This article will be up just in time for the culinary assault we know as Thanksgiving, but these tips can be implemented for just about any social occasion where you’re all but guaranteed to deviate from your meal plan and training regimen.
You can consider this to be a “damage control checklist.” However, during this stretch of time in the fall and winter that lends itself to social gatherings, you can afford to employ this plan of action a few times a month and still stay on a nearly-optimal track toward reaching your goal (provided you have a sound plan in place already, which is oddly harder than it sounds).
Pick your dates wisely, plan ahead, and don’t go to the well too often and you’ll be in for an enjoyable Holiday Season.
1. Don’t Track
This tip is all about your mindset heading into the meal. Food and company, especially family, are things we intrinsically enjoy as human beings. As “hardcore” as you might think you are, you don’t want to be looking back 10 years from now and think about all of those Christmas Eves and New Year’s celebrations where you were huddled in the corner with Tupperware with your eye on the clock so that you could hit your next meal instead of actually experiencing and enjoying the celebration at hand.
People get far too caught up in the all-or-nothing approach, and this is especially true for the bodybuilding community. Too many people believe that even the tiniest screw up makes the entire rest of the day irrelevant. This leads to two very negative outcomes:
Neither of these approaches are healthy, mentally or physically. People are inherently imperfect, and not to sound too much like a hippie, but what is life without a little pleasure (dude)?
Remember: this is only one day. I repeat: this is only one day. And often times, a big family get together for a holiday only constitutes one big meal.
Try this: take out a calendar. Plot out how many social or holiday get togethers you may have in a given month. How many? Three? Four? Dare I say… five?!?! So what are you going to do, let four or five meals out of the 100 or so you have planned for the month derail you? Are you going to let a few extra calories over the course of 10 or 15 hours be the determining factor to your success, or are you going to have enough faith in your ability to do the right things in the other 700+ hours?
That’s what I thought.
So step one here is simple: remove the ominous shadow that one measly day is casting on the rest of your timeline. No matter what holiday it is, or who’s birthday it is, it’s only a short period of time where you’re diverging from your best practices. And let’s be honest, fostering social bonds and maintaining relationships should definitely be on the list of best practices as well, so you’re actually doing something pretty positive once you think about it.
Remove self judgement for one meal; leave the kitchen scale and measuring cups at home. If the meal doesn’t happen to fall at exactly the right time on your meal schedule, so be it. Remember: you have the power to make sure the other 100 will.
Now, this isn’t to say that you should walk in with the mindset that anything goes, which I’ll touch on in the next tip, but you shouldn’t be fretting about an extra scoop of mashed potatoes or taking another few bites of Aunt Helen’s famous Apple Pie.
2. Accommodate the Calories (and Leave the Leftovers)
As mentioned in the tip above, an unconscious binge isn’t going to cut it, and you can’t just expect to go right back to your maintenance level of intake without accounting for the overage that you will certainly experience. This is where you can start planning ahead.
How about we bust out that calendar again, shall we? After you plot out how many social occasions you plan to attend that month, you can also plan out the days where you’re going to help accommodate for those extra calories and “soften the blow.”
People are so caught up with calculating macros and deficits over single days, and up until very recently, I was in the same camp. The IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) crowd lives and dies by this notion that daily macros are the end all, be all to your physique.
But your body doesn’t have a special reset button after 24 hours. People would be much better served to think of energy deficits or surpluses over the course of longer periods of time, such as weeks instead of days. This will give you a lot more leeway in terms of allocating calories, just like in this example that I’m explaining here.
An easy way to think of this is to simply take the full day before and after, as well as the time period around the big meal(s) on the holiday, and designate those time periods as Protein Sparing Modified Fasts (PSMF).
For any hard training individual, we always want to keep protein intake at an optimal level in order to spare muscle mass. We can easily do this by eating only lean protein and vegetables on these PSMF days in order to reach our daily protein goal while minimizing intake of other nutrients. You can even take this a step further and go for protein shakes only on PSMF days, just make sure it’s a protein blend (whey, milk & casein) and doesn’t have a bunch of unnecessary filler ingredients.
