By Tom Venuto, NSCA-CPT, CSCS
My mom makes the most amazing Christmas cake in the world; it’s been a tradition in our family for as long as I can remember. First, she mixes up a light, fluffy, vanilla cake mix, pours it into the pans and then pops it in the oven. After it’s been baked, she stacks the cake in two layers with whipped cream spread generously between each layer. She then pours on red and green Jell-O, which gets soaked up inside the cake. Next, whipped cream is smothered all the way around for frosting. And finally, she garnishes it with red and green sprinkles. A few red and green-striped candy canes are stuck in the top as the finishing touch, and off it goes to the refrigerator so it can be served chilled later.
Now let me tell you, as a bodybuilder, I have a lot of discipline. But when that moist, delicious, red and green, Jell-O-filled, whipped-cream covered cake is sitting on the table in front of me on December 25th, it takes every ounce of my willpower to keep from calling it a “VERY high carb day” and devouring numerous very large slices.
Despite the temptation, I don’t “pig out” nor do I deprive myself. Instead, I’m content with eating my single piece, savoring every mouthwatering bite, all the while repeating my mantra, “Nothing tastes as good as being lean feels.”
The next day, on December 26th, I’m on the bike or Stairmaster at the crack of dawn, followed by six perfect meals of lean protein and complex carbohydrate – just like every other day of the year.
A week later, on December 31st, I usually go out for a nice dinner (very naughty food, I must admit), and then we toast champagne to the New Year at midnight. I’m in bed at a reasonable hour shortly thereafter.
Unless it’s a scheduled day of rest on New Years day, I’m not groggy and hung over like many of my friends are. I’m in the gym squatting, bench pressing, curling, or “stairmastering” just like I usually am.
And here’s the point: You can and should enjoy the holidays. You can enjoy being with family and going out with friends. You can go to holiday parties and have fun. You can enjoy a few “naughty” meals. You can have a piece of cake and a glass or two of champagne. There’s no reason why you can’t enjoy yourself AND stay healthy, lean and fit through the holidays. All it takes is some planning, some goal-setting and little dose of old-fashioned discipline.
I’d like to share with you 10 ways that you can follow your diet and stay in great shape over the holidays without turning into a “miserable Scrooge.” If you follow this advice, then you’ll be one of the proud few with a New Year’s resolution to be the best you’ve ever been in the new year to come – instead of one of the guilt-ridden many who must resolve to reclaim what they lost over the year that’s just passed them by.
1. Expect to stay on your program over the holidays
“Fail to plan and you plan to fail” is a time worn and cliché statement, but it’s still some of the best success advice you will ever hear.
Not only do most people fail to plan, they consciously plan to fail over the holidays. Most people expect to “blow” their diet and skip workouts over the holidays. They expect to eat more, to exercise less and to gain weight. As a result, they don’t even make the effort.
Instead of taking control, they resign themselves to maintenance at best, or back-sliding at worst. This negative expectancy leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy. By the first week of January, they’re in the worst shape they’ve been in for a year and they frantically make New Year’s resolutions to shed the excess fat they’ve gained.
You can avoid this trap by planning to succeed during the holidays. Set up a positive expectation. Resolve now that you will not tolerate slipping backwards. Keep your standards up and don’t settle! Not only can you plan to “stay in shape” over the holidays, you can plan to improve! All you have to do is make the decision and expect success.
2. Plan all your workouts in advance
You know your schedule is going to get hectic over the holidays. You’ll be cooking, shopping, wrapping gifts, sending cards, going to parties, traveling, visiting family, and so on. To stay on your training and nutrition regimen is definitely going to take some sound time management skills.
Plan your schedule in advance. Anticipate what’s coming up. Write it down. Put it on your calendar. By doing so, you won’t be caught unprepared.
Use a schedule book or monthly calendar and “make appointments” for ALL your workouts for the entire holiday season. Then, post a copy where you will be forced to look at it every day. This is a powerful exercise that will keep you focused and force you to think about and prepare for each upcoming workout.
If you try to “wing it” and squeeze in your workouts and meals whenever you have time left over, you’ll find that there never is any time left over! Somehow your daily activities always seem to “expand” to fill the hours in every day. So schedule your workouts and meal times in your calendar just like you would any other appointment or event. Once you’ve done that, stick to your schedule religiously.
3. Set some compelling training and fitness goals over the holiday period
Don’t wait until January 1st to set your goals just because you think it will be harder to achieve them over the holidays. On the contrary, studies on personal achievement have shown that you’ll usually reach 80% of the goals you put onto paper. The problem is that few people set any goals at all, and fewer still set them during the holidays.
Why wait? Why not do it now? Set some big goals that you can start working on during the holidays:
Set a goal to lose the 25 lbs you’ve always wanted to lose NOW Set the goal to gain 10 lbs of solid muscle NOW Been contemplating a competition in bodybuilding, fitness or the new ladies figure division? Pick an early spring show and GO FOR IT – START TRAINING NOW!
Goal setting should not be a once a year affair, it should be a continuous process. You should always have your goals in writing and your list should be regularly updated and rewritten. If you only set goals once a year, you’re not going to accomplish much in your life.
4. Give yourself permission to have “free meals” – and schedule them in
A planned “free meal” or “re-feeding day” helps you to stay on your program better in the long run. If you’re too strict all the time, you’re setting yourself up for cravings and binge eating.
A few free meals per week will have very little effect on your physique. Also, if you’ve been on a strict, low carb and/or low calorie regimen for a long time, a full day of maintenance level calories might actually be good for you! It will boost your metabolic rate and give your body the signal that you’re not starving and that it’s ok to keep burning a lot of calories.
