Holiday Meal Planning

One of my clients asked me if I would share what I do over the holidays in regards to tracking (or not) and how I manage to enjoy myself still while staying on track toward my goals. I would love to answer how I make it work and how I have not been distracted by counting macros over the holidays. There are three different viable options, in my opinion, and I strongly suggest choosing based on personal preference and your current goals and mental state.

  1. The person who still prefers to track everything: Sometimes this is me. If I’m prepping or dialed in, I don’t want to go crazy. By choice, I would rather guesstimate (guesstimacro as I like to call it) my meals and put them in. Last year, I was at my MIL’s for Thanksgiving. I knew I would likely eat turkey and mashed potatoes, and a piece of pumpkin pie. I put those items in the day before, switched my meals from 6 to 4 (to have higher calorie meals) and kept myself higher protein and lower carbs and fats the rest of the day (I wanted a cup of mashies and a whole piece of pie). It was seamless and stress free. Now say she didn’t have pumpkin pie, she had apple, I can exchange those and choose a smaller or larger size to make comparable macros. You may not always be able to control the foods at a location but you can ALWAYS control how much you eat.
  2. The person who thinks they can only have fun if they eat whatever they want during a holiday meal: Sometimes this is also me. In that case, I try to keep my meals lower fat and carb until the holiday meal. I will only eat three meals, and I will eat whatever I wish during the holiday meal, eating slowly, and stopping when I am full. Stopping when you are full is a great habit to get in, and I hate when I stuff myself and am so uncomfortable the rest of the holiday. It is not fun to hang out with loved ones in pain or to chug Pepto in a corner, so I like to keep that in mind. If I want two desserts or 4 sides or something like that, I just get smaller amounts of each. Don’t get bullied into eating anything you do not want to eat. A firm “no” will get the point across and not give in to the persuasion will set the tone for years to come. You are in control.
  3. The person who doesn’t want to track a single ounce needs to put Fit Pal down, and just BE. This is also sometimes me. I have stopped counting macros for periods of time when it does not serve me. I am a perfectionist and have a tendency to get wrapped up in tracking. Once something stresses you out instead of serving you, you need to consider stepping away from it. In this case, I will intuitively eat. To intuitively eat during the holiday, I choose primarily nutrient dense foods and then sprinkle in low-quality foods here and there. Think 85/15. And I will understand some days I may be over, and some days I may be under my calorie goal. I try only to weigh once a week when I do this and also have protein at each of my meals when I intuitively eat.

I finally realized I don’t need to devour the entire table to have a fun and memorable holiday

The key word in flexible dieting is being FLEXIBLE. You need to understand how to take into account how you are feeling, your personal preferences for foods and meal times, and when tracking works for you and when it doesn’t. I know some people who have never missed a day since they began tracking, some people have weighed every single item religiously because that’s what works for them and they don’t mind doing it- think food scale to Turkey Day. I am the person who will use the scale if needed (competition prep) but can eyeball things otherwise (dinner out, holiday time with family, or just at home when I need a mental break from being so “perfect”). It took me many years to realize it doesn’t take food to make time with friends and family enjoyable. I gave up drinking alcohol except for rare occasions a while back and I remember before I did I would not go out during a prep with my friends because “what fun would it be if I couldn’t drink”. How sad is that?! The same goes for overindulging. You do not need to do that to have a good time. It is possible to satisfy your taste buds, have some of everything you’d like to have, and not completely wreck your fitness endeavors.

Now say you read this article and entered into a holiday party with the absolute best of intentions and you had an out of body experience and ate all the pies and all the desserts and you were chugging the Pepto in the bathroom that evening. Laugh about it, try to find where things went wrong (ok, after the second glass of wine I started scarfing), and try again. NO BIG DEAL! We have all been there, heck I found myself face first in my son’s Halloween candy a little over a week ago. Try the 3 ideas above but realize the switch will not flip and suddenly you will magically never make a mistake with your nutrition or training ever again, it will all go seamlessly and you will ride off into the sunset. The ones who are successful are the ones who don’t quit. I haven’t talked to a single fitness icon yet who said they didn’t have setbacks- unfortunately, you won’t be the exception but you should take comfort in knowing you can join this super large group of NOT perfect people.

Have an amazing time with your loved ones this year. Let’s try our best to practice moderation, not deprivation, and enjoy the food but enjoy the company more. Sound good? I’d love to hear how you navigate the season of excess- feel free to comment below.


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