It's that time of year again. For those of us in the United States that celebrate Thanksgiving that might have gotten through without an issue the weeks ahead can prove to be a lot more frightening to a fitness enthusiast. Regardless of religion, many cultures will experience familial festivities that take place every December and threaten to wreak havoc on one's fitness plan.
First, it is important to realize we can all be our own worst enemy. No individual is better than another when it comes to maintaining a diet or self-control. Some, naturally, are stronger when it comes to denying empty-calorie foods.
Others are not. Does maintaining a healthy, fit lifestyle mean you have to deny yourself treats? Absolutely not. But there is a fine line between rewarding yourself or even relaxing and enjoying a holiday treat and going overboard.
Be Honest With Yourself (Who am I?)
One of the first things to do when trying to plan how to successfully "take on" the holiday is to determine the type of person you are. AND BE HONEST. You do not have to share the details with another living soul, but if you lie to yourself you are only setting yourself up for failure.
I have come up with three types of individuals for demonstration purposes. Determine which one more closely describes who you are:
This is the bodybuilder or fitness competitor who seems to be impervious to anything other than brown rice, grilled chicken and plain, steamed veggies. The Holidays (or any other occasion) is no threat to this individual as the thought of eating anything other than fuel that will feed their muscles and keep them lean makes them sick.
This is the fitness enthusiast who is athletic and enjoys working out and maintaining toned muscle, however he/she does not believe they need to strict diet 365 days per year. The Holidays can be a threat in the sense that he/she can binge on foods they normally wouldn't consume and put on unintentional weight in the process.
This is the individual who is not athletically inclined nor has he/she really ever cared about diet or fitness ... or looking good on the beach for that matter. However, he/she has come to a crossroads and has decided to alter their current lifestyle for one more suitable to a gym rat.
The pending Holidays are an even greater threat to this individual as it can pitch him/her into an out-of-control downward spiral into the lifestyle they are working hard to break out of.
Most of us will fit into either the Julia Roberts or Chris Farley category (unfortunately). And that's okay - it's important to be able to see the positive characteristics you possess as well as recognize the less desirable ones so you can assess how to set effective goals that will enable you to achieve success during the holidays as well as after.
During The Holidays
Once you've taken some thoughtful consideration in determining the type of personality you have, take the following steps to help outline the structure of your goals for your "Operation Holiday plan of attack."
- It is more realistic to face the fact that not only will you be surrounded by foods not currently on your list to consume and there will not always be instances when you can choose wisely: I.E. deviled egg over a "pig-in-a-blanket" or the Italian favorite fried calamari.
- Yes it tastes good and yes it's "seafood" which is "good for you" however let's be honest, if something is battered and fried the empty calories it has just been covered in completely negate any of the healthy qualities that might have previously existed.
- Do not attempt to completely deny yourself anything. Especially if you are hungry. You will only be setting yourself up for failure. Rather, take a small portion of a few of the items - just enough to hold you over until the main course and drink plenty of water (Okay, I know, you don't need to roll your eyes and groan too loud).
- When we think of holiday festivities very few people are excited over drinking plenty of water. The truth of the matter is the more water you drink the fuller and more satisfied you will feel ... and the less likely you will be to reach for more fried calamari.
- The main course can be an easier task or more difficult (depending upon your culture). It is no secret that Mediterranean cultures favor seafood. Being Italian, the main course is easy for me to pick and choose foods that are "healthier" since there is literally 13 different types of fish prepared different ways and an array of vegetables and salad.
- Americans have chicken or turkey - both of which are healthy choices. I recommend removing the skin, that way it doesn't really matter how it was prepared any excess fat or empty calories that coated the bird will not enter your system. Scan what your options are and pick and choose what are the "better" choices. Again, eat what appeals to you but maintain smaller portions.
Finally, the most dreaded event of the holiday season ... dessert. This proves to be the downfall of many dieters during the holiday season. Mostly because they deny themselves any types of treats during the rest of the year that when they see the tempting array of choices (and everyone else indulging in them) it becomes nearly impossible to stay away.
Chocolate, cookies and cake should not be feared like cancer. If you mention these items to some dieters they completely go pale and insist if they are anywhere in the near vicinity this "garbage" will attack them and stick to their hips, thighs and stomachs.
Let's look at this realistically; if we break it down, these are "food" items like anything else that is edible. However, they are filled with empty calories. Calories that your body DOES NOT NEED to function or repair itself. This is what makes them treats.