Say you have a daily calorie allotment of 1800 and you’ve been successfully losing weight on that approach. That’s 5400 calories over three days. You want to really enjoy your holiday meal (let’s say it’s Thanksgiving), so you employ PSMF for two of those days around Thanksgiving.
Let’s say your daily protein target is 150 g and you take the protein shake approach for your PSMF days, meaning you basically only get the 150 g of protein and trace carbs and fat. Now, over those two outside days, you’ve taken in 1200 calories (150 g protein * 4 = 600 kcal * 2 days = 1200 kcal).
Simple math tells us that you now have 4200 calories to spend on that middle day instead of 1800, and you’ll total the same amount of energy over that three-day span as you would have in a consistent deficit. You can take this a step further and only consume protein shakes/lean protein up to the big meal at dinner.
This is a principle known as Calorie Cycling, and it has actually been shown to enhance dietary compliance and satisfaction (1).
Well, we actually all do. We have a lot of systems in our body to keep us at homeostasis, one of which is hunger. It may seem simplistic… because it is: in general, the more you overeat at one sitting, the less you’re likely to eat in subsequent sittings because of a reduction in hunger. Unfortunately, the psychology of eating has all but destroyed that equation, and there are myriad reasons why people override those hunger signals and overeat for days on end.
But since you’re reading this, you’re smarter than that. And one of the best ways to ensure we don’t keep overeating for days on end is to literally remove the supply of excess food. So leave those leftovers at Grandma’s house.
Again, this is “damage control,” not how to construct a healthy lifestyle. If you try to employ this strategy too often or too extremely, you put your hormonal health at risk. It’s a shame, because a lot of nutrition protocols these days are based on extreme calorie cycling and lure people in with the promise of allowing them to eat whatever they please. Just understand that starving yourself for days on end just so you can eat unlimited Ben & Jerry’s once a week isn’t healthy mentally or physically. Trust me, I’ve been there.
3. Get a Full-Body Lift In
Chances are, if you’re on this website, you don’t need any more convincing to get into the gym. But you can use your training session as an added advantage on days where you know you’re going to overeat.
The benefits here are two-fold:
4. Pair Your Plates
At any holiday meal, there seems to be a large disparity between healthy options and “fun stuff.” You almost have to dig through a mountain of stuffing and mashed potatoes just to get to the turkey and vegetables.
But challenge yourself to keep your options in a good ratio. Try this:
For every full plate of “fun stuff” you make, you also have to make a full plate of protein and vegetables and drink two glasses of water. No excuses.
This may sound elementary, but good luck drastically overeating after employing this simple tip. Fibrous vegetables and protein are the most satiating things you can eat, and the water will quickly fill up your stomach. Go ahead, have that stuffing. Just make sure you’re also getting in some foods that will prevent you from eating ALL of the stuffing.
5. Bask In It
Wait, what? I’ll explain…
Satiety is largely a psychological construct. As I mentioned earlier, there are a ton of ways to override our hunger signals and simply keep eating. The size of your cutlery, the color of your dinner plates, the availability and proximity of food, and many more factors are all pulling at you whether you recognize it or not.
While all of the elements of satiety are incredibly interesting on their own, I want to focus on one aspect that can make quite a bit of difference: your brain needs to have a visual cue to affirm that you are finished eating.
What does this mean? If someone were to go to an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet and get their table cleared between each round, they would likely eat much more sushi in the long run as opposed to if their dishes were left at the table.
If you want to eat less (or at least limit yourself from going back to the kitchen for a fourth time), you need to give your brain a cue that the food you had in front of you is no longer there.
So, leave those dirty dishes in front of you for a while. Or at least as long as you can before Grandma gets mad at you. Recognize that you are done eating, and you should have an easier time being satiated. It’s funny how often people lose sight of this.
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If this type of information interests you, I strongly encourage you to look into the Bayesian Bodybuilding PT Course. I credit most of my knowledge to Menno Henselmans and his outstanding, no-BS online course.
The techniques, strategies, and suggestions expressed in this website are intended to be used for educational and entertainment purposes only. The author is not rendering medical advice of any kind, nor is this website intended to replace medical advice, nor to diagnose, prescribe or treat any disease, condition, illness or injury.