It’s coming up to the Christmas season, and that means that the nights get darker, the world feels colder, the fridge gets fuller and your social life kicks up a notch. It’s a time for eating, drinking and being merry…
And for a lot of us, that means gaining an appreciable amount of fat. Everyone knows that feeling – you’re full of confidence, you’ve trained hard all summer, and now you just want to relax a little. That ‘little’ becomes a ‘lot’ and before you know it you’ve become, to quote Eric Cartman, ‘festively plump’. That first January gym session is going to be a real killer…
If you’re reading this, it means that you take your exercise and nutrition at least a little seriously. You have a lifestyle which you enjoy, you’re fit and healthy, and you’ve made progress in terms of body composition changes which you are justifiably proud of, and it’s my firm belief that you shouldn’t have to give that up just because it’s Winter, it’s cold, and before you know it it’s Christmas.
Now, I want to say from the outset that I would never, ever tell someone to sacrifice fun, friends and family for their abs. Health, fitness and nutrition are supposed to enrich your life, rather than take it over, and if they are in fact taking away from the stuff that really matters then, in my opinion, your priorities need working on so that you can lead a more balanced life.
But what I also want to say is that ‘living a balanced life’ doesn’t mean going off the rails completely all of the time. Being fit, healthy and in the kind of shape you want to be DOES require work and some sacrifice. What I want you to take from this article is that you can have both. Having balance doesn’t mean swinging from dedication to ‘I don’t care because it’s nearly Christmas’ and back again, it means being at least a little bit on top of things, pretty much all of the time.
And here’s how…
How to actually eat sensibly:
Weight management is down to calorie balance, and calorie balance is hugely determined by the ‘calories in’ side of the equation – and this is where people really start to struggle as the dark nights set in.
When it’s cold, we humans start to crave comfort foods. It’s not just you that starts looking longingly at stodgy things like cottage pie or mince and dumplings, that’s your natural instincts kicking in wanting you to gain a little fat to insulate you through the colder months.
The best plan of attack here is fivefold. Let’s break it down:
First of all – Get cooking
Comfort foods don’t HAVE to be really high in calories. Using leaner cuts of meat to make roasts, or lean mince for bolognaise/lasagne, home-cooking stews with plenty of vegetables and going easy on the really calorie dense things like dumplings and pastry can help you keep things on an even keel day-to-day.
Batch cook lean chillis or lean pulled pork for your lunches, fall back on the time-tested classic porridge or eggs for breakfast and enjoy a good homecooked family dinner in the evening. Sure, it might not be the season for salads or chilled overnight oats anymore, but that doesn’t mean you HAVE to swing straight to the other extreme.
The day to day is what really matters, so get this nailed down.
Second: Be mindful when it comes to social events.
You are about to be asked to go out for drinks or for dinner more times than you have been for the rest of the year combined, so it’s time to pick your battles. You know how to handle eating out – get the menu ahead of time if you can, go easy on sides and alcohol, don’t be afraid to make swaps, have a starter OR a dessert, but don’t be a martyr here.
Again, balance is important. If you’re eating out 10 times between now and Christmas, there’s no harm in eating whatever the hell you want once or twice at your favourite restaurants (just so long as it doesn’t become a binge). Just bear in mind that the rest of the time it’s PROBABLY best to look for something which is a little more in line with your goals. Eating one big meal every now and then really doesn’t matter, but because of the sheer volume of restaurant eating which comes with the winter months, being savvy can pay off come January.
Likewise, when it comes to drinking, do what we always recommend – have one or two beers/wines if you really want to and stop there. If you plan on getting drunk, then it’s likely best to stick to spirit and diet mixers to keep calories sensible. As we all know alchohol calories add up the fastest, and while its annoying, the reality is acohol over the festive period could make or break out abs, add a pint and or wine on top of a pudding and you might already be 5-700 calories over your normal daily allowance for weigth maintenance. So be mindful.
Oh, and you don’t NEED a pizza on the way home. Honest.
Third: Keep snacking to a minimum.
As it gets closer to the big C, the snacks start appearing EVERYWHERE. I don’t know what it is which makes Christmas synonymous with chocolate, cakes and other treats, but your place of work is probably about to start looking more and more like Willy Wonka is calling the shots.
The main thing here is to keep snacks off of your own desk. Research has shown that the proximity of snacks directly correlates to your likelihood of eating them, so don’t keep snacks on your own desk (even healthy ones) and skilfully move stuff out of your reach if it’s nearby.
After that, be firm with coworkers that you don’t want any. They’ll bitch and moan about it, but ultimately you are in charge of what you eat, and not them. Sure, every now and then if you want a chocolate, have a damn chocolate, but having a couple of chocolates every day in the office which you don’t really want, simply because you’re goaded into it isn’t a good place to be. Some may call this ‘restrictive’, but I call it being an adult and making your own decisions.
Then, if you do have a snack at the office or at home – own that decision. You made the choice, you ate the thing, Enjoy it, savour it, and move on. More on this below.
Fourth: Remember Christmas is ONE DAY
Christmas is a day where really, anything goes. You want chocolate for breakfast? Fine. You want a second helping of Christmas pudding? Awesome. In 10 years if you aren’t in the kind of shape you want to be, you will not look back on Christmas 2016 and thing “man, if I’d only avoided that cheeseboard I’d be so ripped right now”.
But it’s one day. It’s not a week, and it’s certainly not a month. Eating ‘whatever the hell’ for a month can really pile on the pounds, and if you gain a stone between now and your first day back in the office come January, that’s going to be a far longer dieting phase than it needs to be, just to get back to where you are now.
Fifth: Be accountable to yourself.
There’s no moral right and wrong here. You want to ignore me and go nuts? That’s totally fine. You WILL gain more fat than you would if you listened, and you WILL therefore need to diet for longer or diet harder in the new year, but if you’re happy with that and you think it’s worth it, then don’t let me stop you.
It’s your life and you should be proud of whatever you do. No guilt, no shame, pass the gravy!
Beyond that, it’s time to talk activity levels. As the hours of daylight start to dwindle and it gets colder we are all far less inclined to get moving. Let’s face it, when it’s snowing and dark, the couch and the fire look a lot more enticing than they did in July.
The best advice I can offer is to do what you can during the day. A lunchtime or even morning walk wrapped up in a nice warm coat can be a great change of pace from work life, and your body and waistline will thank you for the effort.
As for exercise, this is where you really need to dig deep and work with what you have. Stock up on warm clothes to exercise in (you’ll soon be taking it off as you get warm anyway) and don’t forget a good pair of gloves and waterproof socks – NOBODY likes soggy feet.
By setting a minimum session goal and telling other people about it, you can make a realistic commitment. If everyone else is going to be there 3x per week and you tell them you will be, too, you have a little more incentive than if you were going it alone, and I don’t have to tell you how much better you’ll feel once you’ve blown the cobwebs out!
It’s not always really easy to stay on plan during the coldest months of the year, but with a little extra thought and a little extra effort you can set yourself up for success. You don’t want to wake up in January having to start over again with your exercise regimen and you don’t want to start 2017 in a big calorie deficit to ‘undo the damage’ of a month and a half of indulgence.
Enjoy yourself as much as you can, but don’t lose sight of your overall goal. Not only will you be in a better final position, you’ll probably enjoy the chocolates and the evenings in front of the TV even more.
Oh, and as a final tip, If you DO find that your exercise frequency drops off a little over the next month or two, I recommend a light re-introductory week. Post Christmas DOMS is a Nightmare!