By Dan England
Nov. 1 is one of my favorite days of the year. It seems like a weird choice, doesn’t it? I mean, Halloween is the day before. Isn’t that a favorite?
It is, but I love Nov. 1 just as much. It’s the day stores slash all those bags of Halloween candy by 50 percent or more.
Halloween candy, in case you didn’t know, has improved. On Nov. 1, you can get a year’s supply of all the greatest hits for like $50, with more variety than a Baskin-Robbins.
But I learned a hard lesson a few years ago. An especially large binge—I was in an apartment after getting a divorce and missed my kids and dog—probably cost me 20 extra pounds that I have come to accept are now a part of me.
I went overboard during the holidays.
No one wants to hear how you can eat healthy, stay on your exercise plan and drink in moderation during the holidays (and if you don’t include Halloween as part of the holiday season, you’re fooling yourself). I love the holidays, too, and good food (and sweets) are part of the fun.
So, I’ve tried to take a more realistic approach to enjoying the holidays without looking like Santa come Jan. 2.
Race to the year’s end.
The holidays are chock full of fun community races. Turkey Trots, usually 5Ks on Thanksgiving morning, feature thousands of people from your city running in weather that can be hot, icy or in between. Everyone is always in a good mood, and you won’t feel as guilty after the big meal that awaits you.
There are also Christmas races, New Year’s Resolution races and Jingle Bell jogs throughout December.
The beauty of these races is not only are they fun, festive runs with party-like atmospheres, they will keep you accountable because you’ll have to train for them (at least a little bit). Use these races to reward yourself for staying fit and lean on them to keep you moving even in the cold, snowy months of winter.
Balance out your calories.
I’m not going to tell you to eat healthy during a holiday party, on special days or on NFL Sundays. But people tend to use the holidays as a time to uncheck themselves from Halloween through Jan. 2. They’ll eat those white-chocolate-covered Oreos (my favorite holiday treat) every night instead of a few times in December. Allow yourself some fun nights with friends, but during the week, eat your normal, decent diet that doesn’t put pounds on your frame. You might even eat light a couple days before you know you have a big event coming up.
Use exercise, not food, to cope with holiday stress.
The holidays are one of the most stressful times of the year. Exercise, at least for me, is an effective way to shed the anxiety caused by them. If you find yourself eating to compensate, go for a walk instead. I’ve also found a couple extra viewings of Charlie Brown saving that little tree work well, too.
Embrace the cold.
Winter is a gift. There’s snow, snuggling under the covers and ugly sweaters. It’s downright fun to run in the snow, and just think about the skiing and sledding it offers. If it doesn’t snow, at least your armpits aren’t sweating as soon as you get in your car, right? I have found that embracing perceived discomforts for what they are helps me accept them more. This, in turn, helps me face them. The cold is no excuse for not exercising, and it will help you appreciate small comforts even more, such as a steaming shower, a hot drink or a warm bed.
Holiday dinners are a perfect time to learn how to cook, and once you’ve got the basics down, you can use those skills the rest of the winter. Ditching processed, pre-made foods for dinner is one of the best ways to eat healthier. I realize this is easier said than done, so maybe pick a few nights a week as “cooking” nights and allow yourself unhealthier foods the other times.
Find ways to escape.
If you’re staying with in-laws, take long walks away from them. Take an extensive bath and lock the door away from the kids (Rudolph is a good distraction for them). Work from home, if you can, to get out of the office and away from unhappy co-workers. I’m an introvert, so I need my time alone every day, but even those who love the holidays and all the people around them can slip into unhealthy habits, such as drinking too much, to cope with loud family members. Don’t be one of those people.
This is probably the best tip. I get that it’s also the most common and the most annoying. But the good news is moderation means you CAN still party, relax and eat a lot. You just can’t do it ALL the time. Basically, eat two cookies instead of five, drink two beers or glasses of wine at parties and skip your workout once, not seven days in a row. This is the easiest and best way to avoid the holidays ruining all the hard work you’ve done this year to stay fit. I believe in this tip the most, too: On Nov. 1, I’ll try to limit myself to two bags of candy.