For most women, being “fit and healthy” and “the holiday season” are completely incompatible. It's easy to think that these two concepts simply don’t go together. Most of us have this idea that the holidays are for fun and indulgence, while the rest of the year is more suited for discipline and self-control.
That’s a nice idea, but unfortunately with this attitude we end up feeling really terrible as the holiday season progresses. We start to feel like we’re losing control, we’re gaining weight, our clothes don’t fit well, and our fitness and strength starts to disappear. By the time we get to the week between Christmas and the New Year’s, we’re in so deep and feel so miserable that the only solution seems like a drastic one.
This feeling, and the subsequent drastic overhaul, is all due to a series of mistakes that are completely avoidable. I want to break down piece by piece the individual mishaps most women make during this season.
What leads us to that point of holiday misery?
How do we get there?
And is there any way to avoid feeling physically miserable without having a lame holiday season?
Let's find out...
Here are 14 of the most common mistakes women make this time of year:
1. Putting everything on hold until after the holidays. This is the first and most common mistake. Yes, this is a busy season, and it might not be the ideal time to “make a lot of progress and lose 5% body fat”, but that doesn’t mean you should stop altogether.
Let’s be realistic: are you attending a non-stop holiday party beginning Thanksgiving Day and ending New Year’s Eve? Probably not. You’ll have parties and activities periodically scattered over the next few weeks, but you’ll also have a lot of normal days, too. There is no reason for you to halt your exercise and good eating habits altogether.
Even if you have an extended trip to a family member's house, Disneyland, or a tropical location, there are plenty of quick and simple workouts that you can still do while you're away that will make you feel great. And I guarantee that you can find veggies and protein options wherever you are!
Have a simple, doable workout and eating plan in place and follow through with it. Don't be lazy and put everything on hold until after the holidays.
2. Having the Scarcity Mindset. This mindset tells us that the things we get to experience during the holidays are a thin vapor, and will evaporate and disappear at a moment’s notice, never to be enjoyed again. Because we think this, we overindulge now. "It’s going to be gone soon, after all!"
No, this stuff is not going to vanish and become scarce forever. In fact, you can make a peppermint mocha anytime of the year, and you can recreate Thanksgiving dinner whenever you want!
There is no reason for you to think it’s now or never. The stuff we get to enjoy during the holidays is usually still available all year long in abundance, so there’s no need to overindulge because of your scarcity mindset.
3. Believing that certain holidays are only about the food (ahem…Thanksgiving…) Food is grand and marvelous, yes, but what are we actually celebrating on Thanksgiving?!?! Not food! We’re celebrating our gratitude and noticing the blessings in our lives.
And are we celebrating food at Christmas? No! We're celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.
Food is just one part of the celebration, but that’s not why we’re there. For years, I think many of us have forgotten all about what we’re actually celebrating because we’re so focused on the food…the making it, the decorating it, the eating it, the cleaning up after it, the way it makes us feel. Let’s all grow up and realize we’re not just here for the food.
Don't lose sight of what we should be truly celebrating because you're so focused on the food.
4. Checking your intuition at the door. In a holiday setting, how often do you:
We never take a moment to ask ourselves “how’s this making me feel?"
Staying mindful, aware, and intuitive during the holidays may be the best skill you can have.
If you’re able to set food down half eaten because you know it’s not going to make you feel good, then you’re being mindful.
If you can say “no” to certain treats because you recognize that it’s not your favorite, then you’re being intuitive.
If you can stand back, analyze your entire week, recognize when your workouts should take place and how you’ll feel when you get them done, then you’re paying attention.
It takes some practice, but when you become intuitive with your food and exercise, you’ll be better able to navigate this season in a healthy manner.
5. Baking too much….way too much. Ok ladies, these cookie exchanges are getting out of hand. Why are we doing this to ourselves?? Nobody really wants all those cookies anyway! It always turns into a giant battle of willpower when you have five dozen cookies sitting on your counter. I know you say you're going to give some away, but are you really going to do that?
