A few indisputable facts about the holiday season:
1. It’s fun!
2. It’s stressful!
3. It’s a hard time to stay on a diet.
4. It’s a hard time to go out and exercise. (So dark … so cold …)
5. It’s an especially tricky time for balancing fun and self-care.
That’s why we asked some trainers to weigh in with how they stay fit while avoiding — or at least managing — the impulse to indulge during this, the most temptation-full time of the year. Here’s what they told us:
“The holidays are a time for celebration and joy. To that end, I’ve found that while some alcohol and treats are a part of that, an excess of such is not. I simply don’t feel good otherwise. Being fit is not just about looking or performing a certain way. It’s about being in tune with your body so that when it ‘talks’ to you, you understand what it needs. The truth is an excess of alcohol or sweets is a surefire way for my body to tell me that it’s miserable.
“The same goes for workouts. The holidays can be extra busy and extra stressful, no doubt. So workouts give me the opportunity to create balance. Perhaps they shorten a bit to accommodate the extra things on the to-do list, but I still make time for it. Because, again, otherwise my body doesn’t feel good.
“The other big motivator is that I don’t enjoy the feeling of needing to ‘get back into shape.’ Yes, there are cycles of training, but in general I don’t want to be so far removed from fitness that it’s not fun doing it, which can easily happen when you take an excess amount of time off coupled with unhealthy food choices. So, I keep this in mind, that I am avoiding that yuck feeling later, by staying consistent with training and nutrition during the holidays.”
— Sandra Gallagher-Mohler, CEO and run coach at iRunTons
“When it comes to the holidays and indulging, it’s really important to know your triggers and weaknesses. I’m not much of a sweets person so minimizing that isn’t hard. Where I waiver is with salty, savory and crunchy treats. So I won’t bring them into the house unless we are having company, then I need a strategy.
“If I know I’m going to a party that will have snacks and rich foods, I often eat a nutrient dense and fiber rich snack before I leave. Fruits and veggies or a shake with it all blended. I am sure to add an avocado to the shake because it gives me good fats. I will also eat my usual balanced breakfast and lunch. This strategy curbs the appetite but means that I can keep eating in moderation. (It works for the sweet tooth as well.)
“One of the biggest mistakes I see is that people don’t eat during the day so that the ‘calories in’ for the day doesn’t get too high. That strategy will give you a huge blood sugar spike and your body will, in fact, store more body fat because of it, which, I’m guessing, is not the desired outcome.
“An excellent strategy for not overdoing it with libations is to drink an 8–10-ounce glass of water after every 1–2 drinks. Throw a lime slice and a couple of cranberries in to make it look more festive. This means that, just by pure volume of liquid, we can’t drink as much alcohol, and it also helps avoid the brain fog and hangover the next day — because dehydration is the cause of those headaches.
“Set a limit of drinks that is manageable and stick to it. It’s known that drinking alcohol increases appetites and decreases judgment, so look for the high-nutrition snacks (veggie/fruit plate) rather than the fried food or fast-food choices.
“Time management can be tough during the holidays but finding fitness time is manageable. We need to streamline the workouts to include multi-joint and combination exercises to get efficient workouts in. A well planned circuit of 8–10 exercises can give great results even in a 20-minute workout. Include upper- and lower-body multi-joint exercises as well as core and some kind of aerobic intervals. If there is more time, do an extra set or lengthen the interval time from 20–30 seconds. Understand that the act of changing your center of gravity often (getting up and down from standing to sitting to standing and lying down etc.) burns more calories and is more efficient training. Between circuit days give have an active recovery day with a light run, bike or yoga class.”
— Rich Hesketh, athletic development coach at DECAMAN Athletics
“I look at the holidays like it’s a friendly challenge to be well-fed and satisfied on healthy foods before outings and parties. It’s much easier to say no when you don’t really have an appetite. Look at this end part of the year like a head start on the next year to come and start owning your life a little more so you don’t have to make a resolution since you’re already resolved on a healthier, more active life.”
— Marc Coronel, TriggerPoint and TRX master instructor and owner of Open Mind Fitness
“First of all, I don’t want to be hypocritical. I indulge. It’s the holidays, and as long as we don’t overdo it, a little bit of ‘going off track’ is a welcome break when visiting with family and friends. That being said, it’s important to be able to get back track right away.
“1. Track. Track. Track. I don’t care if you take in 6,000 calories at that holiday party, track it in MyFitnessPal. Allow yourself some slips, but do not stop recording — that can lead to a slippery slope. When writing down what we take in we gain a perspective of how ‘out of control’ we are getting.
“2. Create an exercise game plan. What can you do to stay active despite travels, celebrations, winter weather, etc.? At our fitness facility we have a fitness incentive called ‘Healthy Holidays,’ rewarding members with points for various workouts over the holiday season. The competition creates quite a motivation. Do what works best for you, whether it’s planning your workouts ahead of time in a calendar, finding new activities to try while traveling or taking up a new winter sport to keep moving.
“3. Don’t beat yourself up. Slip-ups happen, especially this time of year! Do your best to forgive yourself and continue on with your healthy lifestyle. Health and fitness is a journey, with ups and downs and bumps in the road.”
— Shana Verstegen, an Under Armour trainer and world champion log roller
“Once you put an absolute ‘no!’ on any food it has the power to become a piece of forbidden fruit, which magically tastes sweet, but also ultimately kills you … or your health goals. So rather than having a hard and fast ‘no,’ ask yourself the question, ‘Do I really want this [insert your favorite forbidden fruit item here], or do I only want it because I am denying myself in some way in my life and I just want to feel better right now?’
“If the answer is you want it, then one/some of it should be enough. But if you find that one cookie turns into 12, or one glass of wine turns into a multi-glass binge, then it’s time to ask yourself what else you’re missing that is creating this void. The answer might simply be that you need more sleep or more water. Or, it could be something more emotionally intimate, like you feel lonely or excluded. While sometimes it’s just a damn cookie, and you should eat it and enjoy every last crumb, sometimes it’s not. To feel your best, it’s worth taking the time to ask yourself some of those more revealing questions so that you can use the best solution to address your needs.”