Healthier Holiday Food Guide | Erin Stern
The holidays can be a challenging time of year when it comes to eating healthy and training. Our schedules are jammed with events, travel, and long to-do lists. Family gatherings and parties offer meals that could easily rack up more calories than your total daily allowance. But, with a few tweaks to your mindset and some eating strategies, you’ll be able to breeze through the holidays and still enjoy them!
1. Be realistic
It’s not healthy or realistic to be shredded year-round. The holidays can serve as a nice mental break from having a rigid structure. A few treat meals can actually be helpful to training and recovery. You’ll perform better in the gym, eliminate brain fog, and sleep better! Read more about the benefits of cheat meals here.
2. Be kind to yourself – forgive cheat meals and move on
I think we all have a tendency to overindulge – especially this time of year. The day after overindulging, go back to your normal meal plan. Don’t try and restrict calories, as this may cause overeating at night. Our bodies are amazingly adaptive, so one or two meals won’t make much of a difference if overall eating is in balance. The next section will cover specific ways to plan and recover from a treat meal.
3. Set objective goals – something tangible
The goal of “losing weight” is one based in self-judgment. Try not to beat yourself up before you even start! Set an objective goal, like building certain muscle groups, running a faster 5K, or being able to carry all of your groceries into the house in one trip. Chances are, when you achieve the objective goals, you’ll also feel happy with the way you look.
4. Stick to a routine
Plan your training. I’ll block out time to train like I’d block out time for a business meeting. Create small habits like putting your sneakers next to your bed the night before. When you can’t stick to a routine, shoot for 10 minutes of body weight exercises. An easy way to fit a workout in is to wake up 15 minutes early, and do a circuit of air squats, mountain climbers, burpees, jumping jacks, jump rope, jogging in place, lunges, etc. Aim for 2 minutes of exercises, followed by a 1-minute of recovery. Then repeat until you’ve reached 10-15 minutes. You’ll break a sweat, boost metabolism, and increase endorphins.
5. Eliminate thoughts of scarcity – tell yourself you can eat whatever you want “later”
So much of dieting is mindset. Even the word “diet” denotes scarcity. Work on telling yourself that no foods are off-limits. Perhaps change “diet” to “meal plan.” Know that it’s the time of year to indulge. The holidays aren’t the cause of weight gain – weight gain is caused when the holiday eating continues after the last big dinner.
6. Beast Week!!! Train with intensity the week after a treat meal
After dieting and treating yourself, the body is primed to either put on muscle or fat – hit the gym hard and turn excess calories into gains!!
Strategic tips for planning treat meals
- Plan to cut carbs the afternoon before your treat meal. Keep proteins and leafy green intake up.
- The day of your treat meal, increase your protein portions (for example: from 4oz to 6oz). Decrease carb intake.
- Try to plan a big training day a couple of hours before the big meal. This can be a leg, back, or chest workout. Choose compound movements, and opt for supersets, if possible.
- Have a shake and drink a lot of water before the treat meal.
- Scan the items available, and figure out the ones you’re really craving. Add your must-haves to your plate, along with lean proteins and vegetables.
- For each plate of goodies you choose, add a little protein or something healthy to the plate.
- Eat mindfully and without restraint. Notice the flavors, textures, and other details of the meal.
- Throughout the evening, keep drinking water.
- The next day, increase protein portions and decrease carbs. Feel free to have carbs before and after your training (if you train).
Tips for snacking while traveling
It can be tough to find healthy food options in the airport. Close connections, long layovers, and delays sometimes offer no food choices at all. Otherwise, it’s usually picking the lesser of two evils: 4,000 calorie bag of trail mix or the sad little sandwiches saran-wrap-suspended in time. A little planning can alleviate the need for having to choose between junk and junk.
In my years of traveling, I have put together a care package that allows me some versatility with meals. For example, it’s usually easy to find a plain salad and a light vinaigrette dressing. Add a pouch of salmon or tuna and it’s a decent meal!
Here’s what I pack in my carry-on bag
- Pouches of wild salmon and low sodium tuna (try to find soy-free)
- Organic cream of buckwheat cereal, pre-measured to single-serve size
- Single-serve natural brown rice – can be eaten without microwaving
- Natural whey protein
- Stevia for coffee or cereal
- Cooked, portioned, and frozen chicken breasts.
- Optional: protein bars or beef jerky
In a pinch, I’ll make breakfast in the coffee maker – heat water for the buckwheat, let it sit for 5 minutes, and stir in a serving of protein powder.
Keep in mind that one or two indulgences here or there won’t cause weight gain! If you do happen to “fall off the wagon,” don’t beat yourself up and continue eating rich foods. Start fresh the next day and move on!
With all the traveling, I make sure to pack my PEAK ATP. It helps me power through tough workouts anywhere! I get a few more reps each set and can train with more intensity for longer. Thank you for reading and Happy Holidays!
Erin Stern, 2x Ms. Figure Olympia