For many of us, the holidays hold a sense of dread. Not the way you might be thinking, though. I’m not talking about the endless screaming and yelling of happy children (I think my parents really enjoyed it when Christmas break was over and school started again), or spending time with some of those relatives that we might not exactly be looking forward to seeing. I believe it was Ben Franklin who said something to the effect that houseguests are like fish… after 3 days they both begin to stink.
Actually, what I’m talking about is the feeling of foreboding we all have about the vast quantities of food that we are all going to be inhaling. That period of time between Thanksgiving and New Years has always been associated with feasting, making merry and, more recently, weight gain.
Fortunately, things aren’t as bad as you might think. Most people assume that during the Holiday season it’s not unusual to gain anywhere between 5-10 pounds from overeating. That’s actually a bit of a myth. On average, most people gain no more than a pound of additional body weight over the holidays. The problem is that most people never get rid of it. It stays. Over the course of 10-15 years, that can add up to 10-15 pounds of additional unwanted body fat… Unless you take some preventative steps.
There are two basic strategies that I have used with some of my clients that have proven successful. I adapted these from Alwyn and Rachel Cosgrove, two of the most well known figures in the world of fitness, so when they talk about a particular strategy that they have used for their own personal success, you can bet I’ll listen.
As mentioned before, most of us are going to be overeating to some point over the next month or so. With all of that food around us, it’s not realistic to think that you’ll be able to stay 100 percent focused. As a matter of fact, a lot of people will just give up. That’s what I like to refer to as the "Diet Mindset."
I liken a diet to looking down a long, dark tunnel where you can’t see the other end. There are no lights, no side tunnels, nothing but what’s in front of you. At the first sign of weakness, people turn around and give up trying to get to the other side. Diets are not adaptable, are generally made up of foods we wouldn’t normally eat and tend to be at odds with our daily routine. Because of all of these aspects, the first time a person breaks down and deviates from the diet, they look back after they realize what they’ve done and say, "Well, that didn’t work!" and just give up. That’s the "Diet Mindset." It’s all or nothing, and it won’t be "all" for long.
Gradual and easily adaptable changes to an eating behavior are a much more favorable method for consistency and success. Making small changes over time rather than a drastic “all or nothing” revamp of your current dietary habits work far better for most people… and that’s where the “Flat Tire Syndrome” comes in.
The Flat Tire Syndrome
Imagine a brand new sports car, such as a Porsche. Now think of that car as representing your body and the tires your diet. Suppose you’re driving along and you hit a bit of road hazard and you blow a tire. What do you do now? Are you going to get out of the car with a large knife and walk around puncturing the other three tires? No? You’re going to call a tow truck and have the problem corrected, right? You want to try to think of your eating behavior the same way.
Say you’ve been pretty strict with your nutrition and workout goals. You’re looking healthier and you’ve lost a couple of pounds and that pair of jeans is fitting better. One day while out and about, you lose your focus and hit the McDonalds for a Big Mac, Large Fries and a Coke. After lunch you realize what you’ve done. If you’re like me at all, at some point in time you’ve probably done this and thought, “Well, now I’ve blown everything!” At which point you just give up.
The truth of the matter is that you just had a minor setback. No one, absolutely no one has absolutely perfect nutrition. Even top body builders will tell you that they deviate from their strict nutritional guidelines from time to time. It’s just human nature. They key to success though is to not let it affect you. Get back on track and realize that you don’t have to be perfect to be consistent. Don’t blow your other three tires
Nutritional sabotage isn’t the only issue during the Holiday Season, however. Many of us tend to slack off on our exercise schedule. You know what that means. The less that we exercise the less calories we’re burning overall. That, of course, leads to a larger belly. Don’t expect it to make you any more jolly though.
Many people tend to focus on the amount of calories that they burn during their workouts. For some people this works, for others it’s a little problematic… Many people have fitness goals, but few take sufficient action to achieve them. This is where that second little training strategy comes in handy. I like to call it the "Training Frequency Goal."
Training Frequency Goal
Most people prefer to focus on losing 10-15 pounds and continue to struggle with it for weeks and months if not years. This is generally referred to as an "Outcome Goal." The problem with Outcome Goals, though, is that there often isn’t any planning in place that will allow a person to achieve it. That’s where the “Training Frequency Goal” comes in handy.
A Training Frequency Goal is not outcome based. It is what we call a "Process Goal." By focusing a little less on the ultimate outcome and a little bit more on the steps we need to take to achieve it, overall progress can become easier.
Think of it this way; there are 31 days in December. That’s four weeks and three days. Most active people work out between two to four times a week. Say you hit the gym three times a week. You could easily set a goal for yourself to perform 13-14 workouts in December. Now I know you’re thinking that my math is flawed. Three multiplied by four is 12—but don’t forget those extra three days. C’mon, that’s enough time for at least one more workout. Two more if you’re motivated. Buck up.
Every time you complete a workout, mark it off or make a notation on your calendar, being sure to keep track of the number of workouts completed and the number left to complete within a given amount of time. This will keep you honest about your workout time and make it a little less likely for you to blow off that trip to the gym after that holiday office party… when you really need it!
By setting a process goal such as this, not only will you be more likely to keep your fitness goals within sight during the holiday season, but you might even notice that it will make your outcome goal (that 10-15 pounds you’ve been trying to get rid of) a little bit easier to achieve.
While exercise and fitness seem to be mostly a physical endeavor, you must remember that to see success, especially during this time of year, there has to be as much of a mental and emotional component as a physical one. Plan ahead, set goals and try not to blow all four tires, and your holiday season will be as healthy as it is happy!