Fast-forward a few weeks — it’s January 1, and you’re lying on the couch, surrounded by empty wine bottles and cookie tins, feeling bloated, defeated and angry with yourself for completely ditching your health and fitness priorities for a holiday-induced bender that destroyed all the hard work you did in the gym and in the kitchen the last few months.
Oh yes, your day of reckoning is fast approaching. The moment when you’ll have to pay for all those heavy meals, late nights and Netflix binges is just a few short weeks away.
“I want my clients to enjoy the holidays, to spend quality time with their families, to enjoy some delicious foods, and to get a break from their normal grind,” says Jonathan Jordan, a NASM-certified personal trainer and nutrition coach in San Francisco. “However, in my experience, once Santa’s sleigh takes off, we’re left feeling gross and frustrated and wondering why we went all Tasmanian devil at the dessert buffet and all Keith Richards at the open bar.”
Instead of engaging in the same pattern of self-destructive behavior that tends to happen when you relax the reins a bit, why not do seven specific things differently this year? If you go into this holiday season with a resolution for moderation, some thoughtful planning and realistic expectations, you’ll be able to enjoy yourself without dreading the aftermath.
Time Your Workouts Around Your Heaviest Meals
“Our bodies are better at burning carbs and sugars (rather than storing them as body fat) after an intense workout,” Jordan says. So try to time your heaviest meals in the one- to two-hour window after getting some solid exercise.
We often confuse thirst for hunger and go for the hors-d’oeuvre platter when what we really need is a tall drink of water. “If you’re still hungry after hydrating, then go for the healthiest snack available — fruit, veggies or protein,” Jordan says. “Try to avoid black-hole treats that pile on the calories and leave you with no self-control — for me, that’s cheese and crackers or nuts. If you are drinking, space out your adult beverages and sandwich them with a glass of water.”
Build a Balanced Plate, and Eat It Slowly and Mindfully
Let’s face it: Most of us only need one plate of food. Whether a family member is pushing seconds or it’s just too tasty to stop eating, going back for more is almost always unnecessary. “Get yourself one plate and make sure 50 percent of it is filled with veggies and fruit, and then add a big serving of protein and a moderate amount of starches,” Jordan says. “Enjoy the food. Taste it. Chew it. Experience it. Put down your cellphone, turn off the TV, and practice being present and enjoying the moment. Mindful eating may sound silly, but it works.”
If you want to avoid overeating, don’t show up to the party too hungry. Make sure you have a balanced meal before attending an event and stay hydrated throughout.
Write It Down
There’s something magical about writing a plan down versus just saying it aloud or keeping it in your head. “My clients who write down their game plans for enjoying the holidays while staying true to their fitness intentions almost always enjoy themselves without going nuts,” Jordan says. “Bullet points are fine. A sticky note is fine. Just be sure to address your intentions around exercise, food, alcohol and rest.”
Sleep and Relax
The holidays are a great time to get quality rest to recover from the stress of the typical work grind. “When we are chronically sleep deprived, our hormones that manage satiation — like ghrelin and leptin — go bonkers and make us feel crazy hungry,” Jordan explains. “Sleep deficiency drains the brain of glucose and increases our desire for sweet, salty and ‘comfort’ foods. On the flip side, when we’re well-rested, we are more likely to naturally reach for healthier food and are better able to tune in to our body’s cues.”
Get the Family Involved
Your pre-meal workout doesn’t have to be a solo session in the gym. Gather up your friends and family and get them all off the couch by taking a walk together, playing touch football or going ice skating.