As the end of the year approaches so too does the conversation about how indulgence is part and parcel of the Christmas season, even within the fitness community. With food, alcohol and celebration in abundance throughout December, even those with the strongest willpower can use a little guidance to get through the Christmas period and come out in January with an intact motivation to continue with the exercise and training habits that took a lot of determination to build.
Christmas isn’t limited to the one day but rather monopolises the second half of December and for this reason, many of our day to day routines fall out of sync. We often have some time off work around Christmas Day and friends and family seem to be more available than ever for a get together of some kind. When our normal life routines are disrupted, maintaining our fitness and nutrition habits becomes a challenge, but one that can afford us some perspective.
December Doesn’t Have to Be An Expected Failure
Whilst the overwhelming majority of people would disagree, it’s actually possible to lose or maintain body weight in the month of December (who knew?!).
It’s very easy to resign yourself to thinking that December has to be a month of suspending good habits and accepting that the 20lbs you lost over the last six months is bound to come back on overnight. Instead, it’s a time for looking closely at the things you want to do over the Christmas period and creating a plan that allows you to do that. We can all relate to the feeling of “starting again tomorrow” when accidentally ordering extra chips with lunch and then having a large evening meal too because you’ve ruined your diet already. If you came up against that thought process at some point in your life, just think of the days of December in the same way.
In practice, for those of us who have made significant changes to our diet, the months before December are an apt time to plan when you’re going to allow yourself to indulge and for how long. If you’re choosing to enjoy a few cheat meals and drinks throughout the Christmas period, that’s perfectly fine, but having a plan now will allow you to return to your normal habits once the Christmas period is behind you.
Adjusting Your Macronutrient Expectations – Your Protein & Carbohydrate Balance
One commonality amongst those with a training plan is typically a high protein diet. Over the Christmas period, the nature of traditional food and ‘treat’ foods will inevitably introduce more carbohydrates to your diet than you typically consume. This will very quickly impact the number you see on the scales when you weigh yourself as increased carbohydrate consumption typically leads to an increase in water retention. This is completely normal and as your diet returns to normal, so too will this increase. That’s not to say that you won’t add a little fat mass, but this won’t be anything near the initial increase on the scale that you see.
Plan for the Peer Pressure
Despite having a plan, people often find especially in your first year of building good habits, our friends and family will insist on joining them in indulging and even take exception when their offer is declined. Whilst the one piece of Christmas pudding won’t have an impact on your weight loss goals in the long term, it’s difficult to explain to others how your plan is part of a wider approach. For this reason, it pays to mention to friends and family that you’re going to enjoy the Christmas period but you don’t want it to be something that disrupts your long-term strategy. Make the time to explain what your plan is and why it’s important to you.
Your Fitness Plans & Mental Health
Your fitness plans are not separate from your mental health. It’s important to remember this during those times when you fall off the wagon and make food choices that don’t fit your plan only to go on and spend the next few hours feeling guilty about it. Part of any long-term weight loss, fitness and training strategy must be a plan for accommodating ‘slip ups’ affording you the freedom to do so without torturing yourself.
The purpose of improving your fitness is to improve you as a person and sacrificing your mental health for a lower number on the scale defeats the purpose of what you’re trying to achieve. Regardless of your plans and what you want your body to look like, it is possible to enjoy the Christmas period guilt-free. All it takes is a little restraint, a plan and support from those around you.
A suggested plan for December
Week 1 & 2: Your usual routine should be ok to keep to for now. Consider four days of training perhaps on Monday, Wednesday and Friday with a light run on Sunday. It’s good to factor in rest days for sustainability.
Week 3: This is when Xmas celebrations start to happen so consider dropping down to three days per week training.
Week 4: This is when things get really tough. Get a day or two of training in if you can but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t make it work. If you do have chance to get a workout in, you’ll be on your way to putting that mulled wine, turkey and Christmas pudding behind you!
Week 5: New Year’s Eve week. It’s time to get back into routine now and go into the new year strong and ready to tick off some goals before you do this whole routine again!