The holidays are associated as a time when many of us feel derailed in regards to our health and fitness – just in time for the diet and fitness industry to prey on us in January with “New Year! New You!” slogans and promises of rapid results via extreme diet and exercise programs that are typically wildly unsustainable and may leave us feeling worse about ourselves than when we started.
So with that in mind, it’s worth considering how to keep your nutrition and fitness habits on track during holiday season and minimize or avoid the end of year crash altogether.
Let’s discuss! Below are my top 8 suggestions for a sane approach maintaining fitness and nutrition habits during the holidays.
1. Avoid rigidity.
Regardless of what your diet or exercise program may look like, I advocate adopting something that has structure, but is also is flexible enough that you can enjoy life during ALL seasons, including the holidays.
This includes being able to skip or adapt a workout without guilt, so you have more time to spend with friends and family and being able to enjoy your favorite holiday foods and beverages without stress.
While advocating flexibility during a time that is associated with overindulgence may seem counterintuitive, consider this. Where has extreme behavior gotten you in the past? Probably some weight loss with inevitable weight gain or short term fitness with a long term nagging injury.
A better approach? Ditch the extreme diet or exercise plans.
Focus on overall habits and consider your relationship to food and exercise and the context of the experience rather than labeling things as “good” and “bad.”
Do your best to maintain any foundational habits you may have already instilled. For example, I’m a big fan of staying hydrated, getting in protein at every meal, fruits. and veggies, but plan to enjoy dessert or a really good meal. Be cool with an extra drink or missing a few workouts.
Finally, realize that a less than balanced meal or missed workout isn’t going to derail all your progress or hurt your fitness or body composition long term. That alone can stop you from the dreaded binge, restrict, over exercise cycle.
2. Consider alternative forms of activity or low grade activity (e.g. walking) if you don’t have time for your usual workout or know you’ll be less active.
Sometimes we forget that fitness can come in many forms and doesn’t always require a lot of structure or a hardcore workout. If you can’t make it to your usual group exercise class or have access to equipment, consider alternatives forms of movement.
Take a walk with family or friends. Try a group activity that happens to involve some form of activity. Toss some resistance bands into your bag when you travel and adapt kettlebell or dumbbell workout with bands. Remember that movement is movement! It all counts.
3. Try following at at-home workout that relies on bodyweight or small props, such as Pilates, yoga, or barre.
Even if you don’t have access to the equipment you normally use, you can still get in a great workout! Strength work can easily be done using resistance bands, which are inexpensive and easy to travel with. The same goes for Pilates, barre, or yoga, which are primarily bodyweight based movement and can be done with no equipment or small props that are travel friendly, such as foam blocks, a 10 inch inflatable ball, or a strap.
Furthermore, there are tons of free workouts online and online platforms that offer pre-recorded and livestream fitness classes designed to be done at home. You can even think of this time to try something new. Who knows? You may even discover your next workout obsession.
Speaking of…looking for a free holiday workout plan that you can do using just a bath towel? I gotchu.
4. Double down on the basics: Sleep, hydration, rest, nutrition
The foundation of fitness are simply daily habits that promote basic health and help you feel good and have energy during the day. These same habits tend to fall by the wayside if we’re traveling, staying up later, or drinking more than usual.
This isn’t to shame you for choices. Rather, it’s to promote awareness. Pay attention to if you’ve had enough water. Notice your quality of sleep. If you know you’re going to be eating more treats, just make sure you fit some nutrient dense food (aka the aforementioned protein / fruits / veggies) into your day too. If you are feeling over extended, stop and take a break. Will you see massive changes in your fitness or a lot of fat loss? No, but it’ll keep you in a good place for when the holidays are over and you’re back in your regular routine.
Remember, the holidays are only a few weeks and time off can be good. Maintaining your current body composition or level of fitness is an often overlooked win in the land of fitness, but it’s huge. Especially during the holidays.
5. Keep your workouts short while focusing on exercises that target multiple muscle groups.
Your workouts don’t need to be long to be effective. If you pick a series of compound movements (that’s fancy exercise science speak for exercises that involve more than one muscle group!), you can get a full body workout in a short amount of time. These movements can be bodyweight training OR you can use resistance bands or dumbbells.
An example of a no equipment compound movement circuit might be:
- Alternating between curtsey lunges and squats
- Super humans (aka back extensions for posture)
- A plank or hollow hold
If you performed 10 repetitions of each exercise for 3 rounds, you’d have a full body workout in under 30 minutes!
Need a bodyweight based workout for the holidays? I created one for you! It includes my favorite creative bodyweight exercises for a full body workout and there is a PDF and video, so you can do it anywhere, anytime.
6. Plan ahead.
Do you have a fitness goal in mind, but know that you’ll be traveling or your routine will be disrupted? Plan for it!
For example, if you know you want to be able to strength train, but you won’t have access to kettlebells or dumbbells, purchase some resistance bands (I like the jump stretch bands!) and toss them in your suitcase or even mail them to your destination.
The same goes for cardio. Maybe you can’t make it to your regular class or you won’t have your treadmill, but there’s usually a way to get in some form of cardio or movement outside – though admittedly the weather isn’t always ideal.
7. Set a “low bar.“
This will be different for everyone, but make a pact with yourself on what your bare minimum is. Pick things that are enjoyable and achievable, but still help move you towards your goals. For example, this could be hitting a certain number of steps per day or 1 strength workout a week.
The point of this isn’t to beat yourself up or to load more on your plate. It’s simply to reflect on what you feel is realistic and would serve your needs and goals, but is enough to keep you committed to having some sort of routine.
8. Take a big picture view.
Ultimately, the holidays are only a matter of weeks, so as you plan for your fitness during that time think about what it means in the larger scope of your life and what your priorities are. If it’s enjoying time with friends and family, that’s okay! Understanding this and taking the low bar approach to fitness isn’t failure. It’s actually practical and may even promote better results in the long run, because you’re mentally prepared to handle challenges when life happens, but because let’s be real life will always happen.