Although some people equate the holidays to a stressful time they would much rather avoid, many others look forward to the holiday season. The weeks between Thanksgiving Day and the first week of the New Year are filled with dinner parties, get-togethers, office parties, church events, and long hours on planes, trains, or in automobiles! This is the one time of year where people can realistically schedule extended time to visit with their family, friends, and loved ones to celebrate … adding even more stress to an already hectic schedule!
For most people, fitness is not a priority when compared to responsibilities like paying the bills, going to work or school, taking care of the family, or just having fun. It’s hard finding time to fit in regular workouts when there just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day to get everything else done. The holiday season makes it even more challenging!
Fortunately, IT IS POSSIBLE! Similar to planning fitness into your weekly routine, careful thought, scheduling, and conscious effort can help you stay on track! Below are holiday fitness survival tips to help you get through the holiday season (regardless of the events that get added to your social calendar).
- Schedule your workouts in advance
- Fit exercise into your travel schedule
- Find ways to manage your holiday stress
- Eat small meals throughout the day (prior to the party or event)
- Proceed with caution at the appetizer table
- Don’t finish everything on your plate
- At the dinner table … SLOW DOWN!
- Choose low-calorie beverages, including alcohol
- Move around the room (or get up and dance!)
- Monitor your training and nutrition
Schedule your workouts in advance
- Once you establish your complete holiday schedule, be sure to include your weekly workouts.
- If you are unable to get to the gym for your workout, have a “Plan B” (i.e. 15 minute exercise break at work – brisk walk, going up and down the stairs, push-ups and sit-ups)
- To avoid the “holiday guilt”, try to schedule a workout in before your holiday gathering
Fit exercise into your travel schedule
Many people go to a fitness club or workout facility to get their regular exercise. If you plan on traveling during the holiday season, plan for alternate ways to workout. This includes:
- Bring your workout clothes and shoes on the road
- Choose hotels that have fitness rooms or are close to fitness clubs (i.e. complimentary free passes)
- Bring “travel-friendly” fitness accessories (i.e. jump rope, exercise resistance bands, TRX suspension trainer), especially if you don’t have access to a gym or fitness center
Find ways to manage your holiday stress
- A quick workout
- 5 to 10 minutes of meditation
- Schedule a 30 minute massage
- Watch your favorite show or read a book
Eat small meals throughout the day (before the party)
The holidays are all about the “over the top” feasts, delicious food, and abundance of alcoholic beverages. To help curb your appetite at these events plan on eating four to six small meals throughout the day (healthy choices, of course) so you are less likely to binge at the dinner table. Choose “heavier” foods with a high water content and lower calories like broth-based soups, fruits or vegetables.
Proceed with caution at the appetizer table
At many events, appetizers and wine are served prior to the main course. Set out a couple of hours in advance, the appetizer table is a dangerous place to “hang out”. Although most items include small portions, they can pack a lot of calories in a single serving! For example, the items below total 950 calories:
- 2 x glass red wine (240 calories)
- 3 x pieces California Roll sushi (225 calories)
- 4 x pieces of broccoli and 2 Tbsp ranch dip (145 calories)
- 1/4 cup of deluxe mixed nuts (340 calories)
To avoid the “unintentional” calories at the appetizer table, try the following suggestions:
- Don’t hang out at the appetizer table
- Use small plates or napkins and limit yourself to three trips to the table
- Choose healthier, nutrient-dense foods (i.e. fruits, vegetables, low-fat foods)
- Limit yourself to one low-calorie alcoholic beverage (i.e. wine, light beer, spirits with club soda)
Don’t finish everything on your plate
When it comes to food, the theme of the holidays is typically “abundance” (i.e. big plates, big portions, and big heartburn). Although your plate may be piled high, remember that you don’t have to finish everything on your plate to enjoy your meal. The first few bites always seem to taste the best. If you are looking to truly enjoy your food, while still avoiding the guilt of overindulging, simply take a few bites of each luscious dessert or savory treat on your plate. Remember, in just a few bites you get 90 percent of the pleasure with only 10 percent of the calories!
At the dinner table … SLOW DOWN!
Sitting down at the dinner table is not a competition (the first one to eat everything on their plate does NOT win). It takes approximately 20 minutes for our brain and stomach to register feelings of fullness. If you eat too fast, you will eat more food than your body really needs simply because the signals take time to get to the brain.
- Wait 20 minutes in between snacking at the appetizer table and eating the main course
- Be sure to make note of the time when you start your meal (and eat slowly)
- Have at least one glass of water with your meal (in addition to your alcoholic beverage)
Choose low-calorie beverages, especially alcohol
Liquid calories can add up quickly (especially alcoholic beverages). Alcohol contains nearly as many calories per gram as fat (7 calories versus 9 calories). Alcohol also tends to lower our inhibitions which opens the door to over indulging on high calorie foods. An especially high calorie alcoholic drink, popular during the holiday season, is eggnog. One cup of alcoholic eggnog is approximately 400 calories (not including the whipping cream)!
- 80 calories – White wine (4 ounces)
- 85 calories – Red wine (4 ounces)
- 100 calories – Light beer (12 ounces)
- 120 calories – Wine cooler (8 ounces)
- 150 calories – Gin and tonic (4 ounces)
- 160 calories – Beer (12 ounces)
- 205 calories – Eggnog, alcoholic (4 ounces)
- 225 calories – Daiquiri (4 ounces)
- 262 calories – Pina colada (4 ounces)
- 270 calories – Margarita (4 ounces)
Move around the room (or get up and dance!)
To burn some of the calories you’ve consumed at the event, walk around the room and socialize. You burn additional calories by being on your feet and you are less likely to eat while “on the move”. The additional steps you take throughout an evening can add up to a few hundred calories.
If you are brave enough to venture out onto the dance floor, the number of calories you burn can increase significantly! For example, according to Self.com, for every 15 minutes of “social” dancing, a 150-pound person can burn over 80 calories.
Monitor your training and nutrition
One of the best ways to track your fitness progress during the holidays (or any time of year) is with a training and/or nutrition journal. People who take the time to monitor their training and food intake in a daily journal are statistically more successful at reaching their goals than those who don’t. It not only makes you accountable for what you did or did not do, it’s a great way to ensure you stay on track during unpredictable times, like the holiday season.
Writing in a journal also helps you maintain a realistic view of your overall program and how your workouts and nutrition can balance each other out. For example, an overindulgence one day can serve as extra fuel for a challenging workout the following day!
Final Thoughts …
You can survive the holiday season and have lots of fun, while still staying on track and reaching your fitness goals by the end of the year. The weeks between Thanksgiving and the beginning of the New Year may not be flawless but you can end up with small “speed bumps” versus major obstacles with a good holiday survival strategy. Making it though the holidays with minor damage is similar to your fitness program, and requires careful planning, commitment, and dedication to get the job done!