It’s “that time of year” again. The one where your family shows love by peer pressuring you into bad food choices, airport and roadside eateries test the fortitude of your gut, and new years resolutions look like the light at the end of the tunnel.
With the holiday season that runs from the last week of November through to January, there is a lot of room for you to either make progress or start next year off way behind.
This video is here to help you navigate your nutrition during the holiday season.
In the US, Thanksgiving marks the point where giving in to optimal foraging theory and binging on food and alcohol during an endless barrage of dinner parties with friends, office parties, and family gatherings begins.
But let me tell you a little secret, you don’t have to choose between being “that guy” or “that girl” at the dinner table and staying healthy. It’s a false dichotomy. You can have your stuffing, and eat it, too.
Three Struggles of Maintaining Nutrition During the Holidays
There are 3 main areas where I find clients struggle during the holidays.
First, is the challenge of eating out, going to holiday parties, family dinners, and more. How do you strike a balance between enjoying yourself while reaching your fitness goals?
Second is managing the travel days where you’re in the airport, on a road trip, etc.
And third is how to adapt your nutrition, exercise, and other healthy routines to fit a less consistent schedule.
So I will address each situation, and my top tips for overcoming them.
Regarding the challenge of eating out, parties, and family dinners- let’s start with the big picture in mind. From there, I’ll narrow down to some situations clients have foundd themselves in, and the solutions we’ve come up with.
From a big picture perspective, you can expect that you will be invited to numerous events you either want to attend, or feel an obligation to attend between now and January 1st. You have about 35 days between Thanksgiving and New Years Day.
I think it goes without saying that being extreme about your diet over the next 35 days is going to be very stressful. Sure, bringing a food scale everywhere and staying on point with your macros, sticking to your training plan without any misses, and sleeping a full 8 hours per night will keep you on track towards your goals. But, if we zoom out, the stress of trying to manage and control everything is probably going to have worse health consequences than a few ‘off-plan’ choices.
Choose FIVE (5)!
So, I think it is important to build some slack into the system over the next 35 days. If you are OK with giving yourself one event per week where you can relax and enjoy good company, that gives you 5 events between Thanksgiving and New Years to relax and just enjoy being present with your people, and your food.
And I KNOW that is scary for some of you. Especially if you believe you are “all or nothing” and will turn into a monster without extreme oversight and restrictive rules. So I will give you some areas where you can focus to avoid turning into a hybrid of the Hulk and the Hamburglar.
Before we get there, I recommend you look at a calendar and determine which social events you want to use your FIVE get-out-of-tracking free cards.
My recommendation is to identify the dinners, parties, and family gatherings that you are really looking forward to.
Love your office fam? Put your office holiday party on the calendar as one of your 5 relaxed social settings.
Salivating just thinking about your mom’s famous stuffing? Put your family’s thanksgiving dinner on the calendar as another one of your 5.
Got big plans for New Years with your friends, and know there will be champagne showers involved? Put that on the calendar as one of your 5.
You might find that after putting a few on your calendar that you have 1-2 ‘wildcards’ that you can put into play for last minute plans.
You might be wondering if this means you have to be a hermit and avoid any social situations that aren’t these five fun events. But that is NOT what I am advocating.
Maintain Your Diet Through the Holidays – Avoid the Slippery Slope
It just means that you have 5 events to relax your standards, enjoy your company, and go with the flow. At the rest of the events you find yourself attending, enjoy the company, but keep things under control. Stick to your good eating habits with some pre-planning and by focusing on eating the right portions of food for your goals. Don’t deviate from what a normal meal looks like just because you’re out.
For your fun 5 events, you have license to let your hair down. But keep in mind that a blowout day can set back a week’s worth of progress.
Your body does not operate in binaries. You don’t have ‘bad days’ and ‘good days’ that cancel each other out. A bad day of eating can turn into a terrible day of eating, which can turn into a disastrous day of eating. And one disastrous day of eating cannot simply be undone by a day or two of good eating.
If you crush an extra 4000 calories of food and drink in one night, which is surprisingly easy to do, it will take you more than a week to counteract that decision. And if you’re letting your hair down every week. Well…you’re going to be taking quite a few steps backwards this holiday season.
That is why during your fun five events, you absolutely must avoid the slippery slope of thinking “well, I already made one bad decision, what’s one more?”
And that brings us down to some situational strategies you can use to keep things in control. Especially when you are at a social event or restaurant outside of your fun five events.
Most Common Trap: The Slippery Slope.
Let me paint the picture. You’ve had an absolutely lovely dinner with great company. You ate until you were content, and even enjoyed the stuffing and potatoes au gratin which you normally would pass up. You can’t imagine eating another bite of food. And then desserts come out. That pumpkin pie just looks sooo good. It brings up a flood of childhood memories and you realize you’re salivating. So, you decide ‘what the heck?’ and cut off ONE LITTLE SLICE of paleo pumpkin pie. The first bite hits your lips and all of a sudden the sugar it contains finds a way to convince your brain that you DO in fact have WAY more room in your stomach than you thought.
And have you ever noticed that nobody ever bakes too FEW desserts for a party. Desserts always manage to sit there, staring into your soul, and tempting you with those sweet little puppy dog eyes to just east one more while you’re trying to relax and enjoy some post-meal conversation.
“Eat me Mr. Matt! I only come around once a year. Aren’t you afraid you’ll miss out? Get your fill while I’m here! And don’t go wasting food now. That’s the number 3 contributor to global warming you know”
No Mr. pumpkin pie slice, why. Why are you tempting me so!?!?
I’ve found myself going back and just cutting off one more little sliver of pie. And before I can sit back down I’ve faced it and still feel unsatisfied. 10 little slivers later I’ve crushed two more slices of pumpkin pie. Oops.
