- Have a plan. Know how many calories you can handle for the day without going overboard
- Bracket the meal with exercise
- Go back to your normal eating the next day
The holidays are notorious for causing many of us to get in the wrong kind of shape: round. Combine all of the extra sugar based snacks lying around, office parties and family gatherings dedicated to the celebration of food, it’s easy to watch all of your hard-earned physique gains disappear in the period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s.
But that doesn’t have to be. For the last two years, I’ve signed up to compete in a powerlifting meets in December. Normally, I just go in and compete wherever I land but this year, I have a specific weight class I want to compete in. I’m about 2 pounds under the class limit, which doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room. Fortunately, I’ve found a fairly user friendly way to survive the holidays without blowing up like last year’s birthday balloons.
Have a plan
This means being intentional about eating. And this is a habit for year round. Food is not your bartender so stop using it to make yourself feel better and it’s not a form of entertainment so stop eating because you’re bored. I think you should enjoy your food but you’re also an adult so act like one. Whatever nutritional approach you prefer, whether you’re trying to lose, gain or maintain your weight, you need to know how many calories a day you can safely take in to reach your goals. Once you know that, it’s pretty easy to adjust your normal eating so that the office Christmas party doesn’t derail you. Even if you eat until you’re stuffed (which I don’t recommend) simply cutting back on the size of your other meals that day should make up for it without you having to count calories at Thanksgiving dinner.
Bracket your meal with exercise
One reason for the trend towards obesity in our culture is lack of physical activity. Earlier generations of people and people in less developed societies metabolically earn their food. That means they have to burn calories just to eat. They burn calories finding it, killing/harvesting it and transporting it to where it can be made ready for the dinner table. In America that’s pretty much traveling to the fridge and hitting buttons on the microwave. Not good. You need to get in tune with your inner predator and create a metabolic hole that’s filled by your meal. This does NOT mean that you can out train a constant calorie surplus. See tip number one.
But it does mean that you can make your body store fewer calories as fat by increasing the amount of calories you expend every day. ‘A good example of this is Iron Addicts gym co-founder Mike Rashid, admits to not having the best diet, but who says that his high metabolic output helps him maintain his physique. You don’t have to do 200 reps in the bench before eating like he does in this video but you should bracket your holiday meal with exercise.
This Thanksgiving I trained delts and arms before dinner and walked on the treadmill for thirty minutes afterwards at a moderate pace. It was simple and convenient because of my garage gym lifestyle, but even if I had been traveling without gym access, I could have done a calisthenics session in my room then gone for a walk after dinner like Grandma and Grandpa used to in the Fifties.
Resume normal eating as soon as possible
What destroys your physique is not the one Roman orgy style feast at Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. It’s the snacking on leftovers afterwards. Some of this is psychological. If you’ve already blown it at the meal (or think you have) the temptation is to holler and throw up your hands like Marvin Gaye ’cause you’re a Trouble Man. Don’t do that.
First of all, if you followed steps one and two, you should be fine. But let’s say you’re reading this AFTER the damage has been done. Don’t panic. Just restart your diet right now. As Krissy Mae Cagney says, you’re one meal away from falling off the wagon and one meal away from getting back on. Just resume your pre blowout lifestyle and treat yesterday as a cheat day or a refeed day. Seriously.
What about family members and how they will feel about your different attitude? Honestly, you need to expect a certain amount of negative pushback from people who don’t share your goals. That’s why I think it’s important to not hang around toxic people. As the Bible says, “Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?” Amos 3:3 NLT
But you shouldn’t avoid Aunt Marge because she likes to stack your plate. That doesn’t make you dedicated. It makes you an insensitive jerk. Understand that to most people, especially from previous generations, feeding someone is an expression of love. So follow steps one and two and eat. It will also make for a teachable moment so you can share your new lifestyle with loved ones (if they ask).
On Thanksgiving Day I trained, went to dinner and sampled some of everything. I even went back for seconds and ate until I was full. We took leftovers with us and I put them in the fridge uneaten while I got on the treadmill. In the morning, I checked weight and I was 204.6, up one pound from the previous week. The class limit is 205 so if I had to weigh in today, I would be ready.
Today I’ll make turkey sandwiches from the leftovers and I plan to text the neighbors who we shared the Thanksgiving meal with to compliment them on the food again.
That’s how you survive the holidays.
John Greaves III writes for a variety of outlets including Power Magazine, StrengthAdvocate.com and Powerlifting Watch. He is the founder of Garage Gym Life and has authored two fiction books involving powerlifting both of which are available on Amazon.com. He is a record holding Masters powerlifter, a combat veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, a former Marine Corps Martial Arts Instructor and was a silver medalist at the 2001 International Kickboxing Federation National Championships. He is constantly seeking out interesting people who have rejected an average life in favor of building an extraordinary legacy. John’s been training for twenty-three years and from a garage gym for sixteen. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.