This is also the reason why we do not want to over-indulge in these items. Knowledge is power, know what you are putting into your body and more importantly know how much you are going to allow yourself. Again, have a piece of pie OR a piece of cake OR a couple of cookies. Not all of them.
One of the more important things to take away from setting goals for holiday festivities is that your #1 goal should be that you do not want to over-indulge to the point that you ruin the progress you have made before the holiday season.
Practicing a little self-control and structure will take you a long way. You'll appreciate it later.
At work - colleagues can be the one of the biggest obstacles to overcome during the holiday season. No matter what your profession there will always be that phenomenal baker who just loves to prepare tons of treats and share them with everyone.
If you are able to avoid the places where this stuff is stationed - good for you. Maybe it doesn't even tempt you ... and that's even better. But, for some, it is tempting and they would really like to enjoy some.
Before you tell yourself you'll ruin your diet (and thus your entire life) by sampling some (and possibly driving yourself to borderline insanity when you tear through every cookie and brownie devouring complete trays on your own), take one or two.
Give yourself that limit. Literally say to yourself "I will have two cookies." And then keep that promise to yourself. Now, this is where knowing the type of personality you have comes into play. Some people do not have the self-control to do that. And that's okay - if you are aware of this. If these types of treats are "trigger foods" for you and will completely knock you off track then stay away from them.
Do your best to maintain your workout schedule. Depending on whether or not you travel or how busy you are during this time you might have to alter what you normally do. This isn't a bad thing - it's always good to switch up your routine. Odds are your body will respond positively so long as you don't completely go off the wagon nutrition-wise.
After The Holidays
- For most, the holiday season extends through the second of January. Whatever day marks the official end of the holidays for you, sit down and write a list of what your personal goals are. What is it you want to achieve? Be as detailed as possible.
- Next, list what you need to do to achieve those goals. Keep in mind; time and consistency are two important factors. Nothing is going to happen over night.
- Be honest over your body type. Your TRUE body type ... not the body you want to have. Embrace your pear or tear-drop shape. You cannot commit to achieving the body you want until you realize what body you possess genetically (and what you will need to do in order to "alter" what your mamma gave you).
- Devise your fitness plan. You can work with a personal trainer or on your own but make sure you create a detailed plan designed to help you achieve your ultimate fitness goals.
- No fitness plan is complete without a comprehensive "diet" plan. The word diet does not mean deprivation. It is used in the sense of learning and understanding what your body needs to function and repair itself on a daily basis.
During The Holidays
Within the goals section I touched upon some tactics that can be used when faced with social situations that will be demanding on your diet. I didn't, however, cover what happens before these gatherings or even in-between them.
The 2-3 weeks that represent the holiday season does not give you the "right" to wreak havoc on your body. Especially since you will be more sensitive to what is going to happen within these social gatherings that are out of your control, your attention to your diet should be heightened.
The closer attention you pay to your diet when you are outside of the social gatherings laced with holiday fare the better off you'll be in the long run.
Just because you know you will "cheat" because Aunt Maria is going to make your favorite lasagna on Christmas Day does not mean it is okay to eat six big macs today and a huge ice cream sundae tomorrow. You'll only bury yourself.
In fact, if you follow your diet pretty strictly with the exception of some social gatherings you might not put on any additional weight at all. Just remember moderation is key.
Moderation and a positive mind-set along with a realistic outlook on what is feasible for you (going back to your personality type) should help you construct and follow a plan that will work for you. Although I've made suggestions on how to set goals within this article you will have to determine what makes the most sense for you and what is achievable for you.
Now, by saying this I am in no way condoning the Chris Farley's of this world to give up on their health and fitness goals and sit on the couch all day eating pizza and bon-bons until the second of January. Do not give up on yourself, just be realistic, test your limits and keep going!
After The Holidays
As I mentioned previously, when the holidays officially end for you, sit down and write your goals. Your diet plan will need to be re-worked at this point even if you were able to stay away from most of the garbage. As I've said in previous articles I recommend you sit with a trainer who has a working knowledge of nutrition or even a Registered Dietician.
Determine what you are looking to achieve and outline a substantial amount of time you want to give yourself to achieve those goals - remember it comes in baby steps.
If working with a nutritionist or Registered Dietician be certain the individual has extensive knowledge in working with athletes and understands the supplementation that is necessary. Athletes require a much larger array of vitamins and nutrients supplemented into their diets then the average inactive individual.
