Well my friends, we’ve reached that time of year once more. It’s December! And you know what that means…..our fitness motivation is either about to or already has taken a temporary, albeit sharp, steady decline. In fact, I’d say the drop in motivation is directly proportional to the number of holiday-tastic events that we have going on. As the number of events and their corresponding holiday cheer in the form of delectable treats, savory foods, and holiday cocktails climbs, the more our motivation drops. So for the more social of you out there – you’re basically screwed. Introverts win this one.
Now for those of you fitness freaks of nature that happen to be reading this and are currently giving me the virtual stink eye, this is not aimed at you. Yes, we know you’ll continue to CrossFit your way through the month, pumping out new PRs and sticking to your Paleo, dairy free diets. Your motivation runs high year round — we get it.
Quick aside: I have many wonderful friends who are also wonderful people who do CrossFit. Yes, the two CAN go together. Not that I am under any illusions that said friends read these posts, but if they do, *sheepish smile* sorry guys! I love youuuuuuuuu. Also, there’s nothing wrong with CrossFit, but I always find myself poking fun at them. I’m probably just jealous or something.
Alright that turned out to be a much longer aside than I was planning for…I digress.
For the rest of us mere mortals, who do not operate on the ‘CrossFit IS LIFE’ mantra, December is a tricky month. We are torn between wanting to be “good” and wanting to enjoy all of our favorite holiday treats, and inevitably, the treats and festivities win out. We tell ourselves we are ok with this slight dip in our motivation because we hold out for the elusive hope of the New Years Resolution that comes with January. Did you know that January is a MAGIC month?! Our motivation abounds, all of the treats and temptations disappear, everyone wants to sell us something to lose the fat, our healthy eating habits reappear out of thin air, and hey, we just joined CrossFit!
Now, listen friends, we have reached the part of the post where I need to ask you a tough, honest question. I think you know the question I am about to ask – and you may be a little afraid. Don’t be scared, I’ll hold your hand and we’ll get through it together. K? K. Read the last sentence of that last paragraph one more time and ask yourself, when was the last time that New Years Resolution lasted more than the month of January itself? Or better yet, when was the last time that New Years Resolution translated into real results that not only undid the damage of a debauchery filled December but also got you closer to your ultimate health and fitness goals?
If you are like 99.999999999999% (Yes, that is obviously a true statistic. Don’t question me.) of the general public that uttered a sheepish “never” to either or both of those questions, it’s ok my darlings. You are not alone, and now that we’ve got the tough part out of the way, we can start to rebuild that motivation piece by piece. There, there, that wasn’t so bad was it? Deep breaths. Let’s talk about what we can do about it now.
Another quick(ish) aside/confession, I actually never can bring myself to crack my knuckles. I am far too much of a wimp to handle the pain that comes with it. Consider this more for effect than anything else.
It’s time to get down to business. How do we approach the month where at every corner we turn there is another opportunity to slip up? Can we really stay motivated in December? And more importantly, can we stay motivated AND still actually get to enjoy the season? Because let’s be real here, nothing kills motivation faster than feeling like we have to deny ourselves and miss out on all the fun. Hark! I am here to tell you that yes, the answer can be a resounding YES!
BUT BETHANY HOW DID YOU KNOW THAT IS WHAT I ASK SANTA FOR EVERY YEAR?!
I’m just that good.
Before you go on and get too excited (apologies if you’re already there), you need to know that this can be somewhat of an uphill battle, but after finishing this ridiculously long post that continues to get out of hand, you will be armed with some useful tools to kick that battle’s ass.
Reframing the Season. As with most of what I advocate for on GFFI, the starting point for this battle begins on a mental note. We need to start by getting our mindset right. That means, we need to let go of the idea that January will cancel out and save us from the effects of December. Before you start in with the ‘But, but, but…..” let me remind of you the earlier question that I asked you. If you answered never, then you simply have to let go of that dream because that is all it is. Say good riddance to resolutions. To quickly caveat that, let me just say that I do think resolutions serve a purpose to give us goals to achieve, but it has to be more than that and we cannot put all of our hope in them.
The problem with resolutions is they have a nagging tendency to be limited in their effect on our behavior. The truth is that more often than not, these resolutions do NOT lead to lasting behavioral change. We need to stop buying into the idea that they will. This can be scary to do because it can leave us with a sense of helplessness. We like the idea of New Years Resolutions because they give us hope. Removing it from our mindset leaves us a little uneasy and unsure of what to do. To the contrary, I tend to find the idea quite liberating. I don’t have to wait until January to get started in bettering myself, I can do it year round, even during tough months where there are more opportunities to slip up.
