Trying to beat the holiday bulge is almost as difficult as trying to save money in a season that begs one to over-indulge in every sense: Christmas Time is here! At the beginning of these holidays, shortly after having done the 94.7 Cycle Challenge and being in reasonably good shape, my boyfriend and I promised ourselves that we would run at least 5km every day. Ha! The first 5 days went well, and then it was a downward spiral of shame and lethargy. Not only were we in a new destination every 2 days as we road-tripped through the country (check out my new Instagram account, @bohemiandoc, for pictures!), we also realised quickly how tiring driving long distances can be. Upon arriving at a place, after 6 hours in the car, running 5km was definitely NOT on the agenda. Sadly it quickly became obvious how difficult it is to keep active when one is travelling, or even in holiday-mode at home.
Often destinations are unfamiliar, thus one isn’t sure of where to run or cycle, lest you get lost. Other times it’s simply about being too lazy to self-propel a workout. Whatever the case is, by normalising a balanced lifestyle even during the holidays will prevent you from feeling like a bloated stuffed turkey 1 week in, but also doesn’t mean that you’ll have to force-feed yourself strict diets instead of the very treats that make this season magical in the first place (mince pies, anyone?).
It IS possible to enjoy a guilt-free holiday that doesn’t involve being a reckless glutton, but the trick lies in being practical and realistic about one’s holiday habits. A liiiiittle bit of self-control will go a LONG way in ensuring you start the new year not too much larger than life than you were the year before 😉
- Do something, anything!
I know all too well that after a big festive lunch – and far too many glasses of wine – the last thing anyone feels like doing is jumping into their trainers and going for a leisurely sprint in the 31 degree sun. In times like these (and this applies to studying too), my motto is that anything is better than nothing. Yup, it’s as simple as that. Coax yourself up and go for a 10 minute walk around the block. It’s not an hour-long high-intensity workout, sure, but it is 100% more healthy-habit-forming than to continue growing melanomas in the sun next to the pool, and results in an hour more per week (cumulatively) of being active than if you’d opted for the pool instead.
- -OH please!
It’s no secret that when everyone is relaxed at a family gathering, alcohol flows freely (or is it the other way around?). Truth be told, this is probably the biggest culprit of the holiday bulge (they don’t call it empty calories for no reason!). The way-too-many-drinks consumed (often sugar/-OH laden), paired with the feast that often lies ahead, creates for a recipe for disaster. Sneaky tips include substituting every 2nd drink with water, or sipping on your drink over a few hours instead of gulping it down in 10 minutes, or just being smarter with the type of drink you choose:
- Straight liquor, neat or on the rocks, such as gin, whiskey and scotch – albeit not the tastiest – is the ‘cleanest’ drink one can opt for, and allows you to spread the drink over the evening by sipping on it leisurely (hopefully!). The trick is to avoid the mixers (sadly even tonic contains sugar), or to opt for the ugly little brother instead – soda water.
- Wine – in moderation – is also a good and healthy alternative. Emphasis on moderation 😉
- Beer is most likely the most widely enjoyed holiday beverage, but by choosing the ‘lite’ versions (low in calories), the ‘light’ versions (low in alcohol), or the stout varieties (high in vitamin B12, antioxidants and fiber) is far healthier than chugging down 5 craft varieties in a row.
- The age-old tricks of eating beforehand, not mixing drinks, drinking in moderation and drinking enough water still stand – tips the teen versions of ourselves didn’t always take seriously enough!
- Swallow your pride, and not another piece of cake
Family gatherings are the worst. When there are 2 different types of salads, 3 varieties of meats, 4 different desserts and what seems like 1000 other dishes to choose from, how can anyone be expected to maintain any form of balance during this time? If that’s not a first-world problem, then I don’t know what is. But it all comes down to balance – yet again. By all means gobble that chocolate cake up, but only have ONE piece. Taste all the dishes on offer, but only have ONE plate in total. The simplest – yet most challenging – tip in not over-indulging is this.
- Re-brand your exercise
The thought of exercising/dieting in the holiday season is plain depressing, so disguise it by doing activities that serve a dual-purpose of both being fun and getting the HR up. Hiking, pairing up with a training buddy, doing parkrun (running) and trying Critical Mass (cycling) are more obvious examples, but even taking a dip in the pool, walking the dogs or exploring a new town on foot instead of driving also fit into the age-old adage of taking the stairs instead of the lift.
- Watch yourself…
Nothing dampens my holiday jog more than not being able to find my way home when jogging in unfamiliar suburbs/forests. I’m very fortunate to have a watch (TomTom Cardio Runner 3) that uses GPS to track my run/cycle, and then displays the route on the watch face during the run/cycle so that I can easily navigate back to my starting point, should I take unfamiliar paths. It also enables me to save this route and load it on my next run, so that I can easily form a running routine even if I’m only in that area for 3 days at a time.
Another advantage of a training watch is being able to choose a training mode (fat burn, speed, power etc.) during which the watch prompts me when to go faster, or what HR to aim for, based on whatever the mode/goal is that I’ve set for that workout. Having that guidance when I’m in holiday mode (read: lazy and unmotivated to sweat) makes all the difference to how effective my workout will be, because earning those 100 fitness points each day in order to keep my Fitness Age as low as possible has become a healthy obsession which I’m not willing to kick even for the holiday season.
At the end of the day, you’ll be happy to know that it’s often impractical and unnecessary to stick to rigorous diets/exercise programs over the holiday season, as for many of us it’s one of the few periods in which we are able to unwind completely from the prisons that are the other 11 months of the year. So, ENJOY soaking up the sun, tasting every flavour of ice-cream there is and relaxing lazily in your PJs the whole day – but be cognizant of the fact that over-indulgence is the nasty big brother of the sweet pleasure that is indulgence over the festive season, and that doing a little something is ALWAYS better than doing a lot of nothing, especially when it comes to exercise.
“EVERYTHING is or isn’t ice-cream” – how to be an optimist