The calendar says we've already entered the Fat Zone.
It's an industry name for the six-week, calorie-crazy stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year's. It's also the period during which the average American adds over a pound of brand-spanking-new adipose tissue to their hips or love handles.
But that won't be you, right? You read Bodybuilding.com, you're dedicated. Holidays or no holidays, you have your diet and training locked down, and can spout off your weekly macros on command like a 230-pound Rain Man.
While impressive, these things also probably make you a holiday Scrooge, making you squawk, "Bah, humbug!" at the prospect of gathering with friends and family and enjoying some not-so-high-quality calories, which many fitness types consider unacceptable.
Thankfully, there are ways to stay on track without feeling guilty or looking like a stick in the mud. It all boils down to having a plan (or five), and knowing what to do and what not to do.
Plan For Less
The holidays can be like a big, fat domino designed to knock you off your game. Holiday parties, shopping, flights back home, and other demands on your time suddenly appear like the first snowfall, all conspiring to make getting to the gym consistently a challenge.
Miss a session here, another there, and suddenly that complicated periodization workout you're following is completely off the rails. Is it 85-percent day or 75-percent day? What if I missed both—can I just do 80 percent and call it even?
The Solution: If you know you're entering a time crunch, scale back your training in advance to something more manageable, yet effective. For example, if you're a "split the body up over five days" kind of lifter, maybe scale back to full-body workouts using big exercises (think squats or deadlifts, presses, rows, and chin-ups). That way, even if you can only train two or three times per week, you can still give your body a significant metabolic "hit."
Combine this with some form of cardio on off days (doesn't have to be in the gym, you know), and suddenly you don't miss a beat. In fact, many lifters even find they get bigger and stronger after periods of reduced volume, full-body training, especially once they resume their "normal" frequency.
Plan for More
You know that guy? The one at Christmas dinner who picks at half a plate of white turkey meat while his friends and family enjoy seconds of all the trimmings? He's a close cousin of that other guy, the one who shows up at a holiday party with a Tupperware container full of boiled chicken and broccoli.
No one likes either of them.
It's easy to blow your macros when there's so much tempting, tasty, high-calorie food at arm's reach, so instead of being a Debbie Downer, why not plan to enjoy it?
The Solution: This is a context where fasting-type diets can be very helpful. If you know you have a dinner or party where your dietary willpower will be tested, try eating very lightly (or not at all) throughout the day and show up at the event ready to enjoy yourself, guilt-free. That way you can pack away a few platefuls without sending your daily caloric intake into the stratosphere.
Make Junk Food Unappetizing
Obviously, you want to reserve your lavish diet splurges for a family dinner where your mom had been slaving in front of an oven for three days. In between those family dinners are smatterings of work parties, where the choices are limited to calorie-heavy, nutrient-sparse finger foods, as well as last-minute happy hours that, quite frankly, aren't worth the splurge.
The Solution: Try eating a large serving of "clean" protein shortly before showing up. Protein is naturally satiating and serves to stabilize sugar, so you can maintain your composure while others are lining up at the dessert table.
After two large chicken breasts and a big-ass salad, junk food can suddenly looks like, well, junk food.
Don't be a dumbass
You're a bodybuilder. Or at least a fitness enthusiast. Your body is a big part of who you are and what you do. Are you really going to let a table full of butter tarts, Christmas cookies, and fruitcake your great-aunt made back when Eisenhower was sworn in sabotage what you've worked for?
The Solution: Pick one (okay, two or three) things you absolutely love to eat over the holidays and eat them, guilt-free. Enjoy them, savor them—and then move on. It can be helpful to tell yourself that these foods are available all year, and are really nothing special—you just happen to be "exposed" to them now.
Remember, you can have this stuff any time you want, not just over the holidays. None of it is going away forever. Especially not the fruitcake.
Remove your head from your rectum
The holiday stretch is busy, expensive, and certainly challenging at times, especially if you're a fitness junkie who takes your body seriously.
But it's not just about extra food and shortened gym hours.
It's about family, friends, children, giving, and being grateful for all we have. Focus on those things, and suddenly a skipped leg workout or a few days of less-than-perfect eating isn't such a big deal. Simply do the best you can and step up your game with a vengeance on January 1st.
'Cause like the fruitcake, the gym will always be there.