Author - Dr. Julia Gonen, ND
Most of you that know me from the gym are probably thinking that I’m going to say something like just don’t do it. It’s not worth it. Stick to your guns (literally the ones we are all growing - haha). Avoid the holiday indulgences etc. Okay, I just said it, but that’s not my message here. As we know there is a definite association between pleasure and behaviours that often don’t align with our health and well-being. It’s a cultural set-up that in which we are all complicit. We’ve built our own associations around food and drink over our lifetime and reinforced these behaviours in many facets of our lives.
There are generally 4 different ways of approaching food & diet: 1) be a puritan and avoid all indulgences; or 2) restrict certain foods from the diet; or 3) eat a bit of everything, but weigh & measure everything (for those ‘flexible’ dieters) or 3) throw caution to the wind and enjoy everything you want in a hedonistic fashion, or binge eat. Or you may be a combination of any on this spectrum. The question is, is your POV in line with your long-game? During the holidays we are often afraid of gaining unwanted fat and overindulging, but still want to enjoy the holiday. The stats show that people actually do gain weight this time of year, it’s on average only about one pound. But if things aren’t kept in check those pounds can add up over time. Here are 6 ideas to think about to help keep you on track this holiday season.
1) Keep the long game in mind. Like Jay Z said “I’m not concerned with noise because I’m playing the long game”. What is your personal health, fitness, body comp goal, and how badly do you want it? What are you willing to do or not to do to achieve this? At the gym we show up even when we know the WOD will beat us down. In fact, we have convinced ourselves (thanks to our fabulous coaches and community) that showing up on difficult days strengthens us even more. The same goes with any resolve. Changes in body composition is no different - show up and do what needs to be done. Every time you exercise a decision towards your goal 1) you get better at making that decision, and 2) you get closer to your goal. During a WOD we also don’t cheat. I mean, like what’s the point? Cheating doesn’t help us get stronger faster. The same goes for cheating on yourself when it comes to food & diet. Unhealthy food and drink is just noise. That noise is just what may be keeping you from your larger long-term goals. So it’s okay to say ‘no’ and be that guy or gal.
2) Indulge just a little. I just told you it’s okay to say ‘no’. But it’s also okay to say ‘yes’! Huh? This is where you can apply that 80/20 rule. If you keep on track 80% of the time you should still be okay. However, keep in mind that when you are saying ‘yes’, try to eat mindfully, savour and fully enjoy whatever food it is you are allowing into your body and tell yourself that everything you do is your decision including drinking the eggnog. Don’t frame occasional indulgences as a ‘treat’ or a reward because then you will think of these unhealthy foods as somehow special. They’re not special (…you are, awww). They’re just noise (remember tip #1). Rewarding ourselves with food is akin to punishment by exercise. It sets us up and reinforces bad habits that become harder to break as time goes by. Take personal responsibility and practice adulting, even just a bit. Try telling yourself that it is a decision and part of your overall plan rather than a ‘treat’ or a ‘cheat’, and don’t beat yourself up about indulging a bit, then move on.
3) Plan ahead. Winning the game doesn’t mean just showing up on game day. We need to plan ahead, be prepared and direct our intentions towards our goals. Whether you are travelling, going to holiday parties or your whole schedule is just thrown off, you need to have a game plan. Keep healthy protein-rich snacks in your bag or car so you don’t have to grab something quick. Some ideas are protein shake packets, protein bars, or beef jerky. Eat a small healthy meal including vegetables and protein prior to a party so you won’t be famished and eat too much at the event (if you don’t really know what’s being served). If it’s a holiday pot-luck, bring something that you know is in line with your goals because you don’t know what anyone else is bringing. Sweet potato mash with heavy cream, brown sugar and marshmallows just isn’t in your plan (well, maybe a small bite).
4) Mind your macros. If you are tracking your macronutrients (carbs, protein, fats) or not, be sure to keep your protein intake high (we don’t want to be losing any of our hard earned muscle mass). We all need to be mindful of our protein intake, and I can tell you from my experience most people just aren’t getting enough. What’s the right amount for you? It kind of depends, but a general guideline is roughly 1.5 - 2g+ per kg body weight. Why protein? Protein keeps us feeling full the longest out of all of the macros. Protein also helps to stabilize our glucose and insulin response. A diet higher in protein will also stimulate muscle synthesis passively without exercise (bonus). So if you are going to over eat, go for meat over the sweet.
5) Tend to your micros. Do you like to partake in festive libations (I’m talking alcohol) over the holidays? If you decide to drink alcohol, then keep the rest of your carb intake lower (especially fructose and sugary foods) around that time. Besides being hard on our liver, and a dense source of calories, alcohol depletes our body of various micronutrients. Even moderate drinking can have a negative effect on our nutrient status. The B vitamins are especially vulnerable to being destroyed by alcohol - B1, B2, B3, pantothenic acid, B6, folate and B12. And what do you know?! These are the same vitamins we need as cofactors in energy production (breaking down fat and carbs for energy). No wonder we feel pretty crappy after drinking. Minerals can also be affected as well (think loss of electrolytes if you don’t hold your alcohol very well!). Which foods are nutrient dense and chocked full of B-vitamins? Liver, lentil and leafy green vegetables. You may also consider a multi-B vitamin if your are indulging often.
6) Ho Ho Ho H2O - Drink plenty of water. With drinking alcohol, overeating, flights (if you are going away), stress and dryness due to indoor heating and colder weather we need to maintain proper hydration. Even a small drop by only 2% in our hydration status can lead to effects such as headaches, overeating, fatigue, bloating, irritability, low energy, dry mouth and affect performance. Water is the solvent of most biochemical reactions in our body including neurotransmitter energy formation. Drinking water also helps our skin look plump and fresh. Before going to a holiday party make sure you drink water. This can help us feel full sooner so we don’t overeat. Ensure you are also drinking plenty of water before and after the gym over the holidays and in the winter. Cramping during exercise may be due to lack of pre-exercise hydration rather than electrolyte status.
So make some goals, focus on where you are headed, say no, say yes, make a plan, eat protein, enjoy a variety of colourful vegetables, take supplements if necessary, and most of all enjoy yourself this holiday season! After all being joyful, grateful and less stressed out can also help with fat loss by decreasing stress hormones...!