Make Your Plan Now to Break the Holiday Cycle, and End 2020 Feeling better than Ever!
The Holiday Cycle
I am writing this post in October 2020, in preparation for the Holiday season. Starting with Halloween, and ending with New Years, there are many holidays observed and celebrated between October and January. For a lot of us, the holidays are a time to celebrate with friends and family, and also to eat, drink, and be merry.
If we are not careful, the holidays can also be a time of overindulgence, which leads to a viscous cycle:
- Over eating/drinking from October-January.
- Realizing in January that the holidays have had a negative impact on our waistline.
- Making a New Years resolution, losing (most of) the excess weight and inches gained during the holidays.
- When we reach October, start again at step 1…
Have you ever found yourself in this cycle? I know I have. Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to enjoy, but also moderate the holidays, so we did not have to dig out of a hole every January 1? Think about cleaning out your house or garage…is it easier to clean a cluttered room from top to bottom, or to keep it clean and organized? I pick option 2 personally.
Breaking the Holiday Cycle
What if I told you that you could make a plan to navigate the holidays, and you wouldn’t need to make a new years resolution this year to dig out of the holiday slump? There is a way to enjoy the holidays and still be healthy, and it starts right now.
Make a Plan
Instead of a New Years resolution, make an October 22 resolution; resolve to focus on your health and well-being between now and January 1, and make a plan. Before making a plan for where you want to finish, let’s take an inventory of where we are starting from in the following areas:
Physical measurements can provide a snapshot of where you are right now, and can serve as helpful check points during, and after the Holidays. A few examples:
- A photo/mirror selfie
- Circumferences: Measure around your waist, arms, hips, legs.
- Body composition/body fat %
You may or may not want to make goals to improve these measurements, that is a personal decision. Certainly, you want to set a goal to maintain these measurements…we do not want to add pounds, body fat, or inches during the Holidays.
Exercise and Movement
Make a journal of how much you move and exercise during a week, and count everything. Your journal should log physical activity each day. Examples of exercise and movement to track:
- Steps per day
- Cardio exercise-Include type, duration (time), distance (if applicable)
- Weight training- Include type of exercise, sets, repetitions
- Body weight training- Include type of exercise, sets, repetitions
- Physical work- If you work Construction (for example), yard work, etc. include type of activity, duration, frequency (how many times per week)
- Stretching, Yoga, recovery activities like foam rolling- Include type of activity, and duration (how long)
Once you have a baseline of your physical activity level, ask yourself, are you happy with your current levels of physical activity? The answer may very well be, yes! If yes, make your goal not to compromise during the holiday season, commit to maintaining your weekly activity levels from now through January.
If you are not happy with your activity levels, make a plan to increase them between now and January 1. For example, if you currently have no exercise routine, you could set a goal as basic as 8,000 steps per day, no matter what. 8,000 steps per day requires no Gym membership, and provides a gaunteed baseline of physical activity every day.
Keep a journal and log what you eat and drink for an entire week. This is important for you to see how you are currently eating, and also decide if you want to make any modifications/improvements during the Holidays. I am not going to ask you to focus on counting calories or macro nutrients, that is not sustainable or helpful for most people. However, here are some key things to look for when you analyze your food journal:
- What are you drinking, other than water? Write it all down, include serving size (how much).
- Do you drink alcohol? If yes, write down how many drinks each day.
- How many items you eat or drink contain sugar or artificial sweetener Write it all down, include serving size (how much).
- How many items contain processed grain?
- How many items contain processed oil?
- For tips on identifying processed food, see my previous blog post here.
- What times of the day do you eat your meals?
Similar to exercise, ask yourself, are you happy with your diet (what you eat)? If yes, make a plan to not fundamentally change it during the holidays, and plan your treats very intentionally. If you are not happy with your diet, let’s make a plan to change one thing between now and January, AND plan your treats very intentionally.
For example, if you drink soda, or other beverages with sugar or artificial sweetener, you could make a goal to gradually phase these items out between now and January.
Take an inventory of markers of stress in your life. For example:
- Do you have a negative reaction if someone criticizes you?
- Do you worry about what others think of you on a daily basis?
- How is your self talk? Do you think positive, encouraging thoughts to yourself?
- How many hours per night do you sleep?
Sleep is the number 1 low hanging fruit when it comes to managing stress, striving for 7-8 hours of quality sleep per night will have a positive impact on many health markers. It is important to take an inventory of stressors within our day to day life, as these can impact our ability to focus and follow through on goals.
If a Holiday gathering is a stressful environment, or you come into it stressed, eating or drinking to feel better may result. We want to make sure we are eating because we truly enjoy the meal, so being mindful of stress can be a secret weapon to successful and healthy holidays.
Track Your Plan
Once you have your baseline measurements/goals, and your plan, you need to start tracking progress weekly. Here is an example of a very basic plan, and what tracking looks like:
- Maintain my body weight and circumference measurements
- 8,000 steps per day, 7 days per week
- Eliminate soda
- Sleep 7 hours per night
- This week, I weighed myself and measured circumferences, no changes!
