Navigating the Holidays

Editor’s Note: This article is written with those in mind who are seeking balance through the holiday season while focusing on performance goals.

Although meant to be a time of joy and thanks, the holidays can be stressful for many people, and runners are no exception! This year the holidays may look different, which may bring about different types of stress. Typically, the holidays are a time when we are bombarded with parties and social gatherings, and food and drink flow abundantly, throwing off even the best-laid plans. It might be hard to stick to your regular training schedule due to social events, or even weather this time of year.

Even if the work office party is going remote this year and you are staying local, you still might encounter holiday-related nutrition challenges, such as having lots of extra goodies around or feeling down about the holidays being different. Stress and emotional eating might creep in. Or you might feel tempted to eat all the goodies just because they are there.

I am a firm believer in “all things in moderation” when it comes to food, and I believe the holidays should be celebrated! I may or may not even put peppermint syrup in my coffee for the whole month of December! But I also get that no one wants to sideline their nutrition and fitness goals, so I’m here to help you balance those with all the challenges that may come up this time of year.  Like many things, having a good plan is key.

Here are my tips on navigating the holidays.

For parties or social gatherings:

  • Scan the buffet.  Check out the options before you start filling your plate and prioritize what you really want to try as opposed to going through the line and taking some of everything, which is human nature.  Try to make sure there are some veggies on your plate.
  • Don’t skip meals to stockpile calories for later.  This strategy almost always backfires as you will likely get so hungry that you end up over-eating.  Eat regular meals as scheduled and have a small healthy snack before the event so that you don’t arrive ravenous.
  • Keep a glass of water in hand.  If your hand is busy, you’ll be less likely to mindlessly reach for food when you aren’t even hungry.  If you plan to drink alcohol, try to drink a glass of water after every alcoholic beverage to slow yourself down and stay hydrated. And as always, drink in moderation.
  • Bring a nutritious dish of your own such as a veggie tray or vegetable-based side dish like roasted Brussels sprouts.  Then make sure it fills up a good portion of your plate (at least ¼ of your plate should be veggies).
  • Have a game plan.  As with regular meal planning, having a plan is important with holiday eating.  The plan can be general if you’re not sure what foods will be available (i.e. “I’ll leave space for one dessert”) or specific if you do know (i.e. “I’ll enjoy one piece of chocolate cake”).
  • If you’ll be traveling for the holidays bring plenty of your own healthy snacks to stave off hunger and avoid potential over-eating or low blood sugar episodes.

At work:

  • Don’t feel like you have to eat just to be nice/because it’s there.  That’s so great that your coworker was kind enough to bring in that pie, cake, cookie, or whatever goodie that is calling your name, but you don’t have to eat it just because it’s there. If you want some, allow yourself to take one serving and really enjoy it. If you are getting pressured to try some and really don’t want to, you can always be polite and say “no thanks, I had some cookies earlier.”  One little white lie won’t guarantee you get coal in your stocking 😊
  • Enlist the support of a coworker with similar goals. A like-minded friend can help keep you in check when tempted to over-do it. Also, just telling someone your plan, say to only have one cookie, will help you stick to it.
  • Remove yourself from the situation.  Out of sight out of mind, right? If you know the staff lounge is full of treats you can’t resist don’t spend too much time there
  • Bring your own snacks. Plan out your meals/snacks for the week. It’s much easier to say “no thank you” when you already have some healthy and yummy snacks planned.

In general:

  • As always, moderation is key. Don’t deny yourself the treats you really want as this often backfires and makes you want them more (and eat more when you finally do give in).  Enjoy the foods you really want, but do so in moderation.
  • If you do overeat, don’t stress.  Shaming yourself will only make you feel worse and won’t fix anything. It may even lead to emotional/stress eating or restriction, which can throw you into a restrict-over eat cycle.  Remember, one meal will not make or break you or your health.   Do your best to get back on track and don’t beat yourself up over it.
  • If you feel that you are eating for reasons other than hunger, such as stress or emotions, try to take a step back and figure out why you are eating. Stressed? Try calling a friend, doing some yoga/meditation, or going for a walk. Sad? Journal about it, talk to someone you can confide in, or watch a sad movie and let it all out! The point is, if you are eating to try and solve stress or emotions it’s usually only a quick fix, because it’s a distraction, not a long-term solution. Try to get to the root of the issue without using food.
  • Lastly, keep your training schedule, at least as much as possible.  Don’t be an all or nothing athlete! A little exercise is better than none, especially when it comes to mental benefits.  If you are limited for time focus on short intense workouts, such as 30 minutes of interval training.
  • Change your attitude.  Sure, it sometimes seems like the holidays are all about food, but really they should be about giving thanks and celebrating life with the people you care about.  Shift your focus from the food and drinks to the family and friends.  Start a non-food related tradition. Sometimes just changing your attitude is helpful. 

The cookies will still be there, but hopefully with the above tips in mind, you will feel more in control of your food choices and have a happy holiday season!

Jennifer Sommer-Dirks

Jennifer Sommer-Dirks

Jen is a sports dietitian with Active Fueling, based out of Denver Colorado. Jen is passionate about helping athletes of all levels learn how to best fuel themselves, for exercise and life! Jen loves running, cycling, and skiing uphill, as well as hanging out with her “pack”-husband, doggie, and daughter!

Trail Sisters is committed to creating opportunity and participation for women in trail running. Our content is always free to read. Consider a monthly contribution on Patreon to support Trail Sisters so we can continue to inspire, educate and empower others!

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