realistic goal is to maintain your body weight and physique.
In this article, I give you a look inside my arsenal of mental and social hacks for keeping your body tight, and, free from binge and overindulgence regret, keeping your happiness high this holiday season. They are an amalgamation I’ve strewn together from my expertise as a personal trainer, lifelong athlete, health coach, and student of psychology. If you’re an athlete, your athletic experiences will help you better assimilate these tips, because I use the terminology of sport and competition that only people with a seriously vested interest in their health and fitness will understand. Oh, and don’t worry, this list of tactics is a guilt-free spread, so dig in.
1. Go The Distance: From Your Kitchen.
What I mean: In the most respectful way, LEAVE YOUR KITCHEN when you are done eating (a later tip will help you decide when exactly you are done). As registered dietician Keri Gans advises in her weight-loss and weight-maintenance book, The Small Change Diet: 10 Steps to a Thinner, Healthier You, short-circuit nighttime eating by simply leaving the very environment which is taunting you, your kitchen. She jokes that nothing good happens in the kitchen after 10 pm. Definitely mostly true, unless you are naughty ;).
Your call to action: Step away from the leftover heaps of stuffing and pitchers of eggnog. If your friends and family are still in the kitchen, leave and take the conversation into another room with you. If it is the days after the big meal, don’t hang out in the kitchen where all the remnants are stored. When you leave behind the food, you also leave behind the desire to eat it, which can get mixed up with boredom or be unconsciously practiced out of poor habit or social mirroring, aka doing what those around you are doing, which, again, is something you don’t think much about (‘monkey see, monkey do’, especially when you are distracted by conversation.
2. Dissociate and distract yourself from food.
What I mean: This should be no problem for you. You are already well practiced with these strategies.
When physical discomfort rises during a workout, race, or event, you shift your focus to your mind with tricks like mantras. And, over a long training period/cycle, when you are wobbling from a long bike ride and your quads are tender to the touch, you utilize your mind by distracting yourself with activities like reading, again, to take your mind off of the pain.
You will make the same transition–from body to mind, just with food, to tackle your holiday race.
Indulging in cravings is a visceral, or gut (pun intended), action–meaning it is rooted in your body. Your blood boils and your eyes pop out when you see a gooey piece of cake on the counter.
Your call to action: Transfer the heat in your fingertips to your mind by engaging in an activity other than eating when you are finished eating. Call a friend. Read a book. Do you like to play an instrument? Do a spontaneous jam session. The holidays grant you the opportunity to do things your busy life doesn’t otherwise allow for. Take advantage of the free time and do something that doesn’t involve ingesting calories.
3. Work the preemptive cheat.
What I mean: Like it sounds, a ‘preemptive cheat’ is a planned indulgence. You eat something tasty when the craving hits. You eat a reasonable portion of the ‘cheat’ to prevent eating a gargantuan amount later. If you enjoy sweets, you would have a piece of chocolate before your sweet tooth totally rages. Why? The rubber band effect is at play. The harder and longer you restrict yourself, the bigger and stronger your desire pushes back. The result? You are way more likely to come crashing down from perfection into a full-fledged binge.
This tip stems from Jill Coleman, MS, owner of JillFit physiques, a health and wellness brand where she does nutrition, fat loss, and mindset coaching. A former physique competitor, she takes pride in her body and values staying lean and muscular. She is able to do this while having nibbles and tastes of semi-unhealthy or taboo foods on a regular basis, and it has worked to avert sabotage of fat loss for many of her clients. The preemptive cheat will also protect your mood, because nobody feels good after a giant binge session.
Your call to action: At your big holiday meals (Christmas, Channukah, Kwanza, whatever else you may celebrate) this year, seize the moment and eat one food or taste one dish that looks good to you when it is served. Eat it when your taste buds are yanking at your tongue for it.
This one might be the hardest one to wrap your mind around and muster up the courage to employ, because I am asking you to indulge in something you ban every other day of the year. Something you consider ‘a treat’. You don’t want to feel like you are cheating, either.
