I wrote a post a while ago about weening yourself off of frequent sugar, but how that doesn't mean you have to deny yourself an occasional treat. Well, it's almost Christmas, and I think that that post has more relevance now than it did back then.
Why? Because Christmas is delicious. The spices, the fruits, the chocolate, the large dinners. It's difficult to resist. And when you're as dedicated to eating and living healthily as I am, it's easy to start dreading this part of the festivities, fearing that you might slip up and ruin everything because you're surrounded by such wonderful things - or you're an idiot, like me, and also dread the guilt that will come with just one decadent treat. That's something I'm far too familiar with.
But what if I told you that you could indulge over Christmas but not set yourself back in terms of weight loss progress?
The trick is to be smart. Think before you eat.
Cassey Ho says in her Hot Body Year Round book that food is a massive part of our culture, 'not only does it nourish our bodies, but it also brings people together in a celebratory environment.' And she's right, of course. And you might think a phrase such as 'quit thinking so much about calories and fat and just live!' is out of place in a fitness book, and for the most part it is, but she makes an important point with all of this, and she is right. As for me, I feel there are three times of the year you should allow yourself to indulge, within reason, and those are: your own birthday, a holiday to an exotic part of the world filled with foods you'd never get the opportunity to try at any other time, and, of course, Christmas.
So you can guarantee that I won't be denying myself a treat this Christmas, and while it follows my usual rules, it does alter things a little bit.
I will be deciding, before I accept any offerings of food, whether or not it is worth it. I will ask myself 'do I like it?' Such as if Christmas pudding is offered. It may be Christmas, and not on offer at any other time of the year, but I hate Christmas pudding, so that is an immediate 'no'. What about spiced biscuits. Christmas spices are nice, and while I could make them myself at any time of the year, they're only really right at Christmas. Well, in that case, onto the next question: are they store-bought? If so, from where? Somewhere I know makes good biscuits, or a cheap knock-off place? Alternatively, if they were home baked, they're not filled with additives so they're likely to be cleaning, in which case, if they were baked by someone who means a lot to me but isn't necessarily an amazing baker, I may say yes.
Okay, so that was a complicated example. But I think you get my point. In short: do I think they'll be worth the calories?
Of course, this is what I usually do. But there's so much food on offer around Christmas, and for the weeks surrounding it rather than just the day itself that I really have to scrutinise everything a little more closely, think a little harder, wonder what might be on offer later instead, and whether this offer will come up again at all. For example, mince pies are everywhere. Pepernoten are not. So this kind of close and careful thought is one alteration I apply to my general rule at Christmas - of course, this kind of thought also takes place in a slow instant, usually following a look, a sniff and a blink.
My second alteration is exercise. I work out almost every day anyway, and this month's workout is pretty great so far, so I'm happy with that, but during a time when I know food will become more of a focus I tack on some extra cardio. I already said that I was doing that this month since my workout was focused strength (I thought, but more on that on the 13th), but the additional cardio is also necessary for the surrounding goodies, whether I've eaten them or not.
If you work out 3 days a week, I'd suggest upping it to 5 days over the Christmas period. Do it at home - use some body weight cardio workouts, they require no kit at all and you can find an endless number of them for free online from Blogilates, Fitness Magazine, or you could even give my frankly awesome wild animal workout a go. This additional exercise will help work off the holiday goodies before they can come to settle around your middle, as well as help you slash that pesky guilt you shouldn't really be feeling.
And if you don't work out at all, why not give it a go? Like I said, you can get effective workouts - cardio or strength, your choice - with no kit at all, just your own body weight. Go for a run outside - it might seem unpleasant in the cold but you'd be surprised how much nicer it is to go for a run in the winter than the summer. It's cooler so it's much harder to overheat; it's quieter, and it's also quite pretty with a frost, thin layer of snow or simply that distant winter morning light. Or just bust out some butt kicks, high knees and jumping jacks in your living room for 10 minutes, three moves that are hard to get wrong and difficult to injure yourself with. Or you could commit a little more and buy a DVD - try Jillian Michaels' Beginner Shred. It's designed for newbies, and it's a nice 30-day plan you can keep up with over Christmas and into January to help you get off anything you may have gained.
My third alteration is healthy food. While I will allow myself to indulge in decadent offerings, I try to eat even cleaner outside of that. My 3pm snack might be steamed veggies instead of a nakd bar - still 1 of my 5 a day, lots of fibre and vitamins and minerals, but very low calories and very low carbs. This gives me the chance to ensure I use up the carbs I took in from a Godfather sundae or triple chocolate cake the day before. So it's a great idea to have some raw veg on hand, or you can make it even easier and have a bag of frozen veg on hand and cook it in 5 minutes - no peeling or anything involved, just boil it from frozen and you're done in 5-10 minutes.
