Tips for Holiday Survival

Thoughts on the Holidays

As a personal trainer, there is a common question asked without fail this time of year: How do I survive the holidays and not completely derail progress?


Not a Holiday cocktail! This was the time that I saved 7 goldfish from a Magician’s magic trick at a Christmas Party. In case you were wondering, they lived quite a while. One fish lived for 3 years! His name was Chaz.

Tip #1

If you are reading this, chances are you already have a fitness routine in place. So why would the holidays be any different?  I know that things get hectic, and it may feel as if there aren’t enough hours in the day to get all the shopping, wrapping, cooking, and visiting in on TOP of your normal work/family responsibilities.  My suggestion is take out the calendar and schedule your workouts in.  Put them in writing, as if you were marking your calendar for the office Christmas Party, taking the kids to see Santa, or the day that the in-laws arrive.  After all, it is just as important to take care of yourself as it is to take care of everyone else, if not more so.  My hope is that your family will understand if you have to duck out for an hour or so to go take your yoga class or go to the gym to pick up a bunch of heavy things.  But if you think that being upfront won’t fly, you could always say that you are going shopping for them.  I am sure there won’t be any arguments, and I certainly won’t tell them.  Being a happier, more relaxed, stronger and less stressed self IS the gift that keeps on giving.   I am sure that your family would agree. And if you aren’t quite in to the groove of a consistent workout routine yet, same rule applies.  It’s the season of giving, so give yourself a little grace and the gift of taking time out for yourself, whatever that looks like for you.


Tip #2

It’s Ok.  Be THAT person. Are you anxious about the food that is going to be served at the holiday meal?  Simply BYOF (Bring Your Own Food)!  Now, I am not suggesting (unless you are in competition prep and have a specific goal) that you need to haul your meal prep bag and break out your tiny Tupperware at the table containing 3 oz. of seasonless chicken breast and 8 asparagus spears.  Bring a healthy dish to share that you enjoy and feel confident and supported in eating.  No need to make a big deal about it being a “healthy alternative”, as you don’t want to indirectly shame or alienate others for the choices that they make.  Just offer with a big smile.  And what if no one wants to eat it?  No worries, more for you!   I admit, giving this advice is easy for me.  I may not be the best person to ask how to tackle this very real and oftentimes complex situation.  I have been a vegetarian since I was 13 years old. (That was over 25 years ago).  My friends and family are accustomed to the way that I eat.  I don’t feel guilty turning down the Honey Baked Ham or “Roast Beast” as the Grinch would say.  Even the non-meaty sides that don’t appeal to me, I pass on.  I don’t give it a second thought. I have no shame, no story attached.  I guess I never considered that my dietary choices would offend someone, hurt their feelings, or raise an eyebrow.  I am happy to bring a veggie tray where ever I go.  Even though I brought it to share, lets be honest.  I end up eating most of it any way.  At the end of the day, this is your journey.  This is your body, take ownership.  You have the right to make 100 percent of the decisions what you choose to put into it.  Remember, what works for you, may not work for everyone.  The holidays are probably not the time to convert your overweight cousin.  My wish for you is that your holiday table is filled with love, friends and family.  Enjoy who you are with, and relish in gratitude and great conversation.  Place focus on who you are sharing this special time with, and not what is on your plate.  Then chances are great that everyone will be so engaged with enjoying themselves, that they won’t even notice that you chose to skip Aunt Bea’s mincemeat pie.


Tip #3

The converse of above:  If you want the damn cookie, then EAT the damn COOKIE!!!!  Seriously, don’t stress.  One day of eating what you love, made from the people who love you, won’t make an ounce of difference in the larger picture.   Same goes for if you are preparing the meal.  Put your heart in it.  All bets (and calories) are off.  Sure, you may have a stomach ache.  You may feel a little sluggish or your rings may not fit. If you are like me, you may wake up in the morning looking like you were just hit by a Mac Truck.  But know that going in, and let it go!  As humans, we thrive on community.  Feast and fellowship is part of that. It won’t do you any service to beat yourself up for enjoying your holiday meal.  You won’t gain 10 lbs. overnight.  What you want to refrain from doing is going on a food bender until New Years, and then decide to get back on the wagon as your resolution.  Most resolutions don’t stick anyway.  Go back to making healthier choices on December 26.  Everything will be ok.  Promise.


This is Jackson. He was my buddy for 12 Christmases.


