Surviving the Holiday Food Frenzy - featuring guest blogger Dawn the Brawn!

We're excited to introduce a talented guest blogger this week. Our friend, client, and fellow fitness/nutrition enthusiast, "Dawn the Brawn", has some excellent tips for emerging on the other side of the holiday season no worse for the wear. Intrigued? Read on:

Hi everyone, it's Dawn the Brawn here, and hoo boy are we turning a corner into the most food frenzied time of year - the holiday season. It starts innocently enough nibbling Halloween candy, and soon accelerates through Thanksgiving, holiday parties, dinners, and New Years brunches that truthfully don't peter out until Daylight Savings Time starts again. Whether you celebrate religious holidays or secular ones, with huge gatherings or a chosen few, there are gobs and gobs of food everywhere you go. On top of that, all the holidays, bad weather, planned vacations, and parties are just waiting to utterly trash your gym routine. It's enough to turn the most seasoned superhero(ine), like Yours Truly, into a couch potato by the time the stockings come down from the attic. What can be done to resist this formidable foe? Are we all doomed to throw up our hands, call it a "winter bulk", and stick to wearing stretchy waistbands until the flowers bloom again?

NOPE! Just in time for Thanksgiving, I am here to give you some pointers for managing the Holiday Bonanza in tip-top form, mentally and physically.

1) Holidays and Vacations Happen. Plan Ahead!

You know who's coming. You've marked dates on the calendar. You've bought the plane tickets. You've dusted off the gravy boat. You've bought the turkey. You've planned where everyone sits, what everyone is eating, where everyone is going and when, so why not plan how you're going to deal with the disruption to your nutrition and training? You know Aunt Marge is gonna pout if you don't eat three helpings of Great Gram-Gram's Apple Pie, so decide right now how you're going to fend her off. (You have a gluten allergy. You'll take two and a half slices for leftovers. You feed two and a half slices to the family dogs).

You know that your friends are going to throw the biggest rager the world has ever seen for New Year's and they'll expect you to drink until you forget your own name, so decide right now how you're going to train around the Mother Of All Hangovers (Don't drink so much. Water between every drink. Eat a full meal before the boozefest. Ibuprofen.) You know there are going to be cookies in the break room at work from now until Easter, so decide right now how to keep your willpower and resist decision fatigue (Avoid the break room when you're tired or hungry or stressed. Ask around and figure out who the best bakers are, then work an amazing half-cookie into your nutrition plan. Too many half cookies? Freeze one for mid-July, IF AND ONLY IF you can resist the temptation to eat it at two in the morning next week.)

CARRY SNACKS: If I let myself get ravenous before a meal then I am much, much more likely to A) eat way too much and B) help myself to thirds on dessert. Apples and protein bars (Quest bars are my favorite) can always be found in my purse, or in my coat pocket, or in my glove compartment. Jerky can be a great choice as a transportable high-protein snack that will give your stomach something to gnaw on instead of its own lining. If you always have a good choice when you get peckish, you're less likely to say, "Screw it, I'm on vacation, let's pig out!"

DON'T BE A SLUG: Just because you're in another state for a week and don't know where the nearest gym is doesn't mean you can't find other ways to avoid merging with the couch leather. When Uncle Vernon starts his annual political rant and everyone reaches for their second piece of pie, grab your favorite cousin(s) and go take a walk around the neighborhood. Or round up the kids to play tag in the backyard. Even something like helping hang holiday decorations can be a great way to get moving for a while. It's not about trying to emulate your normal gym schedule when everything else in life is topsy-turvy for a week, it's about keeping your momentum going so that your normal schedule isn't a shock to your system afterward. Remember, a body in motion tends to stay in motion! Finally, if you're in town for Thanksgiving, chances are very good that your Personal Trainer* is doing business on Black Friday. Book an appointment and guarantee that you'll get a great workout.

*don't have a Personal Trainer? You should seriously consider contacting these people, you won't regret it!