Here is my advice to you on this: reframe this as a splurge instead of a cheat. You are breaking zero rules except the ones you place on yourself. And if you are too fixated on the cheat thing, make it your guiding goal to just be nice to yourself. You put enough wear and tear on your bodies and minds every day of the year in training, and opening up this little window to splurge will reinvigorate you by giving you a break from the pressure and grind.
Strive for imperfection. Veer outside of your diet lane.
Do exactly the opposite of what you do in training, or what you are forced to do on your recovery days, and loosen the gears of your eating mindset. Be less restrictive now so you don’t come crashing down later.
Disclaimer: If you are an all-or-nothing thinker, portion sizing probably is not your thing, and this strategy will be unappealing to you. No problem. Leave it behind, and focus on strategies 1 and 2. There is plenty of ammo there to shoot down the threat of gaining weight. If you are one to attack leftovers like a behemoth, the preemptive cheat is a match for you.
4. Play the “What Am I Thankful For?” Game
What I mean: Thanksgiving has obviously passed, but this strategy is so powerful that we are going to carry it over from Turkey Day to the rest of the holiday season. With the additional opportunities to gather with our loved ones during winter vacations comes additional time to reflect on what we are appreciative for. Activating that feeling of being blessed will trigger the release of gratitude—or just a bunch of feel-good hormones—which will flow through your body. And–the number one result, you will have stopped thinking about food.
Your Call to Action: Take a moment or a minute to stand (please, less sitting), think, and harness what it is you are appreciative of. If family and friends surround you, just open your eyes. That will save you the effort of thinking. Also, take advantage of being enveloped by loving relationships and be engaged in them. I mean, get involved in conversations. Look at your buddies and smile at them. Laugh with them. These experiences will help prevent unwanted eating in two ways. A) By diverting your attention. They will pull your attention to other people and push your attention away from food, and B) By feeding your soul, which might be the real source of your hunger. Yes, as airy-fairy as it sounds, you might just need to satisfy emotional or social cravings, which can often get lost in translation in the body-mind conversation, making us think we need to eat more.
5. Pinpoint your why.
What I mean: If you have ever read the classic book, Man’s Search for Meaning, by neurologist and psychiatrist Victor Frankl, you know the importance of having a reason, a why, to keep working towards your goals. In the book, Frankl details his experiences as a concentration camp inmate during World War II, really honing in on what he observed to be the sources of fuel for those who survived (and yes, he was one of those survivors). As the title suggests, it was the incessant search for meaning that sustained lives. And, he breaks down meaning into three categories: purposeful work, love, and courage in the face of difficulty. For you readers, purposeful work is applicable. Your purpose, or aim, is twofold: to stay trim and to stay in shape; and your work will take place in two domains: food and exercise. To do purposeful work, you will need to take potent action and make smart decisions about how you eat and move. This intention-focused work will keep you on track with your fitness and physique. You will not only survive the holiday season, but you will come out of it in step with your priority goals.
Your call to action: You already know your goals of staying trim and staying in shape. Now take it one step deeper. Ask yourself this: what is the why behind my desire or need to look good and perform well. Write your answers down on a sheet of paper and keep it at your bedside. I advise you to take a gander at it when you wake up and before you go to sleep, at the very least; and then use it additional times on an as-needed basis to avert any crises when they may arise (i.e. considering skipping a workout, taking your frustration out on a piece of cake instead of the pavement or a punching bag). For example, when you are ready to walk into the kitchen, walk to your room instead and read your special note. Feeding that why into your mind in the short window of time that could make or break you will save you from any unwanted eating or exercising blunders, which could set you back and weigh you down. Amazing how a few words can reel you back into the place you need to be.
6. Leave no room for mistakes.
What I mean: While completing my studies to become a Health Coach at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (an online program), I learned a great way to describe something I had been practicing for years. It is a technique called “crowding out.” To do it, you eat all of the good stuff first. There is no need to explore the science behind this trick. It is pretty simple. When your stomach is filled, and your cells are nourished, by nutrient-dense foods, and—tah-dah!—you don’t have the room or the need, and thus, lingering hunger, to eat poorer foods. You omit the futile feeding and you make your body smile by giving it, again, the good stuff.
