Brace yourselves, winter is coming!
“I never started that diet last Monday or went on my first run this year but I am not going to start now! Who wants to be on a diet during Thanksgiving or Christmas?” That was me for most of my adult life. I thought the only way to a healthier, fit future was to crash diet and go 0 to 100 in my fitness until I hit that goal. Then it would be easy to maintain, right? It never was. It wasn’t until I was postpartum with my first child, having gained 60 pounds, and so uncomfortable in my body, that I decided to try something different.
The truth is, I didn’t start this new approach because I thought it would get me to where I wanted to be. I didn’t even think that was possible anymore. I told myself I was going to take it easy. Every diet I ever knew before was restrictive and I didn’t want to deprive myself ever again. I didn’t want to pass on the wine or the bread at dinner at a special evening with friends. I didn’t only want to eat bland chicken and broccoli. I didn’t think this was going to work so I didn’t tell anyone I was doing it. I wanted to avoid the public humiliation of defeat.
I took it slow. I took it one step at a time.
I started watching what I ate most of the time but enjoying my special evenings with friends around a dinner table with less restriction or guilt afterward. I started moving my body every day or close to it. The weight started falling off, my mobility improved in my everyday life, I could feel the cardiovascular difference in my endurance, and even my mental health was on the up and up. Perhaps more importantly, I regained the confidence that I could live a healthier life, that nutrition and fitness could be a part of it but not all of it, and that I could stick to something over time.
Since then, I have had another baby and am back on my health and fitness journey. I still enjoy the things I love in my life which include yummy food and drinks. I still move my body almost every day and try to eat to fuel it, most of the time. I haven’t reached my end goal yet. The last time I was at this size, I wasn’t proud of my body. I am now. When you start caring for yourself in an intentional way, you start to appreciate yourself more for exactly where you’re at.
So, as the baked goods start rolling in the office, the treats start coming home from school, your neighbor brings over her favorite coquito, and Abuela makes her famous flan, don’t say to yourself what I used to. Don’t throw your hands up and think, “Well, I guess this means I won’t be starting my health and fitness journey until the new year.” Here are 6 fit tips I’ve learned along the way to help you stick to your health and fitness goals while also enjoying the holidays.
1. Flip the script. Your size does not define your worth.
Here’s the thing, it starts here. You have to know that your value is not dependent on your weight or image. You are a precious gift to this earth and everyone on it. Your body is a gift. Your mind, your heart? Absolute gifts. The way you think and speak about yourself should reflect that. The actions you take in your life should come from this point of view. You can have health goals for your physical body but they shouldn’t make you feel worse about yourself and your looks before you get there. Allowing that to happen will only throw you off as you try to make habits of a healthier routine.
What’s your relationship with food like? What’s your language around it? Do you consider some foods “good” or “bad?” All food serves a purpose. Some foods provide your mind and body with fuel and nutrients, other foods allow you to enjoy simple pleasures in life. They all have their place. When you begin to speak about food that way, you free yourself from emotions you might attach to eating.
Many times, before implementing exercise or meal plans, we have to first reevaluate our relationship with food and our own body image before we can truly begin any other work. The internal work comes first. If you need help in this area, you are not alone. Many professionals specialize in this area and can help you begin to change your mindset around food and health.
2. It’s called balance: The 80/20 Rule
Do you get stuck in the loop of thinking you have to be perfect or nothing will work? That viewpoint has been so detrimental to my self-growth in the past. Consistent progress over time is better than perfection for a short portion of it. Depriving myself to “get results” was exactly the life I didn’t want to go back to when I’d inevitably gain all my weight back, and usually more.
It’s about balance.
80% of the time you should stick to meals that are nutrient-dense and within your goals, 20% of the time allow yourself to enjoy the extra stuff. When you begin to commit to yourself in a way that allows you to make positive choices for what you fuel your body with when you eat, you realize that food isn’t the enemy. When Abuela brings that flan de coco over, enjoy it. The 20% is there to be a part of your life. Don’t guilt trip over it either! Just go back to that 80% routine that you’ve built afterward. Move your body with your favorite style workout, eat the delicious and nutrient-dense lunch salad you tried the other day. When friends are over, have the glass of wine.
Often times if we aren’t adhering to an 80/20 rule with our lifestyles, we ping pong between 0 and 100.
“I didn’t have carbs the last three days so now I’ am going to eat this entire sheet of cookies.” Have you ever played that game with yourself? I used to think, “If I just quickly lost (insert varying number of pounds here depending what year it was), then I only have to maintain after I lose it and I can just be semi-good to keep it off.”
The problem was since I did something so extreme to lose the weight, I never was able to get into maintenance mode. I’d always gain my weight back and feel defeated and discouraged. I never could maintain because I never taught myself how. When I started focusing on the 80/20 rule and shifting my mindset toward a healthy balance, I learned how to find something I could sustain over time. I could tweak it here or there depending on goals but I had an established foundation to always fall back on. One that included fitness and healthy foods in it but wasn’t consumed by it.
