In 2018 I travelled around Europe for 6 weeks. I was away from my routine, on holiday and constantly tempted by delicious foods. I achieved my goal and returned to SA in the same shape as when I left. I also had loads of fun, many indulgences and special family meals. I never felt deprived.
Today I am going to briefly share some of the strategies I used to achieve this. They are the same strategies I have been using since then to manage weekends and holidays. They work for both.
From Friday I am on leave for 3 weeks. For many years decided to ‘take a break’ over December and I always put 3-6kgs on over the holiday. I started January each time on the back foot and feeling dissatisfied.
It would take 2-3 months to regain my pre-holiday shape.
Last year I decided to use my own tips and do things different and it worked! This holiday I am going to use the same tactics I used when in Europe and make sure that I start work in the New Year at the same weight as I am today.
Here are my strategies.
Podcast option: If you would prefer to listen to Eric and I discuss the strategies that you can use to survive the holiday season and stay healthy without falling off the wagon or spiralling out of control then you can listen to Episode 05 right now below or via your favourite podcast channel:
1. Start with the end in mind & make a deal with yourself.
Decide right now what you willing to accept in January? Be realistic. Are you prepared to put on a few Kgs? Do you want to maintain? Do you want to be aggressive and lose? Be honest with yourself. Decide upfront and then work backwards from there. You MUST keep this target in mind every single day. Every single meal. Be vigilant and even though you should relax avoid just ‘going with the flow’. You get what you focus on. Be intentional.
2. Weigh/measure as regularly as possible.
Best case is to weigh daily but that is too much for many people. Physically or emotionally. If you have an obsessive nature find your sweet spot. The more you are aware of progress the better off you are. If you hate the scale or do not have access to one then find another way to keep track. For example, when I travelled I used my “keeping it real T-shirt” that fit really well and tightly when I left and I tried it on regularly. The goal was to arrive home with it fitting just as well. There are many ways you can assess if you are slipping. Whatever method you chose measure first thing on an empty stomach for meaningful data. If things are going in the wrong direction do not freak out. Treat it as data. Just try be better.
3. Meals of meaning
Don’t be the sad loser who refuses your mom’s cooking at a special family get together. Or the mom/dad etc who refuses an ice cream bonding moment with the kids on the beach? When my aunt made me her famous Apfelpfannkuchen (apple pancakes) in Germany I devoured them with delight! Discipline gives you freedom. Focus on tightening up all the other indiscriminate meals you will never remember. That will earn you extra credits for some reasonable indulgences. Do this and you will have the peace of mind to enjoy the quality time and make memories without obsessing about your diet. Logically if you eating mostly badly and you layer indulgences on top of that things will not end well. Eat like a champ most meals and the occasional indulgences can be mitigated.
4. Use fasting as a tool
Skipping the odd meal is a great way to ‘save’ some extra calories in your ‘fun bank’. If you have a dinner with mates planned and you know there is a strong chance you may eat or drink too much then that day think ahead, be strategic. Skip breakfast or lunch. Or if you simply cannot skip a meal you can make sure to have lower calorie meals and avoid needless snacks. If you usually have eggs, toast and avo for breakfast, you can skip the avo in anticipation of a higher than usual calorie dinner. Or pass on the toast. Even things like protein shakes or high protein snacks are great replacements for meals. Think of it as a game of strategy. I will caution you though. I am NOT saying starve yourself to earn the right to eat crap. That is a form of disordered eating and not the point here. Pay attention to your energy levels and hunger signals. I am saying focus on highly nutritious low calories meals when you want to build that fun budget.
5. Never miss twice rule
You want to avoid things snowballing out of control. You totally can eat ice cream, cake and have tequila shots. You cannot treat yourself every damn meal or day. Strive to restrict to one bad meal and never miss twice. If you have a heavy eating or drinking session you should balance it out with 1-2 healthy meals to follow. If you have a blow out of a day, follow it with a really healthy day. This ‘dance’ is a great way to avoid piling on the weight. 2-3 days of debaucherous wild abandon will put you on the back food. If you take one step backward you need to ideally take 1-2 steps forward.
6. Be as active as possible
It is obvious that being lazy, not exercising and increasing your consumption is going to be a train smash. NOW is the exact time to get as active as possible. Try to build walking and movement into activities with friends and family. Workout however you can. The more active you are the less damage your excessive meals will do. That is why I hike, walk, gym etc so much on weekends. You complain all year you do not have the time to get active. Now that you have the time, USE it.
7. Slow down and eat to 80% – Satisfied and not stuffed
You can use this super effective tool ALL the time as a weapon. It works especially well when meals are out of your control and not the ideal foods you want to be eating for your goals. You may be staying with family for example and have little control over the shopping and meals. In these cases, portion control is your friend. Over consumption is your enemy. A reasonable portion of lasagne is ok. A plate of lasagna. A different ball game. Or maybe you out eating a pizza. A few slices is ok. A whole pizza … not so much.
Your best tactic is to eat slowly and STOP when you feel 80% full. That way you will be more in touch with how full you are and stop before you overeat. Always aim to be satisfied and not stuffed as rule. Remember that you do not have to go overboard to enjoy yourself. Most of the time we clear our plates or grab seconds purely for the sake of. How much you eat will trump what you eat.
8. Eat when truly hungry
People eat for 3 reasons. 1) When they NEED to [Physical hunger], 2) When they WANT to eat [emotional hunger, boredom] and 3) when they feel they SHOULD eat [habit or obligation]. We explain these concepts in depth here if you interested.
Ideally if you want to bank some credits for your socialising then you should strive to eat as much as possible only when you are physically hungry and NEED to eat. That is when your tummy is close to growling, it build slowly and you would eat a tuna salad if it was the only thing available. If you struggle to identify it you can also read this for the 6 differences between emotional and physical hunger.
Bonus tip: Relax
After everything I have said, even if it does not go to plan then remember your diet is not your life and you are not a bad person. Chill.
Parting thoughts …
Try avoid an ‘all or nothing approach’ as much as possible. That means your holiday does not have to be be EITHER squeaky clean OR an absolute shit-show of a mess. You laugh? That is how people are! It can be balanced. You can have a lekker jol, indulge and still keep things level.
Whether you fail or succeed this December make sure you are signed up for our New Year 8-Week Challenge!
I hope that you find these thoughts helpful.