Your call to action: You are what you eat, right? So, stay away from the nutrient-poor foods and live richly, by eating nutrient-rich foods. The key is to start with the good stuff. This translates to starting your day with the healthiest foods and starting each meal with the healthiest foods.
Wondering how to choose what is healthiest? Use your knowledge, taste buds, and gut compass (yes, what agrees with your gastrointestinal tract, as well as your intuition), to figure out what the “good stuff” entails. If you are not too knowledgeable about good vs. bad foods, revert to these two pieces of advice. From Skittles: “taste the rainbow.” Only execute it in the exact opposite way this candy brand had imagined. Don’t eat candy. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables that cover the whole spectrum of color. Red bell peppers. Orange sweet potatoes. Yellow squash. Leafy green kale, swiss chard, spinach (salivating as I type). There actually are no truly blue foods (they are a shade of purple), but blue berries (making it two separate words for the sake of not being redundant). Indigo blackberries. And purple cabbage. There are so many hues of plants in between, too.
The second sage advice to sprinkle into your dishes comes from journalist and activist Michael Pollan, author of several best-selling books, such as The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food Rules: “Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.” And, if I can insert one more descriptor between the words ‘eat’ and ‘food,’ it is ‘whole.’ Basically, anything that came from the Earth or was raised naturally and humanely (for more information on mastering this selection process when you hit the grocery store, refer to Ben’s articles).
The most important thing is to apply these recommendations at the start of your day and start of your meals. Eating colorfully and eating lots of plants will take care of many of your nutrient needs and fill you up, leaving less room for scarfing down processed, sugar-laden junk food.
7. Scatter some beta-carotene into your daytime eating.
What I mean: Beta-carotene is also known as “Pro-Vitamin A” because it is assimilated into the body as either the precursor to Vitamin A, which or to function as an antioxidant. It shines through in foods as vibrant colors like green and orange. Today, I am encouraging you to be bright like the sun and go with orange, because these choices also contain natural sugar. Think carrots and sweet potatoes. By sprinkling these into your meals and/or snacks during the day, you will fend off the all-too-common and all-too-undesirable late night sugar feeds. You know, when you have just finished dinner and, as you are putting away any (potential) leftovers, you sneak into the pantry for a handful of chocolate chips or a pinch of granola—the things you were trying to avoid all day long! Avert the crisis, again, by getting your sugars earlier in the day, from natural sources, and you will end up satisfied at the end of the day. The return? Less time spent in the shadows of the dark of your kitchen, fewer calories consumed impulsively, glowing skin, and razor-sharp vision.
Your call to action: Add sweet potatoes or carrots to your meals and snacks during the day. For example, create a sweet potato hash for breakfast, mixing eggs, chopped up sweet potatoes, and any other veggies and seasonings you care for. Sticking to a more low-carb diet or fasting in the morning? Chomp on some carrots at lunch or for a snack. Do this and when you are winding down for the night, your appetite, and insulin levels, won’t spike up before you go to sleep.
Staying slim and fit doesn’t have to be so hard. It is the season of giving, so give yourself the gift of resting your mind and de-stressing. Strap yourself with these seven strong tips and you will have enough ammo to blast any chance of overeating or under-exercising you for the entire holiday season. Remember, athletes, this is a season we are tackling, so take it one day at a time. Each day you eat well and exercise well, you will have created a wave of momentum to carry into performing well the next day. I wish you all your best efforts. Luck will not be needed. Happy Holidays.
Abby Maroko is an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer. She is also a Health Coach certified by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She is a two-time Boston Marathon qualifier and played competitive basketball for 12 years. Abby has a Bachelors degree in Psychology from the University of Michigan, where she also studied Movement Science. To contact her with comments or inquiries, send an email to [email protected] And to stay up on her latest articles on fitness, food, and psychology, as well as her adventures in fitness, visit her blog and follow her on Instagram @getamptnow.