The Ultimate Christmas Survival Kit

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As we all know, Rome wasn’t built in a day.
But it also wasn’t knocked down in a day either.
(Ok, ok – I know it’s not been knocked down. But I’m using poetic licence here and attempting to create a relatable metaphor for our health and fitness so bear with me.)

It doesn’t take any of us just a few days to reach a certain level of health and/or fitness.
And likewise, a few days off track aren’t going to totally derail it either.

Imagine, for example, if you have a project running in work – you don’t go back to the office after a few days off and expect that you will have to start all over again. Do you?

Of course not – you will have taken some steps beforehand to make sure you leave the project in manageable shape before you “Happy Christmas” yourself out the door. And you expect it to be pretty much the same when you get back. You’ll just need a little refresher before you get back into the full swing of it again.

You also wouldn’t break into the office during the holidays, mindlessly deleting entire pages of work, or tearing up important documents and making your work ten times harder when you get back. Would you?

So are you still with me?

A similar approach applies when it comes to maintaining your health & fitness over the holiday season. A few days off won’t throw your results out the window. But you won’t have to start again on the back foot if you take some preparatory steps now, and don’t sabotage yourself during the short (and believe me, it is short) holiday time.

And here are my top 10 Christmas Survival Tips

  •  Buy what you need and when you need it.

We’ve all seen that there are special offers to beat the band in supermarkets since November. And they will still be there on December 24th, and 26th… If you are partial to picking, then just don’t have the extras in the house. If you are expecting visitors, you can get a small pack of biscuits (that you don’t like ;)) to have to offer. Or even better, make some of your own snacks, like some guilt-free chocolate-dipped fruit pieces, tasty CinnaMen, or parsnip crips for the savoury-lovers.

  • The power of saying No.

We all have that Mrs Doyle friend in our lives, who “go-on, go-on, go-on’s” us until we cave and have 11 double-chocolate chip cookies. But remember, s/he can’t hurt you if you just say “No!”. Try it, just the once and see how you feel.

  • A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips

This old-fashioned wife’s tale sounds dated now – but remember you should still be eating no more than 5-6 times per day. Grazing is one of the main culprits when it comes to gaining weight. And when you are indoors for 14-16 hours per day, surrounded by appealing nibbles, who wouldn’t be tempted to submit?! Which leads me to my next point…

  • Stay active.

 If last year’s weather is anything to go by, you’re possibly reading this with the rattles of wind-blown windows and the clacking of hail on the roof in your ears. And that kind of weather isn’t conducive to getting out and about. But even 20 mins of a brisk walk will make a difference.

Try fit it into your day as something fun – bring the kids out on their bikes, play your new Wii, go for a romantic walk in a nearby woods or seafront. It doesn’t have to be a chore! And remember to be realistic. Don’t plan to get up half an hour early on Stephen’s day to do an intensive HIIT workout if you know it won’t happen.

  • Stay in control of your portions.

This is another culprit to an expanding midriff over the holidays. At what other time of the year would it be normal to start with main course-sized vol-au-vents, and then stack your plate high with meat, more meat, veg, 17 different types of potato and then go back for seconds before piling a septet of deserts onto another dinner plate. And then a mere hour later, make mountains of sandwiches with whatever savoury slivers are left about the place. Try and eat until you are full, not until you are close to internally erupting.

  • Eat!

Even if you feel that it will make up for a day/days of eating too much, not eating is not the option. Go back to a healthy, regular eating habit to keep your metabolism on track. If you want to give yourself a kick-start, you can try a carb-free day (just one day, not a number of days in succession). But definitely don’t try starvation – it won’t work.

  • Enjoy

This time of year is all about spending time with friends and family and enjoying good food and company. You don’t have to feel like you are denying yourself. One or two days of indulgence is not going to put your plans off the rails for good. So enjoy those days, be happy and not calorie-counting. And once those days are over, draw a line in the sand and get back to your good habits. They say that it takes 30 days to make or break a habit – so one or two days of splurging will not ruin your health & fitness goals.

  • Planning is key.

Whether it comes down to planning days or weeks ahead for group meals and nights out, or just planning each day so you are aware and mindful of what you are eating, I cannot emphasise enough the power of a little planning. Even small changes, such as checking the menu of a restaurant you are visiting in advance (either online or by phone) can help you make the right decisions and be prepared.

  • Treats don’t have to be food.

I think this is a key point. Even as a child, I remember being rewarded for good behaviour with a treat such as a biscuit or a chocolate bar. While on the surface this may not seem like a big deal, it does ingrain in us the notion that food is a reward.

So next time you think to yourself “I’ll give the house a good clean, and then I’ll sit down with a cuppa and a slice of cake” – replace cake with “favourite magazine”, or “buy myself new [nail-varnish, PJs, album…] – or even better “call my friend and arrange to meet him/her for a walk later”. Then you will start to break the cycle of action-> reward -> food. You will be thankful you did come January.

  • Remember it’s just a few days

With all the build up of this time of the year, you could easily be fooled into thinking that we will be celebrating Christmas for 6 months – when really, the whole event is over in a few days.

Mind you, these few days can come with a lot of stresses and feelings of overwhelm as you try to organise gifts, manage your family, meet up with friends old and new, and make sure you have time to do all the cooking you’ve promised! It can also be a time when you miss loved ones that are gone.

So if you do start to feel overwhelmed or anxious, just take a few quiet minutes to yourself – take some deep breaths and focus on your breathing. Remind yourself that you don’t have to be a superhero and do everything yourself – this is a time for family & friends to be together so we can all muck in. So don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it 🙂

(Originally published on Floralesque, Dec 2015)

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