And speaking of '3pm snack', try to set up an eating schedule. It will stop you from eating unnecessarily. Personally, my day goes as follows:
breakfast at 8, post workout shake and fruit at 11, lunch at 1, snack at 3, dinner at 5, and maybe another snack at 9 if I feel I need it. Typically each meal I have is about 200 calories, except dinner which is about 400, and snacks are about 150. This sets me at about 1250 calories a day, which is really the bare minimum you should take in if you're trying to lose weight safely. This shouldn't be an excuse to indulge in decadent things frequently because calories are one thing, food content (protein, sugar, vitamins, etc) is quite another, which is where empty calories come in - calories that offer little real nutrition; most of the calories come from the sugar. But at the same time, this does also mean that an occasional treat isn't as harmful as it could be.
Should you feel that you've slipped up or eaten really badly one day, there are things you can do to lessen the damage:
Drink lots of water. Try to take in 2 to 4 extra glasses that next day - that's about half a litre to a litre. The reasons for this are that it will help the body flush out the bad stuff, that every chemical reaction in your body requires water (such as digestion, energy transportation and consumption, etc), and that you won't feel thirsty that next day. The reason this last one is important is because thirst can manifest the same way as hunger - tummy rumblings and the like - and it's often mistaken as hunger. By drinking lots of water you can avoid this which means you'll be properly hydrated, but also that you won't be needlessly eating the next day.
Add on some extra cardio. Cardio is what uses up energy, so do some dancing for 20 minutes, a simple butt kick/burpee/jumping jack circuit. Head over to Youtube and find some cardio workout videos, there are loads so there's no excuse! Using up the energy with some extra cardio - or any exercise if you don't usually do any - will keep it from being stored as fat.
Avoid carbs for breakfast the next day. Usually I have porridge for breakfast, and though oats are very high in carbohydrates, they're naturally slow-release, so you don't get a great flurry of energy too quickly to use it. There's a reason porridge is the most popular breakfast choice, and that's because it really can keep you going until lunch. However, if you've taken in too many carbs the day before, be it in the form of a decadent dessert, half a box of chocolates or just a large meal, then skipping carbs the next morning (only the morning), you get the chance to use up those extra carbs from the day before without adding more to it, even if they're healthy carbs. Instead opt for something low carb, like eggs and asparagus.
This is my recipe for success. Not only does doing the above work in a really simple but effective way, but it also gets you in a great frame of mind because there's so much you can do to fix it, rather than wallowing in self pity and regret. You can actively make a difference. It won't undo bad eating, so it's certainly not an excuse to let yourself go, but it can lessen the impact of the occasional over-indulgence.
You can stay fit and healthy over Christmas without denying yourself a treat. Just try to remember the following:
- Eat healthy. Lots of protein, fibre, wholesome carbs like wholegrains; fruit, veg and whole foods. This means that, when you do have a treat, you're not adding bad thing onto bad thing. You can lessen the impact of something delicious and indulgent before you've eaten it by being sensible before hand.
- Add on some extra cardio. Add it to the end of your usual workout, add it into off days or take active rest days instead of sedentary ones, or simply exercise if you don't usually. There's loads of free videos on Blogilates, FitnessMagazine and Youtube that require no kit at all. So there are no excuses.
- Drink lots of water. This will avoid confusing thirst with hunger and eating unnecessarily, as well as simply keeping you hydrated and giving your body the water it needs to metabolise any decadent treats you might allow yourself. It's Christmas, after all.
- Skip carbs for breakfast the morning after a 'bad' day. It gives your body the chance to use up the extra carbs consumed the day before rather than adding more onto them. Unused energy will get stored as fat if it isn't used.
- Remember that it's Christmas. If you can't allow yourself a little indulgence over Christmas, when can you?
By the way, I use the phrase 'occasional' and 'once in a while'. In my case - and I'll be totally honest here - from December 15th to January 15th, encompassing Christmas, Seeg's birthday and my own, these 'occasional' treats may well be every 3-5 days, and likely far more frequently on Christmas day, his birthday and my own themselves. I will be baking, I will be gifted and gifting chocolate, and there will be a Christmas dinner, Boxing Day dinner, and 2 birthday dinners which typically mean Chinese and pizza respectively. I will not be going crazy, I will keep control of myself, but it's important to learn when you should loosen up and allow yourself to misbehave. The only point at which 'misbehaving' in this manner becomes an issue is when you do it too often. Which is also why I've said that your own birthday should be an exception, not anyone's birthday.
These are the ways in which I keep healthy over Christmas and my birthday, which, unfortunately for my tummy and everyone's purse strings, are just 2 weeks apart. But these simple tricks and states of mind work. Try them yourself, and be amazed. A healthy Christmas, yet one that doesn't deny indulgence. And while it's also true that these methods suggest I'll be allowing myself perhaps the most unhealthy things I can, I remind you of two points: 1) the treats are rarely offered, some limited to just Christmas day itself, and 2) it's Christmas.