Survive The Holidays

Every year you tell yourself, “This year is going to be different." But then you succumb to one gluttonous choice after another straight through the holidays. Except, it doesn't have to go like that.
By Elke S. Nelson, Ph.D, CFL-1,

The first step to conquering the holidays is recognizing that your primary nemesis is the excuse. You know, how all of a sudden you allow yourself to sleep in, replace the MCT oil in your morning coffee with Baileys and polish off a half dozen of grandma’s famous oatmeal cookies for breakfast. (She really does make the best cookies!) You’ve spent all year answering to your alarm clock, eating clean, and working hard in and out of the gym. The holidays are for letting go and enjoying all your favorite things, knowing you’ll bounce back later.

Stop. No matter how you try to rationalize a poor decision, excuses are excuses and they will contribute to your demise over the holidays.

But still, the holidays are special. And they are a perfectly appropriate time to catch up on sleep, enjoy a cocktail with family and even indulge in one (OK, maybe two) of grandma’s famous cookies. But the key lies in finding balance and not letting discipline go out the window just because it’s the end of November. You remember from last year exactly how awful it feels to play catch-up? Here’s how to make January 2016 different.

On the Road

Traveling for the holidays can completely derail your endgame, but only if you let it. Whether you’re driving, bussing, training, flying or sailing to your destination, the change in routine and added seat time is not ideal. While it’s impossible to completely avoid the tribulations of travel, you can choose to be a road warrior rather than a complete sloth.

Pack healthy snacks. (Even if it means bringing along a cooler.) Keep it simple, delicious and nutritious by pairing carrots, celery and/or apples with your favorite nut butter (available in single-serve packs). If you’re a sucker for the crunch, whip up a quick batch of kale chips or create your own trail mix by throwing together some raw nuts, unsweetened dried fruit and high-quality dark chocolate.

Stay hydrated. Bring along an eco-friendly refillable water bottle and fill it up once you’re through security at the airport — or at restaurants, gas stations or anywhere else water is available.

Keep active. If you own a jump rope, bring it with you and bang out 100 quick double-unders at each pit stop, including airport layovers. Always opt for the stairs and turn every bathroom stop into a five-minute jog-and-stretch session (where appropriate). Do as many walking lunges down the airplane aisle as you can get away with. And don’t forget your lacrosse ball — sit on it to work though some knots while you’re glued to the seat.

Welcome Home!

You’ve arrived at your holiday destination and now the health-and-fitness challenges begin in earnest.

Work out first. If you know your motivation dwindles as the day goes on, get your workout done first thing in the morning. A morning workout will prime you metabolically to better handle all those holiday indulgences.

Make it a family event. It can be surprisingly fun (and hysterical) to gather everyone together for a group workout. Experiment with extra-entertaining movement combinations like the bear crawl, crab walk, burpees, chair dips, jumping jacks, push-ups and air squats. Besides, when can you so easily indulge your coaching power trip?

Do your homework. If you simply can’t bring yourself to work out without stepping foot in a box, CrossFit has you taken care of. When you’re visiting Grandma Ruth or Uncle Eddie, odds are there’s a box within a few miles. Once you know where you’re spending the holidays, do some research online and find a likely prospect. Contact the owner to see what their requirements for drop-ins are and commit to attending a class. Then reward yourself with a new CrossFit T-shirt from the box that welcomed you. Sweat and souvenirs trump sugar bellies any day.

Prepare for pressure. It’s not uncommon for someone who is healthy and fit to get a lot of pressure from family members who do not share the same passions, especially when it comes to holiday noshing. Food, after all, becomes religion for some people. In one scenario, family may applaud you for skipping bread and cake; in others, you may be singled out, harassed and forced to defend your choices while being careful not to offend anyone else. But there is hope. Identify which meals are the most sentimental and “cheat”-worthy for the sake of the family experience and which you can seamlessly make clean (even if just for yourself). If it’s a special holiday dinner that mom makes only one day a year, enjoy all of it. If it’s a recurrent thing, like pumpkin pie after breakfast, lunch and dinner for five days straight, hold your ground and abstain.

Or if you’re feeling super motivated (or just want to see how deeply you can trick your family), consider creating a delicious and healthy replacement for some of your favorite holiday dishes. Try baking sweet potatoes and smother them in grass-fed butter (or ghee), sea salt and cinnamon instead of melted marshmallows. Swap mashed cauliflower — made with grass-fed butter (or ghee), sea salt and coconut milk — for mashed potatoes. Instead of green bean casserole, try Brussels sprouts roasted with bacon, apples and onions. And it should be no sweat to find a number of healthy, pumpkin-based dessert options worth exploring.

If nothing else, learn how to taste. If you can teach yourself to have just a taste of something and that behavior becomes routine, you could quite possibly have it all. The goal is to live in the moment with that first bite; everything after that tends to be mindless eating (and added inches on your waistband). If you love grandma’s cookies that much, take a bite whenever you’re craving something sweet, and you just might be able to make a single cookie last an entire day. If you can’t imagine the holidays without stuffing — the real kind — but that meal isn’t on your go-all-out list, have a spoonful (or two). There’s no reason not to enjoy a bite here and there. If you hold back too much, it could all backfire and end in a miserable mashed potatoes/stuffing/pumpkin pie/cookies binge that leaves you feeling sick and hopeless the next day. Remember, the farther you fall, the harder it is to bounce back.

Drink smarter. Maybe your family is pretty on board with clean eating but loves to drink — and you look forward to indulging with them every holiday season. While it’s OK to occasionally indulge in alcohol, it’s important to avoid sugary cocktails and limit your intake so that it, uh, doesn’t interfere with your ability to work out the next day. Make sure to drink plenty of water in between anything alcoholic. Using soda water (aka club soda, not the same as tonic water) as a mixer is one way to avoid sugary liquids — and hydrate while you’re still tossing ’em back. You should obviously allow yourself a “get out of jail free” card or two over the holidays, but don’t let late-night drinking followed by missed morning workouts become a regular thing.

Take your supplements. The perfect combination of holidays and vacation often has one overlooked side effect: vitamin and supplement snubbing. Given that your diet and fitness are more than likely going to take a hit, wouldn’t this be the worst time to cease taking any and all vitamins and supplements? It only takes a few minutes to throw your favorites — fish oil, vitamin D, probiotics, magnesium, zinc, protein powder — into zip-top bags. And if you’re not into throwing pills and powders into a bag or you’re hooked on unbaggable liquid fish oil, companies have caught on and are developing travel-size versions of almost everything for your convenience. Again, no excuses.

So what’s your January going to feel like? Whether you ring in the new year in a deconditioned, hungover, fatty stupor or hit the box on January 2 rested, fit and ready to hit some shiny new 2016 PRs is entirely up to you.

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