I love the holidays. Not only do I indulge in over two weeks of winter vacation, but my days are filled with catching up with friends, celebrating the spirit of the season at different events in the city, and consuming copious amounts of delicious food.
Unfortunately, all of this indulging can often lead to a feeling of full-until-it-hurts, and the infamous food (or other) hangover the next morning. So how can you indulge without losing sight of your goals or forcing yourself to take up an air sandwich diet, post-Christmas? Well, with these challenges in mind, I decided to share my tips for surviving the holidays without sacrificing your waistline:
1. Backload your day
This is my favourite trick of the season. If I know I have a holiday event in the evening or afternoon, I will plan my calories accordingly. This might mean a light breakfast that is higher in protein and fats (saving most of the much needed carbohydrates for later), or I may even start my day with a mini fast. Fasting during the first half of the day not only allows you to eat more in the evening, but it also puts your blood sugar in a good position for eating more insulin-inducing foods (think shortbread, assorted chocolates, and sausage rolls. Oh my). These practices can also support your energy levels. By keeping sugar low during the first part of the day, you encourage healthy cortisol levels (providing energy), and limit your insulin response. Later in the day, when you are indulging in some yummy holiday treats, cortisol levels decrease as insulin levels are heightened. This is also helpful for our hormone levels, as the pattern supports a natural sleep cycle. Have you ever noticed how you become a bit sluggish after a large meal? That’s the power of a high insulin response. So keeping insulin levels low in the morning, can help aid in supporting a natural sleep cycle. Ultimately saving your calories for the afternoon/evening will allow you to really enjoy the holiday treats without feeling like you have to limit yourself to compensate for meals you have already consumed.
2. Find time for activity
So you ate until you couldn’t move last night and washed it down with four glasses of eggnog. So what? You had a blast and laughed with friends and family until your sides hurt. Sounds like an evening well spent. But now it’s time to put those calories to work. Once you awake from your food coma, hit the gym and lift heavy. You might as well turn those carbs into muscle. You are stocked up on glycogen stores and your body can use those to help you hit new PRs. I like to focus on large muscle groups on these days (such as legs or back) to ensure I get the biggest bang for my buck. I will also incorporate some full-body movements, just because… it can’t hurt.
3. Borrow from other days
This was a tip my own coach recommended. If you count calories or macronutrients, treat your numbers like a bank account. If you eat a high amount of fats one day (easy to do with so many Christmas treats available, laden with chocolate and butter), borrow some from another day (so that may mean a low-fat day tomorrow). It’s an easy way to even things out while still enjoying those holiday feasts. If you aren't a tracker, just be mindful of your choices. Take note if the foods you ate yesterday were higher in fats than you are used to, or if you ate far more carbohydrates than you would on an average day. Take this information into consideration when planning your meals the following day.
4. Detox when you can
After a bit of an indulgent meal, I like to fill the following day with lots of detoxifying foods, like lemon and greens. In fact, I generally start my morning with a green smoothie, incorporating lots of mixed greens (or greens powder) and lemon juice, usually with a fruit of some sort. Get lots of vegetables in during the rest of the day, and drink plenty of water and herbal teas so encourage your body to move things along…
5. Ditch the crap
It never fails that, during the holidays, my counter top and refrigerator become filled with a variety of Christmas treats. But let’s be honest: there’s enough of these items at the 17 get-togethers we all inevitably have. So get rid of the extras. There’s no need to pick at a plate of Aunt Carol's traditional Christmas baked goods every day of the week (sorry Aunt Carol). Save the treats for social gatherings and eat normally the rest of the time. I may keep my favourite dark chocolate in the freezer, but I usually chuck the rest after a day or two. I have a sweet tooth myself, and definitely don’t need Christmas cookies taunting me 24-7. So you can wait until Boxing Day or January 1st for the traditional trashing-of-the-treats, but I recommend just doing it now. You’ll be thankful you did.
Last but not least: enjoy. The Christmas season comes around once a year. There is no reason why yours should be filled with endless moments of temptation, post-binge guilt, and social gathering avoidance. Set yourself up for success using the tips listed above, and enjoy time spent with family and friends, while eating delicious meals. Food is one of the great pleasures in life. Why deprive yourself of something so wonderful? I am a huge proponent of balance, and believe that the holidays are meant to be enjoyed, whatever that may mean for you. So indulge. Eat and drink until your heart desires, but plan accordingly and put strategies in place that allow you to do so with minimal damage.
Happy celebrating, everyone, and Merry Christmas!
Dave and I at our own family Christmas celebration. Matching by accident, I swear.