Trying to stay on track with your diet over Christmas and Thanksgiving probably sounds like your worst nightmare. After a hard year, all you want to do is chill out, scoff yourself at the dinner table, eat, drink and be merry with friends and crash out in front of the TV feeling thoroughly stuffed.
The diet can wait until January, right?
But what if I told you that dieting over the holidays is perfectly plausible, without sacrificing too much. In fact, it’s pretty easy. Not only that, but it means you start the new year in a much better position. You’ll be fitter, lighter and leaner, and will have developed the discipline needed for dieting. Let’s face it, there isn’t a tougher time of year to avoid food than over the holidays.
Saying that however, sticking to your diet doesn't necessarily mean deprivation. First up, you just need to learn how to factor those Thanksgiving and Christmas calories into your life.
Enter macro tracking.
Macros, or macronutrients are proteins, carbs and fat and are what give you energy. In essence, they are also calories, as one gram of protein has four calories, as does one gram of carbohydrate, while one gram of fat has nine.
Find yourself a tracking website, such as My Fitness Pal, the Livestrong Daily Plate, My Macros +, Fit Day or the Daily Burn and set up an account, ready to track your foods. Input what you eat every day and aim to hit your targets as closely as possible.
Don’t know your targets? Working them out is simple.
You need between 10 and 13 calories per pound of body-weight each day to lose fat. If you’re sedentary, go with 10-11 per pound, or if you’re active, aim for 12-13.
After this, you need one gram of protein per pound of body-weight.
The rest of your calories can be split between carbs and fat as you wish.
First thing in the morning when you get up, plug in everything you plan to eat that day.
Now here’s where we go into holiday mode…
You won’t always know what you’re going to eat each day over the holidays. Sure, if it’s a work day around the festive season, you can easily pre-plan your breakfast, lunch, dinner and any snacks, but it can get more difficult if you’ve got a works lunch, are meeting with friends in the evening, or have some sort of festive get together planned. When this is the case, here’s holiday tracking tip number one – leave plenty of calories spare.
If your desired calorie intake is 2,000 and your usual day consists of 500 calories at breakfast, the same at lunch and again for dinner, along with 500 calories worth of snacks, you can do a little tweaking if you’re going out for dinner.
You might only eat 300 at breakfast, 300 at lunch and have two 100 calorie snacks, giving you a whole 1,200 calories to play with for your unplanned meal.
With calories sorted, you've already won half the battle, but what else is there to do?
5. Key Holiday Dieting Tips
1. Fill up on protein.
Most holiday meals will be pretty carbohydrate and fat dense. Okay, you’ll probably have turkey, but that’s about it. Stuffing, potatoes, cranberry sauce, parsnips and the like are all carb-laden, while things like pate, nuts, desserts and so on pack in the fats.
While there’s nothing wrong with these foods provided they fit into your calories, there’s little point having your regular morning bowl of oats and lunchtime sandwich, then having to forego all the carbs and fats later.
2. Save Some Calories
You do want to stick to your calorie intake as closely as possible every day, but there’s nothing wrong with “banking” a few calories.
Your body doesn't work on a 24 hour clock, and your metabolism doesn't just stop and restart on the stroke of midnight.
This gives you an extra 900 calories banked, so you don’t screw up if you do go over. Alternatively, you can do the same in the days after your biggest meals.
3. Try intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is rapidly gathering followers, due to its supposed metabolic and hormonal advantages, but it also helps control hunger.
You might think you’d be absolutely ravenous, and would eat triple your normal amount having fasted for a whole day beforehand, but this won’t be the case. In fact, while you probably would eat more than normal, it’s unlikely to be much at all.
4. Factor in Alcohol
If alcohol is important to you, you needn't abstain from it, and a few drinks won’t wreck your progress.
The easiest way is to count alcohol calories as carbs or fat. Find how many calories are in your alcoholic drink and divide this by four. Say for instance a bottle of beer has 100 calories, divide this by four to get 25. You can count this as 25 grams of carbs, 25 grams of fat, or a combination of the two.
5. Enjoy Yourself
You don’t have to be perfect over the holidays. By exercising some self control you’re already doing better than the vast majority of people.