How to stay in shape over the holiday season
(NB this is not another obvious article about trimming fat from the turkey or not skipping your workouts to stay in shape over Christmas)
For many people lucky enough to eat and drink plentifully when they want the Christmas season is one of those times of year when it is perfectly legitimate to ‘let your hair down’ and live a bit outside of your means, both financially and in terms of health.
Indeed it is easy to make a case that doing something like sticking to a healthy diet is borderline impossible during the whole month of December, what with the christmas parties, festive spirit, christmas dinner, Boxing day leftovers feast, holidays and New Year’s Eve…etc, etc, without looking like a complete Scrooge or having a miserable time.
Events like Christmas are a great opportunity to relax and make time to be with those important to you, as well as letting your normal routines slide a little, take stock and appreciate what you have.
I totally agree. Life is too short to have your foot down on the accelerator all the time.
However perhaps fearful of the threat of ‘brand-new-me’ January on the horizon, when your over-enthusiastic resolutions seem like a custodial sentence from your warm bed on a freezing winters morning, this is also a period where many also want to try and minimise the damage while still enjoying themselves.
So how do you stay in shape when surrounded by chocolates, alcohol, turkey, puddings and the rest?
I’m not going to start listing tips like ‘only have one glass of wine’ rather I’m going to discuss some of the mentality behind training and the festive period.
For me, at this point before Christmas you fall into two camps which are going to determine how successful you are at negotiating this particular time of year.
First camp: Can’t/won’t get off the rollercoaster
Your year is divided not into seasons, but annual events such as Easter holiday, Summer Holiday, Birthday and Christmas.
Your training and eating patterns also follow this Calender: Easter is when you break your New Year’s resolutions, Summer is when you go on that crash diet to get lean or slim for the beach, post summer towards Christmas it’s time to forget the diet and training as the nights get longer and the days colder.
The chances are if you are like this you seem to be in the same place at this point every year; you want to try and minimise the damage this festive season because as soon as that clock strikes 12 on January 1st 2015 is going to be your year for fitness.
The problem here is that there is too much emphasis on completely arbitrary sectors of time.
Who decided time was going to be split into sections called days and years? What is the difference between December 31st 2014 and January 1st 2015?
In terms of your procession through time, absolutely nothing. These are all man-made boundaries.
If you read my post about dieting and how it never works you will see that they don’t work because they are a short-term fix, and one that invariably requires you to make drastic changes that shock your body and probably make you miserable (or at least less happy than when you were full and were eating chocolate).
Controlling weight, enjoying fitness, health and training are a long game. The only way you can play a long game is by making it your lifestyle. Once it is your lifestyle you can’t do without it.
Lifestyle is a style of life. When something is your lifestyle the calendar changing or upcoming events don’t make a difference: you do it no matter what.
If you fall into the rollercoaster camp then there’s not really a lot you can do in terms of trying to stay in shape while still enjoying yourself.
You can follow the tips like not eating too much, trying not to snack too much, watch less Christmas TV etc. but the only result is going to be you have a less good time this Christmas and you find yourself back here again next time.
Second camp: Christmas is actually your two-week crash diet
Training is something you do as part of your lifestyle: you might not always enjoy it but you have been doing it so often and consistently you feel strange if you miss a few sessions.
Your dietary habits don’t really change during the year and it doesn’t matter if it is raining or sunny outside, or what events are coming up because if you don’t train for a week you feel odd. Again it is because you are so used to it.
When you go on holiday or on your birthday you eat as you like and don’t worry too much about not being on the treadmill: you know you’ll be on it again once normal service is resumed.
If you fall into this camp then you probably don’t care about trying to stay in shape over Christmas. If anything, it is a time to get out of shape.
Like your birthday or your summer holiday you can enjoy it because you know it is just a short pause before you get back to your training life, just like you can relax on holiday because it is a break from your working life.
Are you ever worried about enjoying yourself too much when on annual leave in fear of not being able to re-adjust once you’re back in the office? Didn’t think so.
You basically crash diet the opposite way: you eat whatever and sit around for a couple of weeks until you feel bad enough that you need to get back on the training wheel.
Most of all though you know that some unhealthiness is inevitable: you embrace it, and it helps to refresh your mind to work hard once you start again.
Why worry about a bit of weight gain for a week a year in the context of spending time with your family and friends?
In fitness terms, New Year’s day is not significant to you if you have this mindset. Because it is just another day, you would be going to the gym that week regardless.
Why doesn’t everyone just get off the rollercoaster?
It is easy to blame people for being yo-yo dieters or for being perpetually on the rollercoaster but it is not entirely their fault.
It is natural to take advice from experts or people who you believe to have more knowledge and training than you do.
If your doctor tells you to do something for medical reasons, you’ll probably believe them and do it because they are in an authoritative position: if they lie to you and tell you a load of nonsense you’re not stupid for believing them, you just didn’t know.
Fitness companies are meant to be the experts when it comes to getting physical results.
When someone in phenomenal shape or backed up by ‘science’ tells you it is down to doing a certain thing or eating a certain way you’re not stupid to believe them if you don’t know anything about the subject.
A bit naive maybe, but it is not your fault that you expect to get real answers from those who purport to know what they are talking about.
The way fitness and dieting are presented to us the idea of going up and down in terms of results is indirectly promoted. You’re not encouraged to look beyond 6 weeks at a time.
The Christmas and New Year period is prime time for the release of new diets, new workouts, new magic solutions to help keep you in shape and help you to set your goals for 2015.
The truth is that none of these new routines or flashy new gizmos make any long-term difference if you don’t change something about yourself.
When you’re riding the fitness rollercoaster your goals are always short-term, and seated in the restrict and reward pattern that is part of dieting; you see Christmas time or the holiday season as your reward before restricting yourself in the New Year.
What’s the best way to stay in shape over the festive period?
Change your habits, forge a mentality where you accept fitness as part of your lifestyle and you don’t even need to ask the question. Being in shape is a lifestyle, not something that is pursued during a certain season or according to a calendar.