Over the holidays, schedule your dinners and parties so they become your “free meals.” Then, for the rest of your meals, be steadfast! Just the fact that you know you have free meals coming up will relieve the pressure of staying on a strict diet for a long time.
Also, when you do have your free meal – ENJOY IT! If you’re going to eat it and feel guilty, then don’t have it at all. If you’ve stayed with the program all week long, then when your free meal rolls around, you deserve it!
5. If you fall off the wagon, get right back on it
So you had about a dozen too many of those Christmas cookies did you? Don’t worry; because you have free meals built into your plan, you shouldn’t let guilt immobilize you. Even if you fall completely off the wagon, don’t beat yourself up. All you have to do is get right back on your program without missing another beat.
Too many people mess up once and then think their entire diet is ruined. They feel as if everything they’ve done prior to that day was wasted and there’s no sense going on. Or even worse, they rationalize to themselves, “Well, I already cheated, so it doesn’t matter now, I might as well keep pigging out.”
That’s nonsense. If you threw in the towel every time you didn’t score 100% on your diet, most people would never get through more than a few days on any structured program. Just because you slip up once doesn’t mean you should quit! You’re only human. Don’t let one small slip keep you derailed. Firmly plant your wheels back on the tracks and start rolling again.
6. Maintain your consistent eating schedule
If there’s one thing that all people who successfully get lean and stay lean have in common, it’s consistency. Without it, you never get any momentum going. It’s like taking two steps forward, only to take three steps back.
Many people allow the busy holidays to throw them off their regular eating schedule. They completely veer off their usual meal frequency, or they start eating foods they would normally never eat (because “it’s there”).
Once you have a habit or pattern going, it’s fairly easy to keep it going. But once you lose momentum, it’s very difficult to get it going again because you must overcome inertia all over again. (An object at rest tends to stay at rest!)
On the major holidays, when there’s a big dinner scheduled, many people think that skipping their morning and afternoon meals to “save room” for the big one later is a good idea. It’s not. This is actually a good way to invite a binge that could set your back for days.
Don’t lose your consistency or your momentum. Continue with your pattern of eating small, frequent meals all year round. All you have to do is count your holiday dinners as one of your regular meals and keep them small.
7. Control your portion sizes
You can have your cake and eat it too – you just can’t eat the whole thing! One of the most important rules to remember this holiday season is the law of energy balance, which states: To lose body fat, you must consume fewer calories than you burn up each day.
There are two corollaries to the law of energy balance:
1. A caloric surplus gets stored as fat – even healthy food.
2. Small amounts of anything – even junk food – will NOT get stored as fat if you stay in a calorie deficit.
There’s no reason to deprive yourself of things you enjoy. Just make sure you don’t overindulge. As long as you enjoy your favorite foods in moderation, and you keep working out, it won’t end up around your waistline.
8. Don’t buy into the low standards and expectations of others
Keep your standards high, but don’t expect other people’s standards to be as high as yours. Remember that most people have already planned in advance to fail at fitness over the holidays. You’ve decided to stay strong (haven’t you?) Don’t let their negative influence drag you down.
When you’ve reached your pre-ordained drink limit, say “When” and switch to water or a non alcoholic, non caloric beverage. When they offer you seconds on dessert, politely say, “No thank you, it was absolutely delicious, but I’m full, I can’t eat another bite.” And when the wee hours of the morning start to roll around, and your friends are egging you on to keep partying, politely tell them you need your sleep. Tomorrow is a work out day. If they’re really your friends, they’ll understand.
9. Make the best choices possible in every situation.
You know those tables you see at holiday parties that are covered with yards of chips, dips, pretzels, cookies, salami, candies, punch, liquor, and a seemingly endless assortment of other goodies? Well, did you also notice that there is usually a tray full of carrot sticks, cauliflower, celery and other healthy snacks too?
No matter where you are, you always have choices. Sometimes you have to choose between bad and worse. Other times you can choose between good and better. But always make the best choice possible based on whatever your options are. If nothing else, you can choose to eat a small portion of something “bad” rather than a huge portion, thereby obeying the law of calorie balance.
Chances are good that there’s probably something healthy on the menu at every holiday gathering. As you know, lean proteins and fibrous carbs are a great for getting lean, so fill up on the turkey breast, try to get a vegetable in there, and go easy on the desserts.
10. If you drink, enjoy alcohol in moderation
If you enjoy having a few drinks on special occasions, then go ahead and have a drink or two. But if you’re serious about your fitness goals, then drink infrequently and in moderation. Alcohol puts fat oxidation on hold while providing a large amount of calories. When there’s alcohol in your bloodstream, you’re not in fat burning mode.
I’ve never met anyone who was truly serious about fat loss or bodybuilding who was a heavy drinker. Alcohol and muscles just don’t mix. The impact goes beyond added body fat; your energy levels and workouts can be affected for days after a night of heavy drinking. A glass of wine may have health benefits, but there’s never any reason or excuse for binge drinking or getting drunk.
So go ahead and toast to the New Year, but know when to say when.
In conclusion, there’s no reason to let your exercise and nutrition program spoil your holidays, but there’s also no reason to let your holidays spoil your exercise and nutrition program! Put these 10 holiday tips into practice and you can start losing fat today, not next year.
Train hard and expect success,
Tom Venuto, NSCA-CPT, CSCS
Fat Loss Coach
About the Author:
Tom Venuto is a natural bodybuilder, certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) and a certified personal trainer (CPT). Tom is the author of “Burn the Fat, Feed The Muscle,” which teaches you how to get lean without drugs or supplements using methods of the world’s best bodybuilders and fitness models. Learn how to get rid of stubborn fat and increase your metabolism by visiting: www.burnthefat.com