The holiday season is a tough time to stay on track with your health and fitness goals. The time from Thanksgiving to New Years is full of parties, dinners, and all you can eat get togethers that can leave you padding your stats leading into the New Year. How do you stay on track during the holidays? I want to tell two stories of two hypothetical people in order to hopefully show you that not only can it be done, but it isn't nearly as hard as you think it is to continue to make progress on your goals during this time, or to at least not go backwards.
Our first story is about Johnny Diet. Johnny is a very hard worker in a very stressful job, but he knows that he has a lot of willpower. He knows that at any time he can white knuckle it and lose weight. Johnny hasn't worked out most of the year and he knows that the holiday season is coming up. He has put on 5 pounds in 2018 and doesn't want to put on anymore before the end of the year. 8 weeks before Thanksgiving he decides to go on a major diet so that he will have some room to put on weight during the holiday season. In 8 weeks he loses 20 pounds (15 total for the year) by skipping a lot of meals, doing hours of cardio and bootcamps, and basically depriving himself. The only thing getting him through those 8 weeks is thinking about the pumpkin pie that he is going to eat on Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving comes and Johnny lets himself go. 8 weeks of starvation catches up to him and he goes crazy, eating and drinking like there is no tomorrow. It doesn't stop on Thanksgiving though. There are football games on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and Johnny has gone 8 weeks without eating his favorite football food while he watches the games. It is time to make up for lost time. At the end of the weekend Johnny is up 5 pounds, but that's ok because he had given himself some room during his diet. Over the weekend, however, Johnny remembers how much fun it is to eat his favorite foods. Johnny doesn't stop at the weekend. He has Christmas parties for work, with his friends, and at church, and he worked hard leading up to the holidays so he doesn't feel bad about going crazy at each of them. This behavior goes on throughout the month of December, but 2019 is right around the corner so Johnny decides he will just wait until January to change his ways. He gets on the scale January 1 and has a shocking realization. He is 10 pounds heavier than he was at the start of 2018. That's ok though. He knows he has what it takes to lose the weight. He goes through his usual routine of starving himself and doing tons of cardio, but this time something isn't right. He is not losing the weight like he used to be able to. He eats less and less and does more and more cardio but he still can't lose that last 10 pounds. He decides that he is just too old to be fit and gives up on it altogether.
Our second story is about Eddie Steady. Eddie knows that he doesn't have a lot of willpower and has never been able to stick with a crash diet for more than a few weeks. He realizes that he needs to find a more consistent way of eating and working out than just crash dieting. At the beginning of 2018 he set a New Years resolution to start eating right and exercising to help him lose 20 pounds, but by February he had given up on it. He finally gets fed up of trying over and over to do it by himself and not getting the results he wants so in June he joins a CrossFit gym. This gym puts him through an On Ramp program where they not only teach him how to move correctly, they teach him what type of foods he should be eating, what habits he should be picking up, and how to better achieve his goals. They hold him accountable to come to class at least 4 days a week (because left to himself he would quit after a couple of weeks) and he develops a steady routine of going to the gym Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. He starts to develop better eating habits during the week (he still eats what he wants on most weekends) and cuts down on his alcohol intake during the week because it affects his workouts. He consistently loses about 5 pounds a month (a little slower than he would like but it is still progress) and by Thanksgiving he has lost 20 total pounds since January. He feels a lot better and people have been noticing his progress. Eddie is very worried about the holiday season though. He has always put on at least 10 pounds from Thanksgiving to Christmas and he is worried he is going to give all of his hard work back. A funny thing happens though. The day after Thanksgiving his gym has a fun workout that he doesn't want to miss out on, so he gets up early instead of sleeping in like he normally does on Black Friday and works out. He also works out on Saturday because he knows he is going to be watching football all day and wants to at least do something productive. Then throughout the month of December he leaves a lot of the Christmas parties early because he has a workout the next day. On January 1 Eddie gets on the scale and he is the same weight that he was on Thanksgiving day. Eddie can't believe it! He purposely didn't get on the scale during December because he has always gained weight during that time. He was still eating all of the foods that he normally eats during the holiday season and yet he didn't gain weight. Eddie is shocked and still not quite sure how it happened but he is happy with how the holiday season went. Instead of setting another New Years Resolution Eddie goes to the gym on January 1 because it looks like a fun workout.
So what is the difference between Johnny Diet and Eddie Steady? At first glance there isn't much, other than working out. Eddie was able to somewhat maintain his routine during the holidays while Johnny never had a routine to begin with. Routines and habits are what will take you through any season of bad eating because you can always pick them back up. Once you have developed the habits and routines then you can always go right back to them, even if you take an extended period off of them. If you never develop the routines and habits of a healthy person then no amount of will power will help you. Eventually you will run out of it. Eddie realized that he could not do it alone and put people in place who would hold him accountable. Just the fact that there was a workout at his gym the day after Thanksgiving was enough accountability to get him to show up. If left to his own devices then he never would have worked out the day after eating poorly. Just the fact that he had to workout the next day kept Eddie from eating too much or staying out too late at a party the night before. Johnny did not have these measures in place in his life because he was always trying to do it on his own. It was very easy for him to take the whole month off because he didn't have anybody in place who would post a workout for him or miss him if he didn't show up. No amount of willpower could save him.
What I want you to take away from this article is simple. The best way to be healthy and fit is to develop the habits and routines that fit people have and go to the places that fit people will go. If you do them enough then they will become a part of your life. It won't matter what time of year it is or what is going on in your life. You can take a full week off and eat everything in site but you know what to do to get right back to it. It might take you a few weeks to get back to where you were but at least you will there. There is a tremendous amount of freedom in knowing what to do to get back on track. You don't worry about going through the holidays because you know that you can maintain your health and fitness during them and then get right back to making progress when they are done. It is easy to go to the gym and eat healthy most of the time once it is a part of your life. It is actually harder to not train and eat bad because you have developed healthy habits. If you haven't yet developed these habits then I would encourage you to surround yourself with people who have. They will hold you accountable and show you the way. Because no one has an unlimited supply of willpower-it will eventually give out on you. You need the habits and routines in place to help you when willpower won't.