Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.
Religiously tracking calories over the winter holidays isn’t often practical or enjoyable.
However, I completely understand if you’re anxious about taking a break from it because you worry that you won’t be able to maintain your results, what with all the festive food available in the office or at the store, and the social meals you may have planned.
Nevertheless, while tracking can be a very helpful tool, it’s not the main contributing factor to your results, even if it can feel that way.
The real contributors to your success so far are the new nutrition- and movement-focused habits that you’ve been building while calorie- and macro-tracking.
If you maintain these habits, you will maintain your results, whether you’re tracking or not.
That’s why in this article I want to focus on these five tips to help you maintain your fitness and health-focused habits should you choose not to track for a couple of days over Christmas, New Year’s Day, or any other holiday you may be celebrating this month:
1. Choose the purpose of every meal.
Your success isn’t dictated by eating the same fitness-focused meals all year round and swearing off all highly palatable food.
You can have some “decadence-focused” meals, during which you may eat more calories and/or more highly palatable food than usual, without completely derailing your progress.
However, eating decadence-focused meals on purpose when you’re supposed to be #Fitness isn’t easy to do without at least a bit of guilt in modern society, where highly palatable food often takes on the none-too-flattering title of “junk” or “bad” food.
And guilt makes you feel out of control, so you may regret your decision as a “bad one” and possibly go into “Fuck-It” mode until January because “you’ve already ruined it”.
Or, vice versa, you could restrict for weeks after that “accident” because you’re afraid of “slipping up” again.
To enjoy your decadence-focused meals without guilt, first of all, keep them in perspective: a handful of them is unlikely to outdo months of eating a fitness-focused diet.
Second, make conscious, informed decisions about:
Third, choose your more decadence-focused and less fitness-focused occasions before they happen.
On these occasions, accept that you’re not going to have “perfectly balanced meals” because you’ve decided that that is not their purpose.
Lastly, at all other meals, stick to the habits that you’ve been implementing to achieve your goals so far.
2. Be honest with yourself.
You may have a lot of social events planned throughout December.
But do you need to make every single one of them an opportunity to eat more calories than usual and/or as much palatable food as you can stuff into your mouth?
Pick meals that are really important to you, and special food that you never get to eat otherwise and that you find truly delicious.
Don’t just waste 2000 calories on some mediocre dessert at a work-related Christmas dinner you’re not really fussed about.
Save those calories for your mum’s amazing trifle instead.
And yes, there’s a lot of really tempting food available pretty much every day in December.
But do you need to eat everything in sight until you’re stuffed?
Maybe you absolutely love mince pies, but you probably don’t need a whole box every day.
In addition, a mince pie a day is likely going to feel just as enjoyable, if not more, because you’re not actually getting digestive distress from demolishing an entire box.
Conversely, do you need to restrict everything and just eat turkey and vegetables at Christmas dinner?
Unless you have a photoshoot or bodybuilding show coming up in the next couple of months… Not really.
There can be a compromise.
You can eat some foods you really like and that don’t fit the “fitness mould” in quantities that won’t leave you feeling sick and bloated.
3. Focus on your habits.
Whenever I have a client who’s a bit fearful of not tracking for a period of time, I ask them, “If you didn’t track today, would you stop eating what you’re eating and switch to takeaway, fast food, and high-calorie snacks all day every day?”
The answer is always, “No.”
So don’t panic. Your habits aren’t going anywhere.
These are the fundamental ones I emphasise with my clients to ensure success during an untracked phase:
This is going to help regulate your hunger and fullness levels, so that you’re not grazing all day long and then over-eating at the end of the day, when your hunger finally catches up with you.
So, before you take a break from tracking, observe what your calories and macros look like on your plate.
How big is your typical chicken breast?
How many bread slices do you normally eat in one meal?
How many almonds do you usually snack on?
Don’t just hit your macros. Study your plate and take notes.
You can even make it into a game, challenging yourself to portion out your food and guess the weight before you put it on a scale. How many times can you get it right?
When a client has never done this before, I recommend taking pictures of every meal and snack for at least a day or two, so they can keep them for reference once they stop tracking.
4. Respect your body.
On days that include at least one decadence-focused meal, I emphasise respecting your body before, during, and after said meal.
In the lead-up to it, you don’t want to fast and get to the meal starving “to save as many calories as possible”.
This strategy often backfires, in that it makes you so “hangry” that you end up eating way more than you intended to.
Before and after this meal, you probably don’t need the usual amount of food you’d eat on a “standard day”, since you're planning to pack more calories than normal into a single meal, but you may need more of certain nutrients that may be lacking in that meal.
So it’s not just about eating less of everything for the sake of this one meal. It’s about striking a balance across the day to the best of your abilities.
For instance, if you’re going to have more calories from carbs and fats, but less protein and vegetables at Christmas dinner, it makes sense to reduce your carbs and fats at other meals and/or to have fewer snacks than usual (or none), while increasing your protein and vegetables.
During the decadence-focused meal itself, you can choose to eat past fullness, but you don’t need to get to the point where you feel physically sick.
Finally, you don’t need to “make up” for the extra calories by doing more exercise or steps.
5. Stay active.
While there’s no need for excessive exercise to “offset” decadence-focused meals, you don’t want to abandon your existing movement-focused habits, either.
Moving enough––not too little and not too much––is simply another way of respecting your body.
Much like maintaining your meal structure, it can help keep your hunger and fullness hormones in proper working order.
Furthermore, it’s going to benefit your long-term goals, mood, and digestion, not to mention the fact that it can provide the perfect excuse for some “me time” away from irritating family members…
So don’t forget to check your gym’s opening hours over the festive period.
If you’re going away or the facility is closed for longer than a few days, you can do home workouts with minimal equipment, like resistance bands or a TRX, or even just your bodyweight.
In addition to resistance training, you can go for walks and/or do some cardio.
If you don’t have access to a gym with cardio machines and you don’t have a treadmill or a stationary bike at home, there are plenty of videos on YouTube, including low-impact and seated cardio workouts for people who may be less fit or who may have one or more disabilities.
In conclusion, you don’t need to track calories and macros to ace your fitness this December.
So, if you choose to take a break, I hope this article helped you feel confident that you can do it.
Thanks for reading. May you make the best gains.
To receive helpful fitness information like this on a regular basis, you can sign up for my newsletter by clicking here.
To learn how to develop an effective mindset for long-term fat loss success, you can sign up for my free email course, No Quit Kit, by clicking here.
To learn from my podcast as well as from my writing, click here.
An online fitness coach who likes bodybuilding, superheroes, and bread.
Want to work with me? Check out my services!