I tried with the pun...who knows if it worked.
It’s no secret that the holidays are coming up...SOMEHOW Thanksgiving is next week and we only have 42 days left in this 2020 year. Who knew we’d make it here??? It feels like the year of March was yesterday and somehow we blew through June through October!
Which means it’s time to discuss the holidays and your nutrition. The holidays pose a LOT of stress for many people—even outside of dieting and following a sustainable nutrition plan...and after all of 2020, this year likely has a bit MORE stress with it. If you’re like me, you may not be able to see your family for the holidays. You may have to work. You may be sick. You may have a relative sick. A LOT of stress up in here.
Which we KNOW has an effect—mentally, physically, emotionally.
BUT don’t worry. I got you.
This blog is going to teach you how to tackle this holiday season.
The past couple years, I’ve taken it in a couple different directions. Year 1, I taught you how to stay on your weight loss plan during the holidays. The next year, I taught you how to put those holiday foods to good use. This year, I’m going to I guess do a little bit of both, but mainly focus on the mindset-side on handling the holidays.
So quick before we dive into mindset, let’s discuss some potential adjustments to your nutrition in the next couple of weeks and how this can be used to help with mindset adjustments.
#1 – Are you periodizing your nutrition?? (and what does that even mean??)
Your nutrition should be periodized, meaning you have periods of maintenance, deficits, reverse diets, and surpluses. Even if you’re not an elite athlete, this is something that should be factored in because it’s the most effective and, most importantly, sustainable way to see results. A lot of people want to build muscle and lose weight...and that can’t be done at the same time.
We’ve talked calories manyyyyy times...but in case you’re new, here’s how calories work:
Build muscle = caloric surplus (cals in > cals out)
Lose weight = caloric deficit (cals in < cals out)
Maintain weight = caloric maintenance (cals in = cals out)
Yes, that means that you have completely opposite directions for very separate goals.
This is the basis for nutrition periodization...For athletes, this is more based and decided off of their athletic “on” season and “off” seasons.
Periodization for the general population—for people not going to Olympics, professional athletes, etc.—and are simply just wanting to look and feel good is a bit different and is more based on times of convenience and adherence...
Enter the holidays.
As a coach, I know for the majority of people that the holidays are either...
A time of stress
A time of extra calories
A time of sweets and treats
KNOWING THIS, it would be pretty absurd for me to expect a client to be able to adhere to a reduced intake. That poses a HUGE stress on one’s mindset, commitment, motivation, and discipline. Creating a hefty deficit is one recipe for burnout and disaster.
IF you, instead, created PERIODS of time prior to the holidays where you created a calorie deficit to target weight loss, then you’d be able to use the holidays
Realistically you shouldn’t be dieting more than 12-16 weeks at a time and no more than twice a year...that leaves close to 50% of the year left for other phases: maintenance and gaining phases. This is the BULK of your progress because you can’t live in a deficit. SO why not make some of that time in the HOLIDAY season where we know cravings are higher, access to food isn’t scarce, and stress is likely a bit higher—so the extra calories can likely be helping you.
AND then you can alter and adjust your training to put that extra food to good use 😉
SO periodization is the basis for how you’re going to be able to enjoy your holidays without guilt, hunger, cravings, you name it.
Sounds pretty great, right?
Now, again, if you’re new, I understand you may not be periodizing your nutrition JUST yet. Keep reading, because there’s adjustments you can be taking to still enjoy your holidays.
#2 – Nutrition
So how do you realistically adjust your nutrition for helping you thrive during the holidays??
For your nutrition during the holiday season, I recommend making it a period of time so that you’re eating at maintenance calories or more.
That’s right, extra food!! Why restrict your food when you don’t have to? Why NOT use the extra available calories in your favor to help you reach your goals? Especially if you’re going to be eating those extra calories anyways and LOSE progress—taking a huge mindset punch to the gut—why not intentionally add in those calories, relieve some stress, and see some progress as a result? Talk about a win-win-win!
The number of calories is going to depend mostly on your individual TDEE (total daily energy expenditure). Not sure how to find that? Take your body weight and multiply by 14-16. This will give you your maintenance calories. Start here.
Before you immediately start logging your calculated maintenance and/or surplus calories, you’re going to want to track your current intake for ~7 days if you haven’t already to see where you’re at now. It’s not going to help you mentally if you’re undereating and immediately start giving you 500+ calories daily.
If you’re eating >500 calories less than that calculation, you’ll first need to reverse diet. Luckily for you, I’ve written just how to do that and you can instead spend your holiday season slowly bringing your intake up aiming to end the holidays around maintenance calories. If you’re less than that difference you can easily just bump yourself up to maintenance.
NOW if you want to create a little surplus and build some strength and focus on gains during the holiday season, take those maintenance calories simply just add 50-200 calories to your daily prescription. You also can bypass most of these steps and simply multiply your body weight by 17-19.
To get up to that surplus intake, you can take two routes. You can either just jump up to that surplus caloric intake or somewhat reverse diet by making a couple jumps up to your increased intake.
One HUGE benefit that tracking macros has is that it lets you intentionally have a bit more flexibility and structure. Macros DON’T have to be as restrictive as sometimes they’re made out to be.