Don’t Trust Your Motivation. Similar to the last tip, the second tip is mental. Be wary of relying to fully on your motivation as a guide for when to be healthy and when not to be healthy. Motivation is not only misleading, but it is also cyclical. Motivation will not always run high, no matter what we do. This is not only the reason why we tend to slide in December but the reason why January resolutions rarely last. Those that are successful have something more than motivation to get them through the year with healthy habits in tact. What I am advocating here is that we do not use our motivation to dictate our behavior. We establish habits that transcend and carry on regardless of our motivation.
Choose Your Battles. Now that we’ve got our mindset right, it’s time to get into some specific and practical tips for surviving holiday slip ups, because the truth is that regardless of our motivation levels, the temptations of December will always be there. The first thing I like to tell people is to pick and choose their battles. I think it is absolutely healthy to sometimes in indulge in holiday treats.
Mind you, this is not because it confers any health benefits, but not everything we do has to be with the goal of optimal health. This might sound like a bit of fitness heresy, but hear me out. It’s ok to enjoy things that taste good and that we enjoy even if they do not provide for optimal health. Why? Well, because they taste good and we enjoy them, and sometimes that’s enough. Maybe they are a part of a social event or wrapped up in tradition. Whatever the reason, it really is ok do enjoy something even if it isn’t the greatest thing for us in the world, simply because we enjoy it. This is important to recognize because it gets past the guilt mentality wherein foods are labeled as good and bad. Labeling foods as off limits is not helpful. What is helpful is knowing that you can enjoy something you like because you like it and that’s ok.
What I do want you to think about is how to do that smartly. This involves a bit of preparation so that you do not head into any given situation blind. Take out the calendars and take stock of the holiday events you have coming up. Decide which events you want to give yourself the treat of enjoying to the fullest and which you want to maintain your healthy habits. If it helps, make a list of the treats that you would like to enjoy throughout the month. Pick a few of your favorite must haves and ditch the rest. This may sound a little too regimented for many of us, but the preparation will make all the difference in how successful we are in surviving the season. Not only does it provide us a balance where we can enjoy special treats, but it gives us something to look forward to. If we start to feel as though we are missing out we have events and foods that we have decided on ahead of time and have that to hold on to when additional temptations arise.
Know Your Reasons. Always be mindful of the reasons you are doing what you are doing. Feeling like you are missing out on something and/or that you have to give something up is never a pleasant feeling. That is why it is important to always keep in mind the reasons behind your motivation. It answers the question of not only what you are trying to achieve in terms in health and fitness, but why you are trying to achieve them. To make the most impact, you will need to find a way to keep these reasons at the forefront of your mind. This could mean writing it on a note card that you keep in your pocket, at your desk, by your bedside table etc. The way in which you do it doesn’t matter – make it personal to you, but it should be something physical that you can reach for to keep you mentally strong.
Get Practical. What follows is a round of what I will call rapid fire practical tips. Many of these you have no doubt heard before, but they are a good reminder, and when combined with the tips above, they will take on new meaning, and hey they may even actual help you. These are in no particular order and by all means you don’t have to do all of them. Choose a few that you think will work for you and that make it easy for you to stick to your plan.
Don’t head to a holiday party on an empty stomach and/or save up calories for a holiday party. It’s a recipe for a disaster.
Always keep healthy snacks nearby.
If it helps you, track your intake using tools like MyFitnessPal, if you find it too restrictive or takes the enjoyment out of things for you, don’t do it.
Don’t give up your fitness routine. Stick to your routine as much as possible, but remember that something is always better than nothing as your schedule starts to fill up. Even when it is just a brisk walk on your lunch break, it beats doing nothing at all.
Get the family involved. Challenge your family and friends to a plank-off or squat-off during holiday gatherings. Add an element of fun to your fitness and get your family/friends involved. They may groan a little at first, but trust me, they will be thankful for a little activity too.
Include at least a few healthier side dishes to your holiday meals. You don’t have to sacrifice all of your favorite dishes, but be sure to also include healthier options.
Take stock of your hunger levels before, during, and after you eat. Avoid running on empty and eating to the point of uncomfortable fullness. Be mindful of your meals not only to enjoy them to the fullest but to avoid going overboard.
Take the focus off of food. Avoid having food be the primary focal point of the gathering. Engage with your friends and plan fun activities that you keep you from being static and gathered around the buffet table.
Watch your beverages. Liquid calories can add up in a hurry so be mindful of your consumption.
Be realistic about what you are trying to achieve. This month may not be ideal for weight loss so make it your goal to enjoy the season and maintain where you currently are.
There are endless tips that could be given, but this covers the bases. Remember that the key is to get your mindset right first and the practical stuff will give you the day to day guidelines. Remember that you are no victim to waxing and waning motivation levels. You are in charge of how you handle the holiday season, not your motivation, and you have everything it takes to enjoy it without sacrificing everything you have worked towards.
Get Fit For It, Beth