For fitness enthusiasts, the holiday season can be more stressful than it is for most. When it comes to your diet and exercise program, you’re as disciplined as a drill sergeant, and now everyone around you expects you to loosen up, indulge, and just enjoy yourself — they probably throw in the phrase, “for once.” You’ve probably been told to “live a little” by your out-of-shape friends or relatives, and you probably have wanted to say, “I live a lot.”
After all, fitness does greatly contribute to one’s quality of life and state of well-being. But you’ve learned not to preach about diet and exercise and regularly resist the urge to overturn someone’s processed-food packed shopping cart like you’re Jesus sacking the temple. Others — especially those who lack physical discipline — don’t want to hear your advice, because they don’t like being convicted, though they have no problem accusing you of being a stuffed shirt when it comes to enjoying decadent meals. This Thanksgiving, your mother or a sweet aunt or in-law will slide a baked confection under your nose and guilt you into eating it, because she made it “just for you.” That’s never true. The truth is she toiled over that pie and just can’t wait to savor all the compliments.
Thus far, I’ve been describing the average family’s typical holiday response to its token athlete’s stoicism. Take this response and crank it up to 11 if you want to know how my Italian family reacts when I remind them that I’m a vegan. When I once told them I was watching my carbs, their expressions resembled that of Saturday Night Fever’s Mrs. Manero when she learned that her eldest son had left the priesthood. Heresy! Betrayal! I think that more than a few of my aunts worked the rosary beads while praying for my return to pasta. Okay, so what do you do when the holidays hit, and you don’t want to disappoint yourself or others? When you want to stay fit and don’t want to be perceived as a fun-less scrooge? When you don’t want to burden others with your dietary requirements — ma, can you make my sweet potatoes with no butter or sugar?
Here’s my answer: eat. Mangia! Bon appetito! While the word is that people routinely bang on five pounds or more come holiday time, the fact is that most people only gain one or two pounds between turkey day and the final notes of “Auld Lang Syne.” Factor in that most people will not be hitting the gym throughout that time, and chances are good that the gym rat or road warrior who does stick to his workouts won’t damage his physique at all, even if he devours his Aunt Trudy’s pecan pie.
Discipline is a good thing, but it can also tighten the parentheses around a person’s life. If you’re the type who would stick to a low carb diet while on vacation in Italy or abstain from fried foods when touring New Orleans, you might want to consider whether your dietary rigidity is a virtue or a curse. Nutritionists recommend cheat meals. In a recent interview, Secrets Of A 41-year-old Fitness Phenom, Carl Delin, mentioned his weekly pizza fix. Psychologically, the occasional deviation from one’s regimen helps one avoid the feelings of deprivation that often cause people to completely abandon good habits.
Finally, if you really want to stick it to those out-of-shape relatives and friends who constantly berate your vigilant healthy lifestyle, show them that you can “have your cake and eat it too.” They probably want to accuse you of lacking self-control, because they see your vigilance about diet and exercise as evidence that you’re secretly afraid of ditching the whole plan after one slip-up. If you can show them that a person can loosen up, be flexible, enjoy life, and be fit, you’ll figuratively swipe the rug out from under their swollen feet. They may be forced to admit that their justification for their self-inflicted poor health is a big fat excuse.
If you’re still not fully comfortable with this if-you-can’t-beat-em-join-em approach to holiday feasting, try the middle ground.
Eat before you show up. I tend to do this before I attend any event at a catering hall, because the food usually disappoints. I end up eating some things here and there, really for the social activity, and enjoy a whole night of not having to defend my normally healthy lifestyle.
Drink lots of water before you eat. Water fills the stomach. People who regularly consume ample amounts of water take in fewer daily calories.
Portions matter. Studies show that people tend to eat less in social settings. Though you may end up eating calorie-dense foods at holiday gatherings, calorie-free conversations may reduce your portions and total caloric intake.
About the Author:
Vincent Corvino’s writing has appeared in several literary journals, among them The Quarterly, New Letters, The Crescent Review and The Blue Moon Review. He is currently the lead singer of the New York City hard rock band, Urbansnake. He is a former student of Zen Buddhist Roshi, Rich Hart, and has trained as a boxer under former WBO Middleweight Champion, Doug Dewitt. He possesses an MA in Education from Columbia University and a Post-Graduate Certificate in School Leadership. He has been an English teacher since 1996.