Fuel: Navigating the Holidays

November 17, 2016

With the changing of the seasons there are many things to look forward to. Cool, crisp mornings, sweaters, a crackling fire in the fireplace, pumpkin-flavored everything, and beautiful fall foliage. This changing of the seasons also signals the beginning of the holidays. Dun dun duuuuun… The holidays can be filled with a lot of joy but can also be stressful, and wreak havoc on your body. Here are some tried and true tips to navigate the holidays without sacrificing your health and fitness.

All that remains of the pumpkin pie Aunt Mable baked up. / Photo: Bigstock.com

All that remains of the pumpkin pie Aunt Mable baked up. / Photo: Bigstock.com

 

Make time for yourself.

This doesn’t have to be selfish. Plan ahead and schedule time each day to “do your thing.” Whether that means running, yoga, meditation, or sketching in your drawing book, some “me time” each day is not only unselfish, it’s important for being more present around family and friends. As an introvert, I’ve learned I need quiet time to myself each day, otherwise the constant talking and chatter of the holidays can be overwhelming. I do much better when I have some planned time for myself amidst the holiday cheer.

Plan an activity that doesn’t involve eating or drinking.

Have you noticed that most holiday festivities tend to revolve around food and drink? It’s an easy default because we all have that in common. Challenge yourself to think outside the box and plan holiday-themed activities, such as sledding, caroling, a holiday concert, snowman building, or snowshoeing. One of my favorite group activities is a progressive lights run. Plan a route through your neighborhood to run past beautiful holiday light displays. Make a couple “stops” on the route with some cider or cookies (ok, some food and drink included), with the last stop being a holiday party. It’s a great way to get some exercise outside before meeting for holiday cheer.

Eat Real Food. And Real Meals.

Again, holiday parties tend to include a lot of food, normally in the form of small plates and snacks. Grazing on common fare such as holiday cookies, fudge, cheese, crackers, and eggnog, is often a substitute for a real meal. Not only can this leave you feeling kind of awful, it can also mess with your appetite and energy balance. The best way to avoid this is to plan ahead and eat real meals as close to a normal time as possible. Don’t skip meals. Allow for some indulgence, but keep it in check. This is much easier when you are not hungry. Instead of inhaling a plate of brownies, it’s much easier to just enjoy one brownie after you’ve eaten dinner ahead of time.

Don’t plan on training over the holidays.

Get outside and continue to be active, but back off the regimented training during the holiday season. / Photo: Bigstock.com

Get outside and continue to be active, but back off the regimented training during the holiday season. / Photo: Bigstock.com

This just doesn’t work. It’s fine to plan for some activity each day, but planning to get in a lot of training results in sacrificing quality and time with family and friends. My mindset going into the holidays is to include unstructured training. I try to get some activity in each day, but I don’t have an agenda. Going in with those expectations sets me up for success because I don’t “have” to do something each day. Plus, some down time is usually ideal with all the travel and social gatherings. Quality training is difficult to get in during the holidays because there normally aren’t great opportunities for proper recovery. Save yourself the headache and just plan a week or two easy. You won’t lose fitness during this time, especially if you stay active. Plus, you avoid the mental anguish of trying to explain to your great aunt Mable why you need to go for a two-hour run instead of attending her holiday tea.

Ultimately, if you lower your health and fitness expectations a notch or two, you generally set yourself up for greater success. However, don’t fall into the giant holiday black hole of eating, drinking, and socializing yourself into a coma. Plan time for yourself to get away and do something that allows you to clear your mind. Get some fresh air. And don’t feel bad about saying no. Families have a way of trying to get everyone to do everything together all the time. It just doesn’t work. You will be much more present and relaxed if you take some time away. Plan outings together that include fresh air and activity. Don’t skip meals and plan ahead. If you have a holiday party to attend starting at 7pm, eat dinner first. Your mind and body will thank you. And lastly, don’t count on getting in your typical training. When you have lower expectations, everything you do is a bonus. The holidays can be a fun, joyful time when done correctly. This year, plan ahead so you are able enjoy the holiday season, without having to search for a one-way ticket to Timbuktu…

About the Author

Stephanie Howe, Ph.D., is a nordic skier turned trail runner, and enjoys racing distances from 50K up to 100 miles. Stephanie splits her time between racing as an elite runner on The North Face team, and working as a coach and sports nutritionist. She recently completed a doctoral program in Nutrition & Exercise Physiology at Oregon State University. You can learn more about Stephanie on her blog at www.stephaniemariehowe.blogspot.com and about her coaching and nutrition at www.endurancebystephanie.com.

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