Here’s a better way: pass on the cookie exchanges this year (your friends will still love you, I promise), and pick one or two of your family’s absolute favorite Christmas cookies to bake. And be done with it!
Remember, the holidays are not about the food. (Back to mistake #3.) They're about the experience and the things we're actually celebrating. You don't need to bake five dozen cookies to experience Christmas to its fullest. I bet one batch of cookies would be enough to enjoy the cookie-making experience.
This ridiculous amount of baking brings me to mistake #6...
6. Thinking you're going to hurt somebody's feelings if you throw food away. Leftover homemade pie. The cookies your neighbor gave you. The coffee cake that someone brought you as a gift. We end up with so much food this time of year, and we always feel so bad if we don't eat it. I'm sure most of it tastes amazing and delicious, but there's no law that says you have to eat everything given to you.
If someone sends you home with leftover food or you're given food as a gift, it's really ok if you don't eat it. You can try one cookie and throw the rest away (or give it to somebody else).
And if you don't like getting food as a gift, stop giving away food as a gift, too. You never know the healthy habits that person is trying to work on, and you could be gifting them a giant basket of temptation.
7. Having the all-or-nothing mentality. “If I can’t do it all right now, then I just won’t do anything.”
You’re right…you won’t be able to do it all right now. But remember, always something is so much better than all or nothing.
Can’t make it to the gym 5 days week? No big deal! Try for 2 or 3 quick workouts at home.
Can't do a workout at all? Maybe try foam rolling and stretching before you go to bed tonight.
Does life feel too crazy to track your eating habits and focus on progress? That's ok! Just continue to work on eating protein and produce with every meal.
We have a tendency to self-sabotage and throw in the towel when we feel like we can't do it all. Even if you can’t do it all, it’s still worth doing. Every time.
Speaking of all-or-nothing...
8. Not understanding the difference between progress mode, maintenance mode, and digress mode. Most people spend their life flipping between progress mode and digress mode. They’re either on a diet and working out all the time, or they’re completely digressing. Losing weight...gaining weight...losing weight...gaining weight. (Sound familiar?)
Friends, i'm happy to announce that there is a middle ground, and it’s called maintenance mode. It’s not as focused and disciplined as progress mode, but it certainly requires a bit more "intentionality" and discipline than digress mode. It’s not dieting, but it’s not eating whatever you want either. It’s not working out 5 or 6 days a week, but it’s not being sedentary either.
Maintenance mode is a completely foreign concept for those that tend to be all-or-nothing in their thinking, but learning how to truly “maintain” during the holidays is a very important skill.
If you can navigate through the holidays maintaining the body you have right now, that would be better than digressing and gaining 5 pounds, right?
As an example, here's what I do to maintain:
If I feel like I'm digressing a teensy bit, I simply tighten it back up a notch.
Don't flip all the way into digress mode this season. You can easily maintain what you've got, and then flip back over into progress mode when the timing is better.
9. Worrying too much about your body. Since when did our bodies become the center of attention during the holidays? We exhaust way too much mental energy worrying about our bodies this time of year. If nobody else is saying it, let me be the one to tell you that there are far more important things to focus on!!
Instead of worrying about your body, make your healthy habits automatic and just get them done. Do your workouts, eat your PRO’s, have a plan for splurging. Then let the results shake out for themselves.
If you happen to gain a couple pounds, lose a couple pounds, stay the same…oh well! Just don’t worry about it right now.
10. Eating things you don’t even really like. I don’t like stuffing. I never have. It was the one food growing up that my mom never forced me to eat.
My taste buds have changed a bit over the years, and I can tolerate it a little more now. So, for some reason on Thanksgiving I’ll find myself eating some stuffing. WHY???
Wake up!! We do NOT have to eat foods we don’t really like! In fact, we shouldn’t eat them at all.
Think about all the foods that you’re exposed to over the season, and then think about what you really enjoy and what you can live without. Make a list if that would help. And then simply don’t eat the stuff you don’t like!