Take me for example. This holiday season, between friends, gym, family, and my birthday, there’s A LOT of potential parties and gatherings and deviations planned. Every weekend is booked. I can’t expect every single day I go out for a holiday party or event to just wing the day and hope for the best because usually that means I under-eat and feel like garbage. Macros hold me more accountable to 1. eating enough and 2. making sure quality is still there! I can factor in pumpkin pie, for example, by including it in my carbs and fats prescription all while still making progress.
IF you’re planning on adhering and sticking to a deficit this holiday season, macros WILL be your friend, I promise.
For protein, we’re shooting for roughly bodyweight in grams of protein. Again, track for a few days and see where you’re at and make the necessary adjustments. If you’re under-eating on protein, as most are, add some snacks, a protein shake, or overall volume of protein at your meals. 4-5oz of protein 4x per day is often a great starting point and gives you PLENTY. Eggs, meat (uh like turkey), whey, dairy (Greek yogurt is a fave), and some plant-based sources are all great ways to get in protein.
The minimal amount of fats is 0.2g/lb bodyweight to keep hormones happy and healthy. Adding more fats doesn’t “super optimize” or enhance hormones and in a surplus, fats are more likely to be stored as fats (as compared to protein and carbs which need to get converted before storage). Factoring these things in, I’d keep fats between 0.3-0.35g/lb bodyweight. Avocados, nuts, seeds, and cold pressed oils are great fat additions that also will help with managing stress and some extra inflammation 😉
Now what’s left? You know your calories, protein, and fats. Now it’s just some simple math to figure out how many grams of carbs you need to fit the equation. Most of the caloric increase is going to come from carbs...which is perfect for those yummy carb-filled holiday treats.
Now when to add in those calories? You can add in another meal, especially if you’re only eating 3-4 meals/day. You can add a little extra at each meal.
You can use those holiday treats to your advantage and factor those into your macros on occasion. You’ve got the room...might as well put it to use!
#3 – Training
Because we’re trying to gain weight and build muscle, you’re going to want to be prioritizing weights and resistance training and getting your cardio from lower intensity exercises.
Fortunately for you, I have a very extensive guide to writing your own workouts. So, start following a smart training program and if you’re wanting to prioritize strength, limit some of the high-intensity cardio. Not only are you actually going to be feeling better, but you’re going to start growing the muscle you’re looking for and putting those extra calories to good use. It’s likely, too, that if you’ve never followed a weight-training program, that you’re going to be starving...which is great because now you’ve got the extra calories!
Why lower intensity cardio? Two big reasons.
1. Moderate and high intensity cardio trains a different movements, energy pathways, and muscles compared to strength training. To get the most out of the extra fuel, you want your muscles primed and ready to train more volume and intensity. If you’re out there running and doing all the cardio, your muscles are spending more time recovering than growing.
2. Higher intensity cardio is a stressor. It breaks down muscle. It increases cortisol. It leads to inflammation. The holidays are already an extra stress. Do you really need to make it worse by crushing yourself and your body with extra cardio? You don’t HAVE to burn off your holiday food with cardio...you could just actually use that food for strength 😉 Lower intensity cardio doesn’t have the same stress response and can actually HELP with stress management. It’s a highly effective recovery tool, as well.
#4 – Mindset and Challenges
Gaining muscle and eating more food is tough. It’s as mentally challenging, honestly if not MORE...and on top of this 2020 year there could be some areas where you need some help and work.
The biggest mindset shift you can make is reframing how you view the holidays from surviving to thriving.
When you sit and diet during the holidays, you’re just trying to “make it through”. The number of questions I get on “surviving the holidays” is astounding.
What if, instead of just “surviving” the holidays, you got to thrive in them? Enjoy them? Make memories?
This year, as I’ve mentioned, has been tough for many of you. I went months without seeing my family. I still haven’t seen my sister since January. I’ve had to quarantine twice. The country has been through one, now going on two, shutdowns. What we need from the holidays is a bit of joy and happiness, connection, meaning, and space to thrive.
And you can do that by removing the need to “diet” through the holidays and instead focus on healing and feeling GOOD...by sleeping through the night, by exercising, by reducing hunger and cravings, etc.
It’s also very liberating to lose the necessity for restriction and to realize how little your holiday eating is actually going to “ruin your progress”. This is one of my favorite things I get to do with clients...teach them how much freedom they do have within their diets and free themselves from always having to restrict day in day out.
And if you are still headstrong to “dieting”, create a more sustainable diet. Create 10% deficit (and if you’ve been listening to me for the past 3 years, you should be eating 2000+ calories so that 10% deficit should still be pretty manageable). Use holidays and holiday parties as your breaks and refeeds. Still include some flexibility in there so again, you’re thriving....not surviving.
As you make these mindset shifts, you may need some extra assistance here. Below are some good ways at improving stress and helping with mindset work.
Music & dance parties
Lastly, to wrap up, having accountability during the holiday season is a big part of it.
If this is something that you’re very concerned about, there is absolutely nothing wrong with hiring a coach during these holiday months to keep you accountable and on the right track.
Do so here.
Resources and Coaching:
Online Coaching here.
[Free] Nutrition Guide here.
Recipe & Macro Guide here.