This time of year can be a challenging time for those who have started, or are progressing, toward a fitness goal. Not just from the point of view of fitting your training in, but it can also be challenging mentally and emotionally. So what are the ways you can have a healthy Christmas and still enjoy yourself?
You know the drill, you’ve been making progress and you’re feeling good. Finally, your self-confidence is rising but now Christmas is on the horizon and that fear starts to grip you. What if I undo all of my good work and gain ten pounds over Christmas? What if I fall out of my training routine and never start again? How about planning ahead and finding simple ways to have a healthy Christmas?
Let’s take a few minutes to allay all of those fears and put those worries to bed. I’ve put together a few steps that I think will help you have a very enjoyable Christmas, without setting yourself back in your fitness journey. And don’t worry I’m not going to tell you to replace chocolates with fruit! Christmas is only once a year so I want you to enjoy it and therefore I’m going to keep these key steps as realistic as possible.
Have a plan and stick to it
Wandering into Christmas without giving it any thought is a recipe for disaster. If this happens it’s likely that overindulgence and inactivity will become the norm. You can enjoy Christmas and have your few drinks and chocolates if you plan it beforehand. It doesn’t have to turn into two weeks of eating junk food. I would recommend pinpointing the days you want to let your hair down. For me it would be Christmas Day, St Stephen’s Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s day. My advice is to chill out and enjoy those days. That’s four days, not 14, which is likely to happen if you don’t have a plan.
Choose your nights out
Similar to the point above. Choose the nights out that you really want and enjoy them. Don’t drink every night for the sake of it. For many people it will be St Stephen’s night and New Year’s Eve. Those two or three nights out won’t do any major damage if they’re done in moderation and you follow the other nine tips listed.
Why do you need to laze around over Christmas? You don’t need to be training but you can certainly stay active. Get out for a nice walk each day. After Christmas dinner you can feel quite sluggish so it’s good to get moving. You’ll feel much better after a walk and some fresh air. Christmas dinner will probably be a higher calorie intake than your normal dinner so it makes sense to balance things out a little. A walk after dinner is one of my favourite parts of Christmas day. It’s usually a little frosty but so refreshing. You’ll come back re-energised and feeling good about being active.
Plan your training days
You don’t need to be in your usual training routine over Christmas but you can certainly be clever about maintaining your physique. There’s a few days between Christmas and New Year where there’s not much happening and people can actually get quite bored. I use those days to do some training and I recommend my clients do likewise. It doesn’t have to be really intense training but just enough to keep you ticking over. Usually, people enjoy those training days after the relative lack of activity in the previous days. Energy levels will be good due to the calorie excesses of the previous days, you may as well put those calories to use!
Christmas food can be healthy
Christmas dinner can actually consist of some really healthy foods. Turkey is one of the greatest sources of protein. Brussel sprouts are a fantastic food. Vegetables tend to be in abundance at Christmas dinner so get loads of colour on the plate. As always beware of portion size, this tends to be the biggest trap people fall into with Christmas dinner.
Use Christmas as recovery time for the body
If you’re training hard your body needs recovery time. I recommend a deload week for my clients every 6-7 weeks. This is a week of little or no training to let the body recovery. You then come back fresh to your training and get more from it. Plan your training so that the end of your 6 week training block occurs at Christmas. If you’ve been working hard all the way through the lead up to Christmas you’ll have minimised a lot of the damage before it even happens.
Balanced life approach
My view is that there has to be a balance when it comes to training. Downtime is also needed and Christmas is the perfect time for that. What’s the point in training all year round if we can’t unwind occasionally? If we can’t enjoy a week off at Christmas or a week away on holidays during the summer? Balance is the key to everything. Even for our mental health, it’s important to switch off occasionally and spend time with family and friends.
Be an adult
While I firmly believe that it’s ok for people to enjoy treats over Christmas we need to remember that we’re adults, not children. Therefore we know to consume treats in moderation. Enjoying a few treats is more than acceptable but be mindful that you don’t want to sit down gorging for long periods of time. Also, avoid sugar in the mornings.
Yes, it’s Christmas but that doesn’t change the way your body works. If you have chocolate in the morning you experience sugar cravings throughout the day. Get a good breakfast, with a source of protein and carbohydrate, and it’ll naturally reduce the likelihood of you overdoing the snacks and treats.
Plan your return to routine
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. I’m a big believer in planning ahead and putting systems in place. So in a similar way to how we planned the days for letting loose. I would also recommend planning the day you return to your normal healthy eating and training routine. If that date is established, even written down, we’ve got a concrete plan to ensure minimal damage. If there’s no plan you could easily end up losing all of January to unhealthy habits. Planning is fundamental to success.
I’ve left the most important point until last. We live in the Instagram generation of seemingly perfect physiques and incredible bodies to aspire to. Much of it is not real, but that’s a conversation for another day! Don’t feel pressured into feeling that you must look a certain way or do all sorts of insane things to achieve that “perfect” body.
You don’t actually need to lead a ridiculously healthy life 24/7 to be healthy and in good shape. For both mental and physical wellbeing I recommend using the 80/20 rule.
I’ll leave you with this question to ponder; what’s the worst that will happen if you have a few drinks and chocolates over Christmas? If you follow the steps above you stand a good chance of maintaining where you’re at. Even if you don’t, at most you’ll only gain a few pounds, unless you go to extremes. It’s nothing that can’t be undone within two weeks in January when you get back training. Don’t stress this Christmas, life is too short.
Alan Williams is a coach, trainer, motivator and expert in the areas of wellbeing and lifestyle, fitness and confidence building. For more information visit alanwilliamscoaching.com