- This week, I averaged 8,200 steps per day, however I only achieved 5,000 steps on Sunday. While I am happy with my progress, I need to hold myself accountable and find a way to get all of my steps in, even on days off.
- This week, I only drank 1 soda, which is a huge improvement from my usual routine of 1 soda per day. I had the 1 soda as a treat on Sunday, this week I am going to look for alternative treats that I enjoy just as much (like seltzer with a little fresh fruit).
- This week, I slept for 7 hours during the week, but only 4-5 on the weekend. I realize that my habit of staying up late and watching TV is impacting my ability to get the sleep I need, and I know I need a plan to change this pattern. This week, I will set a limit to my TV time, and give myself a “bedtime” on the weekend to assure I am targeting 7 hours.
For this example, I made a goal in each major category. You might decide to make more than one, but 1 goal in each area will do wonders during the holidays if you are successful. Also, when you track each goal weekly, always think about (and write down) what you will do to hold yourself accountable and improve the following week.
Make “Micro Plans”
Tracking your plans and goals during a standard week leading up to the holidays is very important, but not nearly as important as making a specific plan when you have a holiday coming up. For example, if you roll into Thanksgiving week with no plan, here is a very real scenario which could manifest itself:
- You don’t meet your exercise goals because you are busy at work, and prepping for the big day.
- You eat and drink too much Wednesday while prepping for the big day.
- You eat and drink WAY too much on Thursday.
- You eat too much the rest of the weekend, because, leftovers…
What causes us set backs are not the holidays themselves, after all these are only 1 day events. However, 5 straight days of over indulgence will set your health, fitness, and sleep back quite significantly. The 5 days described above will also start a pattern as you continue through the end of the year…hence,, the holiday cycle.
If you make a plan for Thanksgiving (or any holiday), you can control the outcome, rather than having the event control you. For example, using Thanksgiving (again):
- I will get my 8,000 steps per day, no matter what this week.
- I will get 10,000 steps on Thanksgiving Day.
- I will not change my meal routine the week of Thanksgiving, and I will truly enjoy the food and drink on the Holiday.
- On the Holiday, I will enjoy the food and time with my family. In order to help me not overeat, I will limit myself to 1 desert, which will be apple pie with Ice Cream.
- On Friday, I will return to my normal routine of meals. If I am still full from Thursday, I will listen to my body, and only eat breakfast if I am hungry (not because it is time to eat).
- I will only eat left overs if they fit into my meal plan, I will not eat leftovers because I feel I have to, or as a “treat”.
Strategies for Success
Thinking about getting ready for the Holidays, consider these helpful tips:
- Do not eat or drink something if you do not really enjoy it. Have you ever put something on your plate just because it is there, but you don’t really like it? This is a really easy way to overeat. So, if you do not really and truly love mashed potatoes (for example) just skip them, and eat the things you do enjoy!
- Identify “Trigger Foods”. Trigger Foods are foods that you are unable to stop eating once you have a little bit, and they are different for everyone. If you are unable to have 1 bite of Grandma’s apple pie without having 5 slices, considering saying “no thank you”.
- Do not “Stress Eat”. Eat food because you truly enjoy it, not because Uncle Rob is stressing you out by talking politics. If stress eating and trigger foods have been a challenge for you in the past, make your plan now on how you will navigate them this year.
- Exercise on the day of the holiday. Exercise on a day you know that you are going to consume more food than usual helps reinforce healthy patterns. Do not see exercise as a punishment for eating Holiday foods, see it as an affirmation that you have been making healthy choices and you will continue to do so.
- Use Intermittent Fasting. Intermittent Fasting means going at strategic intervals without eating, or drinking beverages with calories. I mentioned above to only eat when you are hungry, here is the reality; when we eat significantly more food than we do on a normal day, we create a calorie surplus. Here is how intermittent fasting may help around a Holiday like Thanksgiving:
- Intentionally skip Breakfast that morning
- Wait until you are hungry to eat the day after, rather than just habitually eating because it is breakfast time
- Return to your normal routine immediately after the holiday. Having this as a well established plan will help you steer clear of an entire weekend of treats, and leftover indulgence. If you have a plan to enjoy your holiday meal(s), and immediately go back to your routine, you limit the possibility of establishing new (less healthy) patterns that will sink.
To own the Holidays this year, and start January feeling even better than you do now:
- Assess where you are with physical measurements, exercise, stress, and nutrition.
- Make a specific plan (Goals) either to maintain, or improve in these areas
- Track your progress weekly, keeping a journal and working with an accountability partner are great ways to stay on track.
- Make “Micro Plans” to get ready for each Holiday, to make sure you enjoy your favorite foods, while also keeping your new healthy patterns.
- Always go back to your plan after each Holiday, do not create multiple days in a row of over indulgence.
I will check back in with you soon about how my Holidays are going, I am going to start training for Thanksgiving now! Posts to come later about how the plan is going, and fun Holiday workouts.