2) Know Your Weaknesses - and Your Strengths

[photo: Evan-Amos}

WATCH OUT FOR KNOWN PITFALLS: I know darn well that I have a problem resisting "rare" food. If I am on vacation, or if it's Thanksgiving, or if I'm at the house of a friend I only see once a year and there's something special on the menu (an exotic dessert? I'm looking at you key lime pie/ aforementioned Great Gram-Gram's Apple Pie/ my best friend's tiramisu) I am going to eat SEVENTEEN HELPINGS BECAUSE I MIGHT NOT EVER EVER EAT IT AGAIN IN MY LIFE. It's pretty obvious that, in those cases, I am not eating because I am hungry or even particularly because I want to, I'm eating because I have an emotional connection to the food that's being served. In this case, knowing is half the battle.

SATISFY WITH THE GOOD STUFF FIRST: I may be vulnerable to those "rare foods", but I also know that I won't get crazy-eyed over them if I'm already physically satisfied. Good snack choices throughout the day and filling up on protein (lots of protein!) and veggies at mealtimes keep dessert temptations minimal, even emotionally loaded ones. If I'm already happily sated from turkey, heaps of roasted veggies, and reasonable portions of mashed sweet potatoes, a sliver of a few special treats top the meal off beautifully. It's a win-win: I get to enjoy some of these special foods AND I have stacked the deck so that I will be far less likely to eat until I can't move. 
[photo: blue sage]

GIVE YOURSELF AN ADVANTAGE: What if your family gathering consists of foods that you would never in a million years dream of having in your house? Well, prepare or purchase and bring along at least one healthy dish to share so that you can easily pass on the gravy-from-a-packet and potatoes-from-a-box. My pal Jenn told me that she always brings roasted brussels sprouts to her family's Thanksgiving, just to amp up the available veggies factor regardless of what's already on the table. See if you can get a glimpse at what's being served before you sit down. Worst case scenario? Revisit that neglected crudités tray between dinner and dessert and look to your healthy snack stash (Quest bars in pockets?) to satisfy. One caveat - go easy on the cheese in cheese trays. Cheese is a great source of protein but it ain't lean protein. Five pieces of veg for every one chunk of cheese is a good rule of thumb. Let someone else have the crackers.

3) You're There to Relax, So Relax Already

YOU'RE HUMAN: OK so you ate one (or two, or three...) more cookies than originally planned. You weren't able to hold off Aunt Marge and now you have eaten so much apple pie it's leaking out your ears. You succumbed to the spread of prepackaged, sodium-laden, high fructose corn syrup spiked delicacies and now you're slipping into a chemical food coma. SO WHAT? It's one day out of the year, it's one unintended cookie after months and months of smart meal planning, it's one week when you aren't hitting the gym. In the grand scheme of life, it's No Big Deal. Get back into your normal flow as soon as you can, and get on with being awesome!

ENJOY THE SPECIAL MOMENTS: Just because holidays revolve around the making and eating of food doesn't mean you have to make that the ONLY special element. Plan for fun events that have nothing to do with food. Organize a snowball fight, a hike, or a family Olympics. If you're artistic, plan a craft to do with the kids (and/or the adults). If your family is gregarious, bring along and suggest a parlor game like Apples to Apples, Pictionary, or (if your family is REALLY special) Cards Against Humanity. Suggest everyone go over to Grandma's house and decorate her Christmas tree. Go see the small-town holiday parade. Make new memories!

ABOVE ALL, REMEMBER THAT FOOD IS FUEL, NOT FRIEND: Eating can be an emotionally charged thing for many of us. It's hard, especially around the holidays, to remind yourself of this fact. Remember that while food might be a physical representation of the love and care that went into its preparation, it's not a literal substitute for the person who made it. Appreciate the unique flavors and textures of food that you only eat once a year, but focus more on your appreciation of the people who made that food, and acknowledge the reasons that they prepared the food for you: they want you to be fed, to enjoy yourself, and they want to celebrate the unity that comes with breaking bread with others.

So as we approach the eat-fest that is Thanksgiving, soon to be followed by the eat-fest that is DECEMBER, square your shoulders, hold your head high, nibble a cookie or two, and pass the veggies, please!

About the Author

Dawn the Brawn is a former total couch potato turned quasi-athlete currently on a five year gym bender that shows no sign of stopping. She has a background in heavy strength training and has set several USAPL VA state records. She is a firm believer in working on the mental and spiritual side of one's self alongside one's corporal form, and encourages others to find exercises that are sources of delight and enjoyment rather than drudgery and self-flagellation. Her favorite exercises include hill sprints, Kroc rows, and hot yoga.