Tip: 4

Know Thyself:  Are you a moderator or abstainer?  I am an abstainer.  In my life, I have had friends and clients tell me about products like Halo Top Ice Cream, or protein powders, bars and treats that taste like the most amazing chocolate cookie dough double dipped fudge ripple orgasmic goodness. “You just HAVE to try,” they say.  Now, even though I appreciate the fact that they may be “healthy-ish”, I know darn well that I can’t go out and buy it!!  If I did, it would be gone.  Not in a week, or even a day.  I’m talking in a matter of hours.  So I would rather not know how good it is and refrain all together.  I know this about myself.  The same reason I can’t have peanut butter in the house.  If it is in the house, I have asked friends and loved ones to hide it from me.  One friend even went so far as to sleep with it, so I couldn’t get at it at night.  (That’s a true friend).  If I choose to eat something hyper palatable, or a food that I love, something inside me snaps.  I won’t stop until it is gone, regardless of satiety cues.  Here’s another funny story.  I love trail mix, and nuts of all kinds – very popular snack served at parties.  Once I start eating, I keep going back for more…until I am the friend who just ate the entire bowl.  I would tell my friends that I invited my “Party Squirrel”, and it wasn’t me. (This is a nickname that still follows me around today).  Now, in the rare event that I buy something that I know is a trigger food for me, I do so with intention and forgiveness.  I know it will be gone by the day’s end, so I choose not to beat myself up about it.  More often than not, I feel like garbage the next day.  But, once in a while a girl genuinely feels like eating an entire block of cheese.  So, I take one for the team.  However, this may not be you.   Believe it or not there are people out there that are able to eat a few bites of a treat and feel satisfied.  They are the moderators.  As you go into the holiday season, I encourage the moderators to eat and enjoy.  Tune into the cues that your body is giving you and stop when you are full.  If you are an abstainer, perhaps you will pass on the foods that you know will lead to feeling overstuffed and in a guilty food coma.  Or, everyone can just refer to tip number 3 and eat it if you want it!!  Do what works for you.


Tip #5

Choose your carbs.  This one is simple.  I choose wine.  You may choose the breads, or the cookies and cakes.  If you have a few cocktails, perhaps you pass on the sweet stuff.  If the holidays just aren’t the same without the sweet potato pie with marshmallow, think about drinking sparkling water with a little bit of festive cranberry juice.  Unless, of course, you are the unicorn of a moderator mentioned above.  If you can really have your 5 oz. pour of Cabernet and your single square of dark chocolate…do your thing.


“Play On” Tour 2010. Christmas Party. Photo with Jimmy Herman. (Carrie’s Fiddle Player and super fit dad!)

Tip #6

Another simple one:  Get in some type of movement (even if it isn’t a normal workout) before your big holiday meal.  Whether you are the type of family who gets up at 5 AM to do a “Jingle Bell 10k”, or take your dog for a walk, or go skating and sledding with the kids, get outside, get active and get fresh air.  Burn off some energy before you eat.  You will feel more relaxed and that will help with digestion. Perhaps a happy side effect will also be making healthier choices.  For example, load up your plate with the more nutritious foods offered, and then go for smaller portions of your favorites that may not be as healthy.


Tip #7

Just Breathe: I am not doctor, but breathing is kinda important.  If there is only one tip that you take away, it should be this.  If you are feeling anxious at all about the holiday season, regardless of your relationship to food, I encourage you to take a small timeout right before eating.  Take a few deep breaths.  You don’t have to make a scene or anything.  No rolling eyes in the back of your head, crossing your legs and going into a meditative state with a deep OHM.

Here is what I do.  I inhale for a count of 5, hold at the top for a count of 5, exhale for 5, hold the exhale for 5.  Some people refer to this as “box breathing”.  You only need to do it a few times through to get benefit.  Humor me while I geek out for a moment.   The autonomic nervous system is responsible for regulating the body’s unconscious actions.  There are 2 divisions; the sympathetic (fight or flight response) and parasympathetic (rest and digest).  If you feel stressed, anxious or fearful, you are in Fight or Flight mode.  Your body is more concerned about running away from an angry tiger than to properly absorb nutrients or metabolize the food you eat.  By taking some deep breaths, you can essentially trick your body into shifting into the Rest and Digest response.  This will aid in digestion, metabolism, and perhaps help you recognize when you are full and satisfied.


Tip #8

Fall in Love:  This could be with your spouse, your kids, yourself or the holiday season itself.  Have you ever had that friend who got in a new relationship and just radiates? Buzzing with all kinds of sexy feel good pheromones, you can’t help but be attracted to them also.  They walk taller, their skin glows, they may look like they have lost weight, everything about them looks healthier.  Like magic.  They may not have changed one thing about their workouts or diet. Their body composition may be exactly the same.  But people who are in love, or genuinely happy, look the best in my opinion.  Joy on the inside translates to beauty on the outside.  So, onward to the holiday season with all kinds of love, and shine on.


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