No New Year's Resolution should include involvement in the Atkin's Diet or any other diet that tells you it is necessary to remove any complete food group from your diet. Instead, set a broad goal - the ultimate goal you want to achieve i.e. compete in a bodybuilding competition in '07 and then map out what smaller goals you will need to achieve to get there i.e:
- Increase protein intake
- Remove process carbs from the diet and consume only natural carbs
- Drink 1 - 2 gallons of water per day
Then over the course of several weeks or even months incorporate all of the little things you need to do in order to achieve these smaller goals which will ultimately take you to the larger one. If you look at yourself on the second of January and say "I want to lose 30 pounds. NOW!" Odds are, you aren't going to do that.
You'll diet for a week, get on the scale, see you lost one pound and give up because 29 more is too overwhelming. You can lose thirty pounds - determine though that in order to be successful you need to lose 2 pounds per week so you will need approximately 15 weeks (3.5 months) to get there.
Working out should never seem like a chore. If you find yourself getting to this point you might be burning yourself out. Take a step back and review your fitness plan. Ask yourself the following questions:
- How long have I been doing this routine?
- Have I gotten results?
- Am I still getting results?
- Am I tired?
- Am I bored?
Regardless of what time of year it is no work-out routine should last more than 6 weeks. Otherwise you run a great risk of hitting a "plateau." Also, anytime you switch up your routine you will notice results and changes in your physique. Ask trainers in your gym for advice on alternate exercises or whether or not they can recommend something new to add to your current repertoire.
Never stop learning - there is always something new or something you don't know and can learn. I've heard many people (especially men) say: "I have done this for years" or "I know what I'm doing." And they proceed to do the same routine they've done since high school.
News Flash: You don't know everything. I don't even know everything. Nowhere close. I learn something new everyday. I train with professionals that I respect just so I can pick their brains and further my knowledge of fitness.
Read whatever you can get hold of and then discuss it with a professional whose opinion you respect and trust. What is their take on it? How can you manipulate what you've learned? How much of it is factual?
There is a lot more that goes into developing a work-out routine and successfully translating it in a gym than simply getting a membership and lifting a 5-pound dumbbell 45 times (ladies).
Plan For Success
I cannot stress this enough. You need to plan for your success. Success is nothing but preparation meeting opportunity. You can bump around the gym mindless and blind as to what to do to reach your goals or you can structure a plan and work alongside a professional who has your best interest at heart.
- Determine the type of personality you are. Be honest with yourself.
- Set your goals during the Holiday season (how will you make time to train? How will you manipulate your diet?)
- Set your goals for after the Holidays (what are your fitness goals? Where do you expect to be in three months? Six months? A year? How will you get there?)
- Embrace your body type, and focus on what you need to do to "change" what you don't like.
- Devise a workout and diet plan to suit your needs and structure your progress.
- Be realistic about the time it will take to achieve your goals as well as how much blood, sweat, tears and strict dieting is necessary to get there.
- Knowledge is power - read! And really take in what you read. I have written an article about body fat specifically in women and discussed what cellulite is - how it develops and how to battle it.
- Women read this and STILL e-mail me questions about what to do. I can only do so much for you ... I can give you advice and information but you will need to interpret it and put in the effort it takes to make it happen.
- Do not be afraid to work hard. Do not be afraid to sweat. Do not expect success over night. BE REALISTIC.
New Year's Resolutions
It is not enough to simply resolve to "lose weight" or "get toned" or "ripped" or "buff." Be specific. Recognize your personality type and take steps to motivate yourself and propel yourself towards success.
Do your best to avoid comparing yourself to another individual in the gym or in a magazine. Focus on you and what is necessary for you to do to achieve your goals. Emphasize your positive characteristics, both physical and emotional and recognize the less desirable characteristics.
Highlight what steps you need to take to make adjustments to the less desirable ones and make steady improvements. Praise the small successes along the way.
We are our own toughest critics. Don't forget to stop every now and then and recognize the effort you have put in and reward yourself. If you have failed to put in the necessary effort to be successful do not be afraid to admit it. You aren't admitting defeat you are recognizing where you are weak and where you need to focus in order to improve and stay on track.
There are very few ZEUS' in this world but there is no reason why we cannot aspire to be the best that we possibly can and do the best we possibly can to obtain the best possible body we can. Take it one step at a time, one day at a time, ONE PORTION AT A TIME.