The holidays make it very, very difficult to add exercise to your life. But just because it’s hard does not mean it’s hopeless – far from it. The biggest forward gains (or losses for most) come from eliminating the negative (not actively going in reverse).
In the past, I said that negative nutrition, exercise and lifestyle behaviors were like the parking break on a car, and that positive behaviors were like the accelerator. You can’t get much out of your exercise program if you are eating poorly because it’s like pushing on the gas while you have the parking break down. However, a client pointed out to me that negative behaviors are a whole lot more like reverse for many people. If you add enough negative (poor eating, not enough sleep, etc.) to a positive (smart supplements, exercise, etc.) you can still end up going backwards (getting fatter) despite actually working at going forward.
These are the seven most common things that people do – even more so during the holidays – to set themselves back, and inadvertently maximize their holiday weight gain.
1. Do it all, or don’t do anything at all. It’s really important to remember that no part of your healthy lifestyle works without all of the other parts executed perfectly. If you are supposed to get three workouts in this week and you miss one, you might as well skip the rest. And if you eat one cookie at the office you might as well eat the whole tin.
2. Let your mouth overload your back. Saying, “yes” to every event invitation you get and to every favor asked of you is a great way to arrive at the New Year as pudgy, sickly and grumpy as you can. This ensures that you pre-commit all of your time (and then some) to taking care of everyone but you and your body.
3. Show no weakness. Adults don’t need help with anything, so make sure that you don’t ask for help, or admit to anyone when you’ve taken on too much and could use some help in getting out of something. Keep your stress and anxiety to yourself. This strategy ensures that you resent your own life, and will eliminate any “free time” you may have had for things like cooking healthy food, eating breakfast or exercising.
4. Time everything just right. Make sure you wait until you’re sure that the time is right before you start (or re-start) doing anything to improve your health or your body. You don’t want the potential of having other distracting things going on in your life – no unexpected pressures at work, no surprises with your kids (or surprises in finding out you are about to have a baby), no travel, no family drama, etc. In addition to timing, you want to make sure that you wait for your motivation to show up, and to definitely feel like you have more than enough money to take good care of yourself.
5. Don’t be lazy. Only lazy, weak people need sleep. Going back to number two above, use your sleep time to go to parties and do the favors you promised you would. (Use your sleep time after you use up all of the exercise time and grocery store time.) Being sleep deprived has many benefits for maximal holiday squishiness: it exhausts you (but you don’t admit this out loud) and your willpower making it easy to make the wrong choices about food, it makes you hungrier, it suppresses your immune system and it even helps you lose muscle mass.
6. It’s hammered or nothing. Snooty fitness people like to say, “Drink one or none” when it comes to alcohol. If there’s an open bar at the party and you have a designated driver (or can call a cab), then you’d be doing the host a dishonor if you didn’t drink as much as possible. Alcohol, especially in large quantities keeps your body from being able to access any of its own stored body fat, so this is a great way to have your New Year’s body ever.
7. Remember that the holidays don’t count. From the first time you see something remotely related to Thanksgiving until New Year’s is a metabolically magical time of the year where nothing that you eat really matters. Of course you can have eight days of doughnuts for Hanukkah without any negative consequences. And, yes, you can have 12 days of Christmas cookies. (Now, I can tell myself that this past weekend was just research for this article.)Josef Brandenburg is a Washington, D.C.-area certified fitness expert. Contact him at josefbrandenburg.com.