Well they do say you can’t out-train a bad diet, so my post on holiday fitness tips has to be accompanied by some holiday nutrition tips. I’m afraid I don’t have any pictures of scantily-clad muscular women in Santa outfits to accompany this post and motivate you to achieve your dream physique whilst everyone around you gorges on mince pies and other festive treats.
To be honest, my main advice would be to enjoy yourself, and hit your training and diet plan hard when you get back into it, rather than half-heartedly cheating on your diet now, then half-heartedly getting back into it later.
However, there is no denying that I don’t want to get back into training carrying an extra few kilos with me. Also if you’ve ever grappled you’ll know that a spare tyre doesn’t make the experience any more comfortable. And perhaps most importantly, we want to avoid fluctuations in weight and body composition for general health and sanity.
Obviously changes in bodyweight are directly related to calories in vs calories out. Personally, though the amount of calories I take in during a festive holiday doesn’t increase too dramatically, the amount of calories I expend daily drops hugely. Even if I make an effort to stay relatively active, I just won’t be running around as much as I do in London where I will easily spend up to an hour a day walking briskly with a relatively weighty backpack, not to mention participating in significantly longer and more intense exercise sessions that I could ever hope (or want) to achieve on holiday.
From what I understand of other people’s holiday plans, I am not the only one. So, we need to adjust our nutrition accordingly – which isn’t necessarily easy when other people around us don’t give their food intake a second thought.
Now remember I am not saying you should restrict yourself. I refuse to lay down a set of ground rules because that would amount to not trusting myself around food and once you start running with that attitude you can find yourself very far from a healthy relationship with food. Also, if you are spending time with family – especially a family who has trouble understanding the whole vegan thing – the last thing you want to do is offend or worry them by not eating normally. Plus, as I have mentioned before, let’s not further marginalise vegans by acting like we live a life of deprivation. Have a mince pie for the animals, another for the planet, and another for your long-term health!
However, I don’t know about you but I’m not a fan of waking up with a stomach ache, or of the difficulty of adjusting to a change in body shape and fitness levels. So here are some tips to help us all make the most of the festive season whilst still looking forward to hitting the gym and out-training everyone again!
The early bird catches the worm… and eats it
Don’t worry, I am no morning person. I won’t be recommending you have a Super Power Smoothie at 5am. But I am a fan of eating more of your calories earlier in the day. I find that if I eat more treats earlier in the day I am less likely to have a third slice of cake at 11pm. Plus, if I have eaten more, I am more likely to be more active throughout the rest of the day, thus burning off more energy and generally staying fresh and happy instead of sitting around feeling useless.
Make your cake and eat it
So many benefits to making your own food! 1) it’s cheaper, 2) if you’re cooking for people, they will be impressed by the personal touch, 3) it usually tastes better! and 4) you get to control exactly what goes into it so you can make it sugar-free, gluten-free, whatever will help you digest and feel healthier. It’s always the unknowns that play on my mind and worry me.
Have a can-do and will-do attitude
I focus on adding nutritional value to my meals, rather than thinking about what I can’t have and worrying about that. This ensures that even if I do end up gaining weight, I’m still healthy, which should be number 1 priority for everyone. Also, I often find that when I’m eating a healthy balanced diet, I am less likely to crave unhealthy easy foods to fill the void. Plus, when I focus on putting good, healthy ingredients into my food or onto my plate, I often find I have no room (or no need!) for less healthy or high-calorie alternatives.
Putting the “pro” back in protein
I concentrate on getting protein into each meal or snack, and try not to worry about calories. Generally when I get enough protein the calories take care of themselves as I fill up on higher-protein lower-carb foods, which are more satisfying. Plus, as above, whatever happens weight gain-wise, at least if I preserve my muscle mass and strength I know I won’t feel so horrible going back to training.
Every little bit helps
I need to be careful not to fall into that trap of “oh I ate x, y, z, my diet is over, now I might as well eat everything else I have resisted until now”. It’s the holiday. It is a time to enjoy yourself. I succeeded, I didn’t fail. Even more of a success will be not giving in to self-pity and melodrama because I ate a slice of double-chocolate cake. Hurray for success!
Tea for two and two teas for me…
I’m guessing by now everyone knows the benefits of green tea, namely speeding up your metabolism. It’s also a great ritual to make and drink tea rather than reach for another biscuit, particularly after a meal when I can easily keep on nibbling for hours. Also, when it’s colder I am less likely to drink as much water, so drinking tea instead ensures I don’t dehydrate (thirst can often be mistaken for hunger).
Later in the day, to avoid messing with my sleep, I switch to herbal teas – peppermint, licorice or fennel are all great digestive aids. For me it’s a good ritual as well to know that once I have had my last cup of tea I won’t be doing any more snacking.
… And two for tee-total
Ok, this may not be realistic for some. But alcohol is a massive contributor to all things weight gain. 1) It is ridiculously calorie-dense. 2) It slows down your metabolism. 3) It lets down your inhibitions – socially as we know and also with regard to dietary choices. 4) It interferes with your sleeping patterns and there are a number of ways sleep has been linked to weight gain – just type the words “sleep weight gain” into a search engine and you’ll be spoilt for choice.
Pick and choose
This isn’t much of an issue for me as I have the benefit of a mum cooking my meals for me while I am on holiday, but if you are preparing your own food, or choosing from a buffet or spread, choose a few things you want to splurge on. For example, I know my sweet tooth will get the better of me, so I would rather pass on potatoes, grains, and even fruit, if I know there will be cake that I will inevitably be having. As I said, my point about alcohol may not be realistic for everyone, so if you feel you need to have a drink then be prepared to miss out on something else. Again, this isn’t so much about restriction but more about enjoyment – I try to figure out what will give me the most bang for my buck (my buck being the number of calories I am willing to take out of my daily intake.
None of this should really be an issue, however, if we have a measured approach to our diets and treats all year round. If you know that next week you will be able to enjoy food just as tasty, there is really no reason to eat until you feel sick today. It is a shame that these days people accept that “the festive season” equates to “binge season”. But that’s a topic for a whole other day.
My strategy is to enjoy my food and not to waste calories unnecessarily. No eating just to please other people. Trying to make sure everything either has a nutritional value or makes me really damn happy (i.e. cake). Eating a little bit of everything instead of bingeing on one thing. And mainly, staying active, as that will make the biggest difference to everything in the end – and I would rather eat and move than not eat and not move! Why would you choose not to do something when you can do two things!
All that said, I hope everyone reading this has a lovely Christmas and I look forward to hearing all about everyone’s favourite vegan dishes – please leave me a comment below to inspire me!