So, how do you deal with situations like this?
Tips for Dieting During The Holidays
I’ve found a few options that work for me, and a few others that clients have had success with.
The first option might sound weird, and that’s by design.
After eating one dessert, if there is still lean protein or vegetables available, go eat some of them SLOWLY.
It might sound weird because who eats meat and veggies AFTER dessert? And that’s exactly the point of this exercise.
The protein, especially if it’s lean like turkey breast, and the bulk of the vegetables should quickly remind you whether your pie craving is coming from a place of hunger or a place of being a sugar crazed primate who hallucinates that desserts are talking to him.
The second strategy that can help if there ISN’T any protein or veggies available after the desserts have been served is to get the remaining desserts OUT of your visual field.
I dealt with some binge eating issues as a young man and nothing was more stressful to me than leftover food sitting out on the table right under my nose while I’m trying to have a conversation after the meal.
It’s like there is a white gorilla with purple spots sitting on the table and I’m somehow supposed to ignore it. I know from years of experience working with clients that this is a common occurrence.
More Solutions to Staying On Track During the Holidays
If you’re at a restaurant you can ask to have the leftovers taken away or boxed up for someone who is not you. It’s the season of giving and there are plenty of cold, hungry people who will gladly accept what you don’t need to be eating.
If you’re at a friend or family’s house you can offer to help ‘put the leftovers away’ and get the tempting desserts out of sight so you can enjoy some conversation without pumpkin pie eyes staring into your soul, begging you to devour them. Or you can just relocate your conversation to another room away from the kitchen and dining area.
I’ve called this process “putting the meal to sleep” after I started a practice of using my napkin to “tuck in” my leftover food at a restaurant in order to remove it from my visual awareness. It’s a surprisingly effective ritual.
Surviving Family Dinners
Another situation you might find yourself in is traveling to share a holiday with family whose definition of a serving of vegetables is french fries with ketchup.
I think that offering to cook and bring a dish is always welcome as long as you aren’t bringing grilled chicken breast and broccoli!
For the most part, I’ve found that people are not shy when it comes to cooking enough meat for holiday dinners. You should be covered on the protein front, unless you’re plant-based, in which case your family is either used to accommodating your needs or at least used to you prepping for yourself.
Where you’re likely to get screwed is with a big portion of oil and butter drenched processed carbs and nowhere near enough veggies worth eating. So instead of settling for a salad that consists of iceberg lettuce, shredded carrots with a slice of cucumber and dollop of ranch dressing, why not offer cook up the most delicious vegetable dish your family has ever set eyes upon? Bacon brussel sporuts anyone? Or how about brussel sprouts with peanut sauce? Maybe if you’re not culinarily gifted, assemble a salad that ACTUALLY tastes good and has good ingredients? I’m not sure if culinarily is actually a word, but I think you get what I mean.
Maintaining Nutrition While Traveling for the Holidays
That covers some of the ways you can strike a balance of progress towards your goals and enjoying the end of year festivities. So now let’s chat about how to manage actually GETTING to your destinations. If you are traveling by air or taking a long road-trip- this can pose some trying situations.
If you are traveling by air, expect Murphy’s law to be in full effect.
Plan for a cancelled or massively delayed flight. You should pack two prepped meals and snacks to bring with you, ideally. Bring one hot meal, and one salad.
I know that adding meal prep to packing isn’t always ideal. So you can save some stres by heading to your local healthy grocery market and fillling up at their hot bar and salad bar if you don’t have time to cook. For those of us in Australia, hot bars and salad bars aren’t common, but you can usually grab a pre made salad kit and pre-made meal container at Coles or Woolies, or Aldi.
While you’re there, pick up protein bars, jerky or biltong, and some fruit so you have snacks with you.
Some of my personal favorite packaged travel snacks are baby food, Epic Bars, RX Bars, and Crunchy chickpeas. If you pack jerky, remember your dental floss!
The same applies to traveling by car, although your options for decent food on the road might be more abundant because you can stop at grocery stores or build-your-own meal restaurants like Chipotle along the way.
And the last tough situation I want to talk about is your movement and other healthy practices.
Whatever you do, don’t put your gym membership on hold.
You want it to be easy to get in to the gym and train when you have the time.
Even if you can only make it once per week and it doesn’t make financial sense to have an unlimited membership- the fact that you’re paying for the membership, and going to the gym remains convenient means you’re more likely to make it in vs. giving up training altogether.
Just don’t stop moving.
You should scope out the gym situation wherever you’re traveling, or bring a kettlebell with you if that’s feasible.
If you can’t get to a gym to get a full workout in, there’s no reason you can’t do some bodyweight work, take a walk, or finally get into the stretching routine you’ve been fantasizing about!
And if you’re feeling stressed out by the holiday season, there is no better time to start or maintain your mindfulness and relaxation practices.
Taking walks in the morning or after meals is a great space to clear your head. Maybe you have time off work, and can finally find space to set your meditation timer app for 10 minutes and dive into some mindfulness. Or get on Youtube and learn some deep breathing techniques. Perhaps you have some days off work while your kids are still in school, and you can get a nice, hot epsom salt bath in.
See if you can carve out 1 hour each week for some relaxing “me” time. And then you’ll have momentum to carry those habits into next year.
And before we conclude today’s episode, remember to respect your own personal power and be confident in your choices. If you seem unsure about what you’re doing and why, your friends and family will sense the weakness and turn the peer pressure up to 11.
We humans are surprisingly like crabs in a bucket. When one looks like its going to escape the unhealthy boiling water, the others want to pull it back in. And the peer pressure is going to challenge your inner work, but you should welcome the challenge.
How are you going to respond to the tests that the end of the year will throw at you?
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