Orlando Health Counselor & Nutrition Consultant Shares “Holiday Fit Tips to Stay on Track”
It is the holidays and it is very easy to get sidetracked with your own personal health & fitness goals. If you’re committed, you can absolutely dodge the unnecessary guilt & shame cycle that sinks in come January for most people. It is possible to stay ahead of the game.
First off, decide to contract with yourself to mindfully keep your health a priority. I want to encourage you to go against the grain this season and decide make a daily “requirement” of doing something active. This may, at times, require a little extra creativity and resourcefulness through all the family gatherings, shopping, holiday parties, traveling, etc. The reality is that if you decide to commit, you CAN make it happen (while also being a positive “health” role model for others).
2. Decide in Advance.
We can never underestimate the power of the human brain. When we make a decision in advance, research shows that we are behaviorally more likely to comply. Willpower is “finite” and tends to wear off as the day goes on, which is why many find temptation far more difficult to fight off at the end of the day. By making healthy choices in advance for a special occasion, we are more likely to prime our brains and prepare a neural pathway, allowing less willpower to be used. This is a golden rule that saves a lot of people during social gathering around the holidays. So, at the next holiday function you’re invited to, give it a whirl and decide what you will eat before you get there (if you know the menu). If you don’t know the menu, I recommend at least deciding on what your plate will look like (e.g. lean meat, vegetables, and 1 serving of a treat food).
3. It’s Not all Black & White
A common self-sabotaging mental trap to be aware of is “black & white thinking.” Studies show that many dieters that are unsuccessful tend to rate their days “diurnally,” meaning that they rate the entire day as “good” versus “bad.” In actuality, there are countless of decisions (big and small) that we make throughout a single day – and hundreds of them are related to “food.” This suggests that if there were several healthy choices made earlier in the day but later in the day a poor food choice was made, many dieters discount the good entirely and check the whole day off as “bad” in their minds. This type of thinking pattern would also demand more psychological energy to get back on track to achieve another perfect day.
Catch yourself if you engage in this type of thinking pattern. One strategy to counter this is to intentionally register the victories you have throughout your day, allowing these moments to sink in. It may take practice to cheer yourself on and replace any self-defeating monologue you become more aware of. If you make a decision against your goals, don’t beat yourself up. Practice mental flexibility and pivot with changes that happen throughout the day. Tell yourself that you can get right back on track and focus your attention and energy on the next best decision.
4. Manage Stress
Ever talk to a friend and you can tell when their mind is on something other than what you just said…or see a dad on his cell phone while attempting to spend “quality” time with his son? The greatest gift you can give someone is not your time, but your energy, so what good are you if YOU are not there when you are there? It is easy and quite natural to have your primary focus on those around you during this time of year as you shop, visit, send cards, and cook/bake for others. This is a friendly reminder that you are human and deserve some self-care too! It is very wise to pull away from sources of speed and disengage from time to time. Be intentional to seek some renewal and personal care time for yourself so you can bounce back to manage your tasks more efficiently. If it’s helpful, set up reminders on your phone to “pull away” and just breathe. Even a relaxation break of 10-15 minutes is enough for your brain to say “THANK YOU!”
5. Motivate Yourself!
One of the biggest challenges that people make during the holidays is falling out of their normal motivation due to the many distractions and obligations during this hectic time of year. To stay on track, it is helpful to stay mindful about your goals every day and visual cues are one powerful strategy to do this. Try to use visual cues that are personal to you (such as a photograph of yourself on refrigerator that motivates you, an inspiring image on your bathroom mirror, or a positive mantra on your driver’s dashboard).
6. Plan & Prepare.
Many of us may find ourselves on the road this time of year and traveling can easily become a slippery slope when it comes to making healthy choices. This is why planning and preparation can go a long way to stay on track. I constantly remind my clients – including myself — that “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
Being away from home does not mean you have to abandon your activity regimen altogether. In order to stay active while traveling, make sure to pack accordingly (e.g. workout clothes, shoes, socks, headphones, mobile fitness equipment, etc.). If family or friends are visiting you, you can always invite them for a post-dinner (or early morning) walk, which is a great way to bond with them and be a living example of health as well. It is also helpful to remember that staying active will keep your energy levels up, uplift your mood, and of course help to offset any extra holiday calories so it is well worth the small amount of time and energy to work it into your schedule.
7. Recruit Support.
Having a buddy who can support you and keep you accountable throughout the holidays is another great way to stay on track. If you plan to meet a friend at the gym, tennis court, or walk at the beach, you will be more likely to show up and commit to the activity. Not to mention, this extra form of social accountability will only reinforce your compliance to your exercise routine. The only caveat would be inviting a friend that is consistent and also committed to his/her fitness routine so you can keep each other motivated.
8. Know Saboteurs.
Just as you are becoming more mindful of your supports, it is equally important to look out for saboteurs. These types could show up as friends, family, co-workers, etc.
Here are two examples of how saboteurs may show up:
- A close relative making jokes about your “healthy” meals. Each time this happens, you instinctively become irritated and wonder why he/she chooses to pick on you instead of support and encourage you.
- You notice a relationship with a close friend becoming more distant as your lifestyle habits shifts. Even though you consistently invite her to engage in some of your new favorite “health-focused” activities, you wonder why he/she sounds resentful each time you decline to hang out at the local bar on Friday that (you used to frequent together).
Change can be scary. Oftentimes, saboteurs may project their fears onto others close to them because if they change, it may mean that dynamics within their own lives will change and they are not ready. Be aware that these people may not intentionally sabotage your “health kick” efforts. Their reasons to sabotage healthy habits around them is more likely to be about themselves than you, so don’t take it personal. It may also look very different from person to person. It is best to identify any saboteurs in your life and see how they may be making your efforts to stay on track more difficult. If you sense they may be receptive, a sincere heartfelt conversation may be worthwhile. If not, it is best to set respectful boundaries.
9. Keep it Simple
Our brains shift constantly from one topic to the next. When we are committed to a meaningful goal (like to lose weight, quit smoking, etc.), it is helpful to focus on no more than 1-2 specific healthy changes to commit to for the week. This will keep you mentally engaged with a short-term focus while also feeling more manageable.
For example, when it you are attempting to lose weight, it is far more beneficial to laser-focus on a few important key behaviors that move you closer to your weight loss goal (e.g. walking for 30 minutes 3x this week or committing to drinking half your body weight in water each day this week).
10. Measure Progress
It is often said that you cannot manage what you cannot measure. Deciding to self-monitor will be an extra form of accountability as you attempt to stay on track during the holidays. This could be deciding to journal your food intake/activity, weigh yourself twice a week (mid-week and end of week), or log the steps you’re walking every day (towards a weekly goal you set up for yourself). Identify the best methods that motivate you, personally. Everyone is different. Although some may be motivated to see their scale weight or body measurements each week, others may find that it messes with their mindset. Determine what will work best for you and stick to it.
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