Today I want to talk about a topic I’ve been discussing with a lot of my private coaching clients recently – how to stay on track during the holiday season, and avoid excess holiday weight gaining. We work hard to make progress and see results, and the last thing I want is for you to lose that progress.

For me, November and December usually involve a lot of traveling to see friends and family, social gatherings, and lots of food and drinking.

All good things, of course, but not necessarily conducive to health and fitness goals.

The temptation to eat everything in sight is greater, and with a busy schedule, it’s tempting to skip the gym altogether.

The worst thing you can do is throw in the towel until January 1st, and lose all of your progress.

It’s tough, but very possible to have fun, enjoy social events, and not only maintain your current fitness progress, but also continue to improve.

That’s right, with proper planning, you can still make progress during the holidays, even with a tight schedule and lots of great food.

To help you out, here are some of the tips I use and suggest you try to help you stay on track during the holidays.

Enjoy Yourself

It’s okay to let loose and have some fun, and it’s important to adapt that mindset and understand that. The last thing anyone wants is for you to show up to family gatherings packing your grilled chicken and broccoli.

Look, humans have used food to celebrate special occasions since, well, forever. I want you to look forward to family gatherings, eat until you’re full, and then some. Give yourself permission to enjoy life.

Unless you are prepping for a physique contest, this is the time of the year to be a human and enjoy yourself. Have a little fun, and don’t dread family gatherings, or feel guilty if you have some extra dessert. Life is meant to be enjoyed, and understanding this now can help prevent you falling into a guilty spiral of binge eating all the food in your house.

Create an Allowance

When you know have an event coming up where there will be food and drinking involved, create an allowance in your caloric intake. Don’t starve yourself the day of, as you’ll be very hungry and tempted to overeat. Same goes for the day after. Don’t feel guilty and try to avoid food all day, or do extra cardio or anything out of guilt, just get back on the plan.

You should not feel emotionally upset by food. Even if you go overboard, it’s one day out of the whole year. Just get back on track the next day.

Here’s what I approach the situation.

The two days leading up to the event, and the two days after, lower total caloric intake by 15-20%. 

If you don’t count macros, just eat less, or at least try to minimize your processed food and carbohydrate intake. Protein and veggies all day.

The day of the event, feast to your heart’s content.

Even if you have a massive cheat meal, it’ll have a much smaller impact on your total weekly food intake. You’ve created an extra caloric deficit for the week, so the first part of your feast will simply be bringing you back to maintenance, and the extra, well, that’s life.

Make a Plan, and Follow It

I don’t mean a training plan, but plan ahead for the meals you’ll be enjoying. This springs off of our last point, but is more about mindset.

If you plan ahead for big events, there is no need whatsoever to feel any sort of guilt. 

You shouldn’t feel guilty anyway, but even more so if you plan ahead like we mentioned.

The week of the event, just plan out your lower calorie days, and write them down. Make a big smiley face on your event day.

Now you don’t have to stress, you simply have to check your schedule, eat according to plan, and love life.

The worst thing you can do is beat yourself up and throw in the towel. One meal, or even one whole day, is nothing. What gets you in trouble is an all-or-nothing attitude, where a fun meal turns into a whole week of stuffing your face. Try your best to avoid this – plan to get back on track as soon as you can, and then do it.

Don’t have your fun day and then feel bad and give up altogether. You planned for this, and it’s okay.

Tell yourself ahead of time – I’m going to enjoy this day, NOT feel bad, and then get back to business as usual the next day.

Use High-Intensity Workouts to Burn More Calories in Less Time

One of the biggest reasons people backslide during the holidays is lack of time.

This is a very valid concern for a lot of people. We travel, work gets busy, family comes to town, and suddenly the thought of spending hours at the gym each week becomes a burden.

Rather than skip workouts altogether, I’m a big fan of using quick, high-intensity workouts, to burn a buttload of calories and challenging your body in a short period of time. You can use Tabata exercises, complexes, density training, circuits, or any other sort of high-intensity finisher.

Here’s a tough bodyweight exercise you can try, after a brief warm up.

Jump Squats or Regular Squats x 15

Pushups x 15

Cross-Body Mountain Climbers x 15

Single Leg Glute Bridge x 12 per leg

Reverse Lunge x 12 per leg

Plank x 60 seconds

Completed the circuit as quickly as you can, resting only as long as needed. At the end, rest 60-90 seconds, and repeat for a total of 2-4 rounds. The goal is not to make yourself puke, but to get through it as quickly as possible, resting only as long as you need to.

If you want to read my article on density training, with another sample workout, you can check that out right here.

Try this, and let me know how it goes. Better yet, take a video of it on Instagram and mention me (@mattdustin).

Find Your Accountability

You may not want to make progress on your fitness journey during the holidays, and that’s fine. However, regardless of your goals, I’m pretty sure you don’t want to lose progress.

Having a loose plan in place is better than no plan at all, but even more important than the plan is the execution. 

As my fit-bro and renowned strength coach Eric Bach says, “Success lies in relentless execution of the basics.”

You don’t need anything fancy, but you do need to execute – even if that execution simply means squeezing in a quick circuit workout, or not letting your fun day of eating turn into an all-you-can-eat feast for all of December.

It’s easy to skip workouts or eat foods that aren’t part of your plan if there’s no one checking in on you. 

Ask your partner, your gym buddy, a coworker, or someone else to hold you accountable. It doesn’t have to be super serious, but knowing someone will be checking to see how you did is a huge motivator.

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