The Trick to Staying Fit Over the Holidays

The Trick to Staying Fit Over the Holidays

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It’s not what you expect

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, but it is also the one that makes me feel the worst. Even when I put on my stretchiest, most expandable pants (or just opt for a tarp-like dress), by 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day I’m laying on my back hoping to somehow relieve the discomfort of the Annual Great Overeating Debacle.

My usual routine goes something like this:

  1. I eat a big breakfast, because I wrongly assume that avoiding feelings of starvation will prevent me from eating 10,000 calories of turkey skin and an equal amount of calories in other foods.
  2. Then, I start cooking. Initially there isn’t much good to taste. Who wants to lick a raw turkey?
  3. Soon, there are things that require taste-testing. By 10 a.m. I am completely stuffed.
  4. Repeat step #3 over and over and over again. By 2 p.m. I am so stuffed I am finding it hard to stay vertical.
  5. Thanksgiving dinner is served! But first, the aforementioned turkey skin. Not particularly light fare.
  6. I eat a full plate of everything on the table.
  7. Repeat step #6 two more times.
  8. Clean up! I do it, finishing scraps of food from my kids plates and licking all of the serving spoons after I put the leftovers away.
  9. Dessert! Yum. I make a few kinds of pies and try them all.
  10. Food coma.
  11. Darn. I feel gross.
  12. Shame creeps in. I think what’s the point? and eat similar amounts of food for the next few days. Football, cool weather, and lack of a structured schedule make it pretty easy to do this.

My Christmas routine is very similar, except the breakfast is usually an overindulgent brunch and dinner involves more cream-laden vegetables and fatty meats.

What’s the key to staying healthy over the holidays? It is completely paradoxical. Give yourself permission to indulge and then move on.

Steps 11 and 12 on my list are the fitness-killers. Like any maladaptive behavior, shame makes it infinitely worse. And part of my point is that enjoying an absurdly huge Thanksgiving meal isn’t actually maladaptive. It’s festive.

If you enjoy your meal and all of your other holiday eating, it is easier to regroup the next day and get back on track. Once that “What’s the point! My diet is shot! I’m fat and gross!” creeps in, it is so easy to eat away the shame and guilt, which then leads to more shame and more guilt, and even more eating.

In addition to enjoying your holiday, integrate some healthy routines and habits. If you’re like me, you’ll be too full and uncomfortable to go for a walk after dinner, but a few walking breaks while you’re cooking can keep you away from mindless tasting and get your metabolism going.

Likewise, even if you aren’t a runner, there are plenty of post–Thanksgiving Turkey Trots. You can jog, run, or walk. Many have events for kids as well. Either registering for a formal event or creating your own at a park with friends and family can be a symbolic reset. “I ate like crap yesterday, enjoyed it, and now I’m going to continue my healthy habits.”

So, the key to health and fitness over the holidays isn’t deprivation—that’s just sad. It also isn’t self-flagellation and negative self-talk in the wake of a 5,000 calorie day. Try accepting that you will eat a lot. Fighting it or beating yourself up will lead to the kinds of feelings and self-concept that make it easier to develop the habits you are trying so hard to avoid.

So enjoy and turn to our Well-being/Health & Fitness section when you are seeking information or advice!

Danielle Bostick, a former Solo Mom and ESME’s Wellness–Mental Health Resource Guide, is a Latin teacher, an advocate, and a mom to six kids in Winchester, Virginia. When not working as an educator, Bostick writes about the National Football League for various sites and sexual assault and child sexual abuse for the Huffington Post. You can find her on Twitter: @danibostick, and on Facebook: Dani Bostick.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.

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