(What’s on my yuck list? Stuffing, pumpkin spike lattes, gingerbread, orange-flavored chocolate, dry sugar cookies, fruitcake...I'm sure there's more. But just writing it down reminds me to not waste my time, splurges, and stomach space on these foods.)
11. Not utilizing the "sample technique". The “sample technique” is having just small samples of foods when you're at a holiday get-together. You don’t need full servings of dishes to fully enjoy them. Put a small amount on your plate and eat it slowly. Pay attention to the flavors and the textures, and notice whether you like it or not. You can even consider the healthfulness and nutritional quality of that particular food item. And then move on after having just a sample.
Let's break the “glutton” mentality that’s typical this time of year. Sample instead of binge.
12. Trying to “undo” bad food choices with a workout, or doing “pre-emptive” workouts so you can eat more. Oh, this is a big bad mistake that we are probably all guilty of. This is classic “diet mentality”, where we use exercise as punishment or as a big magic eraser for the food we’ve eaten.
I bet many people participate in Turkey Trots simply so they can eat whatever they want for Thanksgiving dinner, guilt-free.
And I bet you'll find many women in the gym the day after a big holiday party to "burn off" all the indulgent food they ate the night before.
It doesn't work like this, and it's a horrible mindset. Stop viewing your workouts as just calorie-burners and fat preventers.
Workout because it's part of your weekly routine and because it feels good to do so!
Sign up for the Turkey Trot and the Jingle Bell Run, not in anticipation of any food you might eat, but because it's just fun to do.
Go to the gym for a hard workout regardless of the food you ate or plan on eating, simply because feeling strong and fit is awesome.
We need to mentally separate our food choices from our exercise choices. Yes, they're both equally important and they sort of go together, but they also need to be autonomous to a certain degree.
So get it out of your head that you can magically erase the effects of an overindulgent meal by showing up to an 800-calorie burning class. (Will that class erase the fact that you're ok with overindulging in the first place? Probably not.)
13. Having high expectations, and then getting easily derailed when things don’t go as planned. This may not be the season to commit to 6 workouts a week and perfect eating habits. Sure, those are great intentions and you would certainly feel stellar, but come on...is that even realistic right now? Probably not.
Create the ideal picture in your mind of what you'd like your routine to be, and then reduce that by a notch or two. Aim for accomplishing that slightly easier expectation.
And then think through a back-up plan. (Most people never do this step!) What are you going to do when the poop hits the fan and you can't do what you planned to do? Do you know which workout is the most important? Which meals are most pivotal for you? What will be your strategy for when you'd rather just throw in the towel?
Create realistic expectations and have a very clear back-up plan. With this strategy, you won't get easily derailed.
14. Underestimating the power of vegetables. When you get caught up in the season and start making bad food choices, bring yourself back by eating your veggies.
This one seems too simple and annoying ("eat your veggies!" -mom voice), but it's true. When we have a steady intake of a variety of vegetables, we're going to feel better in general, be less likely to overindulge, have more energy to do our workouts, and stay in control with the foods we put in our mouth.
A trick I often use is to always bring a veggie platter to a party, and then try to be the one that eats most of it. I make an attempt to not eat any other appetizers. Then, when it's time for dinner, I fill at least half of my plate with vegetables, whether that's more of the veggie platter or any salad that is available. I tell myself to eat all of my veggies first, and then decide if I even want any of the other foods. Often, I don't, because I feel good, full, and satisfied.
Above all, be wise. Are you guilty of making any of these holiday mistakes in the past? Let this year be different. Be wise and discerning. Don't just react...plan ahead and be thoughtful. And remember, the holidays aren't about your body or your food anyway. Have a bigger perspective, keep some simple healthy habits in place, and do what you need to do to feel great all season long.
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Megan P. Dahlman
Hi friend! I'm a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, Precision Nutrition Certified Coach, Wife to Scott, and Mom to two crazy boys, Calvin & Peter. I train hard, eat well, rest just enough to keep going, and do my best to maintain a heavenly perspective. I'd love to coach you to do the same. Cheers!
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