We all know that December brings Christmas parties, family gatherings, drinks and get-togethers with friends. Not to mention a kitchen-full of tempting Christmas goodies just waiting to be picked at as you kick back on the couch with a festive film.
It’s a wonderful time for having fun and catching up with friends and family but unfortunately, it’s usually not the best time for those of you working towards a fitness goal and especially difficult for those of you aiming to drop some body fat.
It is easy to trick yourself into believing that second mince pie won’t make a difference and that third helping of Christmas cake won’t really have an impact on your goals. The problem is, eating in this way every day over a period of two, three or maybe even four weeks will most definitely go against your efforts in losing body fat. Especially when accompanied by alcohol, reduced physical activity and a broken sleep pattern.
It is also very easy to make promises to yourself. While you might think you’ll lose those festive pounds as soon as Christmas is over, it doesn’t always happen that easily for the most. Telling yourself that you will revert to wholesome foods straight after Christmas and start training every day as soon as January arrives, is not often followed through. This false sense of comfort that feels so real at the time, is enough to give you the false confidence to believe that what you are doing will not hinder you. However, many people never go on to lose their Christmas weight gain and even for those who do, it can be a slow, frustrating journey back that takes goal setting and planning.
The good news is that staying healthy over Christmas is possible and you are able to avoid gaining excess weight and still enjoy the holiday season, so you can start the new year feeling great
The problem with letting go of all your efforts and self-care over the Christmas weeks doesn’t simply stop with excess body weight. The reduced physical activity, increase in calories, higher levels of alcohol intake and less sleep all have a huge impact on our state of mind and many people experience a downward turn in their mental health post-Christmas. The festive party season often leaves people feeling exhausted, overweight and unmotivated. This can be avoided and for your own physical, mental and emotional health, it is well-worth remaining mindful of how much you eat and how much you exercise over the Christmas period. Perhaps that extra festive cocktail and ‘must-have’ chocolate can wait for another day after-all?
Here are our top five tips to help you have fun at Christmas without hampering your body goals and jeopardising your mental state.
1. Accept that not every occasion is a ‘special occasion’ that requires a ‘special indulgence‘
Friday is not a special occasion. Neither is Saturday and Sunday is not simply the ‘recovery’ day. Much the same, not every day in December is Christmas day.
We all like to treat ourselves and it is very important to do so but where does it say that to treat ourselves is to indulge in something that will knowingly do us harm and result in us feeling bad about ourselves.
Try to find something that you enjoy doing over the festive period that you do not get the time to do ordinarily and that does not involve food or alcohol.
It is hard to avoid that December is typically party season and for many this does mean a series of events surrounded by indulgent foods and festive drinks. This is a perfect time to remind yourself of your goals and to keep focused. Your mind set will be the key to success over the festive weeks and you are the only person who can decide what you do or don’t do, eat or don’t eat, drink or don’t drink. This will be the perfect time to add a measure of restraint and decide, ahead of time, when and where you are going to indulge and when you are going to remain focused on your own goals.
2. Set realistic goals over Christmas
The festive season might not be the best time to aim for your best weight loss result of the year and with some gyms and fitness centres running reduced opening hours over Christmas, your fitness routine can be easily disrupted. It is important to have goals to aim towards and this is true throughout the year but understanding that the Christmas period can be a little unpredictable, for all the reasons discussed above, it would be advisable to keep your goals realistic over this time.
If you have set yourself a goal of going to the gym at 5.30am every morning and relying on nothing but a smoothie to see you through each day in a week where you have 5 Christmas lunches and 14 parties to attend, you will find yourself burning out very quickly. An unrealistic goal is very hard to achieve and when you see yourself falling short of your target, it is often followed by feelings of disheartenment. This in turn leads to you feeling unmotivated and all too often, this leads to your overall goal be pushed aside altogether with a feeling of failure and frustration. Before you know it, you are on your fourth sitting at the cheeseboard washing it down with your fifth glass of your favourite festive tipple.
Setting yourself realistic health goals to see you through the party season will be far more beneficial overall. Maybe your goals for December could be to achieve a minimum number of workouts each week, at any point in the day; spoiler alert, training at 3pm will have the same effect on your body and wellbeing as training as 6am, but not everyone in the ‘fitness’ industry wants you to believe that. When it comes to food and drink, if you go to a party with the expectation of not eating or drinking anything at all, you could find yourself very disappointed in your own efforts as you wake up the next morning hungover and bloated from ‘just one more’ Christmas chocolate. Perhaps instead, before you go, you can decide on a maximum number of drinks you will have and plan your food throughout the day so that you do not arrive at the party too hungry.
3. Stay hydrated
There are so many benefits to drinking water; it helps to keep you focused, it helps with healthy skin, hair and nails, it helps to oxygenate your blood, it helps to maximise your physical performance, it helps your energy levels and brain function and it is worth noting that if you allow yourself to get too-thirsty, your brain will send signals for water that we can often mistake for hunger. This means that, if surrounded by the usual Christmas goodies, you will be more likely to reach for all the extra treats on offer at this time of year.
By keeping yourself sufficiently hydrated will not only benefit you overall, it will also help your body flush out any extra toxins from all that festive fun.
4. Get enough sleep during the silly season
Sleep is massively under-rated at the best of times. Sleep plays a fundamental part in our well-being for so many reasons. It is well-known that a lack of sleep can cause feelings of irritableness and can make it harder for you to work at your best and to think clearly. However, sleep deprivation can be far more serious than that; after just a couple of sleepless nights, the mental effects can become more severe as your brain becomes foggier while your body’s chemical and hormone levels become unbalanced, leading to low moods and even depression and anxiety in extreme cases.
Sleep also boosts your immunity, meaning that when you are getting enough sleep, you are less likely to feel ill.
A little less known reaction is that sleeping less can lead to weight gain. If your body is not getting the rest and recovery it requires while you are sleeping, it becomes stressed which produces increased levels of cortisol. This causes your body to temporarily slow down your metabolism, whilst at the same time causes your body to call out for high-fat and sugary foods, which is what you feel as cravings when you are tired. If that wasn’t enough, a lack of sleep also reduces levels of leptin, which is the hormone that tells the brain you are full-up and increases levels of ghrelin which is the hormone that tells the brain you are hungry. Not an ideal loop to be stuck in when your goal is to lose body fat and be fitter and healthier. For those of you who have read LIFE Fit The Process, you will already know the importance of leptin. And for those of you who have not yet read this book, it is available on Amazon.
So, throughout the party season, if you plan on performing at your best, looking your best and continuing after Christmas at your best, it would be a very good idea to prioritise your sleep.
5. Move every day
Moving your body every day is fundamentally important not just for your physical fitness but for your mental and emotional wellbeing too. Physical activity means many different things to different people. Whether you go to a gym, workout at home, jump in the saddle and cycle, go for a long walk, swim, dance or skip, whatever it is you do, keep doing it. Physical fitness is not an 11-months of the year option. For our over-all wellbeing, doing something to get your body moving will have a massively positive effect on your overall mindset.
Even if you do not continue with your normal fitness routine over the Christmas period, do something, anything that will prevent you from becoming completely sedentary during the festivities. This will not only help lift your mood but it will also help to ease you into January and the fourth coming months with the right mindset, meaning you will be more-likely to slip back into your fitness routine more easily and make the most of the year with the continuation of creating the best you, yet.