3. Have a plan. And a backup plan.
It’s a lot easier to stick to eating nutritiously when you are prepared for it. And guess what?! The food you eat doesn’t have to be bland either. Find and play with recipes of foods you really enjoy. Focus on protein and vegetables in different ways and find those that you genuinely like the taste of. Try to limit simple carbs in those meals. Find recipes that you can make in 30 min or less. Find meals that store well for next-day leftovers. Season your food generously!
Plan the week ahead of time. Go shopping on your day off so you have everything you need on hand. If you are prepared during the week with lunches and dinners, you can take the emotion and thinking out of your food choices on a daily basis. It’s an added benefit. Then, if someone brings a yummy dessert to work, savor a piece or two. You don’t have to eat the whole plate or enjoy as much as possible in the moment as if you’ll never try it again. When it’s allowed to be 20%, you can continue to enjoy these things 20% of the time. They are never completely off-limits.
When life gets busy, have a back-up plan!
Between school, work, extracurricular activities, or life in general, it can be easy to run out of time and decide to go through the McDonald’s drive-thru. “3 big macs and a happy meal, please!” No judgment, I have been there. Here are some better alternatives I have found for those kinds of days:
- Drive-thru is fine. Try a salad or bowl from Chipotle. I also like Pollo Tropical- you can get chicken with a side of veggies and beans instead of yuca fries and white rice. I actually prefer their mojo pork to their chicken and their balsamic tomatoes are delish!
- Rotisserie chicken from the grocery store that is ready to go? Count me in. I can pick up a bag of veggies to throw in the air fryer with some oil and salt. Or they often have pre-made veggies or sides.
- Chopped salad kits. Okay, these salad kit brands have really done well with getting some tasty salads together. You can portion them out into 3 different servings or sometimes I eat a whole bag for a meal. It’s another great option for a healthy side item for that rotisserie chicken and it’s in the same store.
4. Move your body: Find something you enjoy and that works for you.
When deciding what exercise routine to do, be honest with yourself. Things I have allowed to get in the way of my exercise routine may seem silly to others but they were real obstacles to my sticking to it. I hated the social anxiety of a gym environment. I also never wanted to feel like I was choosing “gym time” over family time and wouldn’t have childcare if I wanted to go to the gym during the day.
When I found workouts and programs I could do from home for as little as 25 to 30 minutes at a time, I knew it would work out better for me. I could eliminate extra time associated with a drive. I could also fall while trying a new move in the privacy of my own home, without an audience. I promise, you guys, that I used to not try any new machines at the gym because I knew I would go viral for sitting on it backwards or something. I had to be honest with myself about things I may not have wanted to admit were keeping me from sticking to a regular workout routine. As I removed those barriers, I made moving my body daily a more realistic goal.
Find a workout you like and look forward to.
This shouldn’t be a punishment! I love learning to lift weights and working on strength building. I like the physical challenge and seeing how I get stronger and better over time. I also love running outdoors. I crave the ability to be in my own head, to improve my endurance, be outside in nature, and listen to favorite songs or podcasts. It’s my me time. If you’re a mom, you know how important that time is. When I enjoy my workouts, I usually look forward to them rather than dread them which is why I feel it’s important to find something you genuinely enjoy. If lifting weights or outdoor cardio-style workouts aren’t up your alley, look into dancing, barre, cycling, yoga, rock climbing, etc. There are so many options out there to find something you’ll want to do every day.
Moving your body doesn’t only build muscles or help people lean out. It’s also a great stress reliever, it impacts your longevity, your mental clarity, and even your rest. All of these are integral to your overall health and will improve your life in more ways than one.
5. Get yourself a squad: Community and accountability are key.
Some people love group classes because they’re competitive and feel like they push themselves more. Other people love the social aspect of a gym. Whether you’re going somewhere to work out or you work out on your own, find a community you can dial into. There are so many support groups, accountability teams, and other people like you out there. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people will help you find motivation to get your daily exercise in when you don’t want to. Having my group to check in with, post my workout or daily meal pic to, helps me keep going when I might otherwise talk myself out of it.
If you have to be able to workout from anywhere but find group classes to be your best fit, many health & fitness companies whose workouts can be streamed online offer live workouts for a group experience from the comfort of your own home (or hotel, or RV, or office).
No matter the forum, find someone or a group of people you can share your journey with. When you’re struggling, lean into them. When you see progress, share it with them. Sometimes having a team is the difference between sticking to our goals long-term or giving up.
6. You can have your cake and eat it too: Treat yourself!
Holiday meals are there for us to enjoy as a part of our lives. If we are living in a healthy balance, our 20% can include every mashed potato and baked yam (with marshmallows on top) at Thanksgiving dinner. Don’t treat the 20% as a scapegoat that you only honor once in a while when you think you’ve earned it. It needs to be there so you aren’t depriving yourself. It’s as important a part of your overall health and wellness as the 80% of proper nutrition and exercise are. We can reflect on everything we have to be grateful for as we enjoy the nostalgia of our favorite childhood treats this holiday season. When you wake up the next day, you can be thankful for your balanced life and the routines you’ve built to enjoy it with more capacity.
Happy Holidays, you beautiful people!