Six Tips for Keeping Fit During the Holidays

Most of us don't need Mrs. Claus's encouragement to fatten up over the holidays.

Most of us don’t need Mrs. Claus’s encouragement to fatten up over the holidays.

I lost 40 pounds a couple years back and have been in maintenance mode ever since. It’s gone OK, but I’ve lost a bit of ground in recent months—anywhere from 5-7 pounds depending on the day. Since I’m training for the Disney marathon next month, some of that could be muscle: my clothes more or less fit the same. But I know that some of those pounds come from lack of vigilance. Weight maintenance is harder than loss. It’s so darn forever.

December is going to be a challenge. It always is, with its parties and potlucks and cookie exchanges and countless batches of pralines. And this year I have the “moral balance sheet” to contend with, which is the feeling of virtue in one area of your life that gives you mental license to cheat in another. In my case, I’ve got 18, 19 and 20-mile training runs coming up in the next few weeks. Shouldn’t I be able to eat what I want as a result?

It doesn’t seem fair that one should have to watch what one eats while running 30+ miles a week. But life ain’t fair (and let’s be honest, there are way more egregious examples of that in this world than MaryAnn not being able to stuff her face with gingerbread men without consequence).

Here’s the approach I’m going with this year. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what works for you.

  1. I will enjoy the foods I love without guilt. I will be mindful of portions rather than abstaining from favorite goodies altogether.
  2. I will prioritize homemade foods over processed and store-bought items. Nothing against the Candy Cane Joe-Joes—we’ve already gone through a box in the Dana house. But a homemade cookie, in addition to being delicious, touches a deeper place. Depending on the recipe and the baker, it may represent family, or tradition, or simply care. Yes, food is connected to love. You’ve got to be careful how you live with that truth, but it’s true nonetheless.
  3. I will prioritize eating rather than drinking my calories. I love a good mulled wine, or a hot cocoa with a shot of Baileys and topped with marshmallows. But given December’s many delights, those treats will take a backseat to other things I enjoy.
  4. I will track what I eat every day. I’ve been intermittent with MyFitnessPal for the past year or so, and it shows in my gradual weight gain. My deal with myself this month is this: I have to record what I eat. I may go over my calorie allotment in a given day, and hey, that happens, but I’ve got to write it down. You can’t manage what you don’t measure.
  5. I will make exceptions to #4. I will take a break from tracking one day each week. I haven’t decided whether to set a specific day or be strategic about it based on what’s going on. Also, I won’t track on long run days.
  6. I will weigh once a week. I like to weigh myself several times a week, just to keep a bead on where I am. I’m going to relax that and just weigh once a week. After the marathon’s done on January 12 I will reassess that practice.

Got a great tip to share? Let me know!

14 thoughts on “Six Tips for Keeping Fit During the Holidays

  1. Camille

    Sounds good. I’m a WW lifetime member. I’ve kept 40 lbs off for almost 12 years (except for having kids).
    I track on myfitnesspal and give myself permission to go over, as long as I log it.
    I still use your tip about picking 2 of the 3 for maintenance: skip exercise, eat dessert, drink alcohol. I find that to be a helpful check.
    Getting older and having kids has made the maintenance much harder than when I was single and lost the weight in seminary. I contemplated stopping the logging of food recently but decided I probably need to keep it up through the holidays. I also really get a kick out of seeing my 487 day streak on myfitnesspal (though I know its really longer than that it’s just that my days on Iona in 2012 didn’t get posted in real time).
    I also totally get the “moral balance sheet”. I get caught thinking I “deserve” sweet treats.

    “Weight maintenance is harder than loss. It’s so darn forever.”- YES!

    Good luck!

  2. Jeremy

    MyFitnessPal has become big for me. I’d gained about a pound a month (no big deal) over 5 years (big problem). I’ve been tracking every calorie, and every workout (since RunKeeper will feed into it automagically). After 4 months I’ve been amazed at how closely the net calorie count and the weight change track to each other. You can’t see it in the day-to-day, it’s too noisy. I often thought “oh, the pizza or the cookies really made a difference.” Nope, just net calories. What I have started doing more of though, is looking at weekly averages instead of daily values, so I get credit for 30 miles of running for the week, not 10 miles of running for Sunday, and I take the hit for the four slices of pizza for the week, and not just the day I have it. If I do the “don’t count one day” thing, I’ll wind up with a 5000 calorie day. Exceptions, I didn’t count on Thanksgiving and I won’t on Christmas, it just ain’t right.

    1. MaryAnn McKibben Dana Post author

      Would you really have a 5,000 calorie day? Don’t get me wrong, I can pig out with the best of ’em, but being sensible the rest of the time has changed my capacity and interest in doing so in a “go big or go home” kind of way.

      1. Jeremy

        I did the math, and I would get to 4000+ really easy. A day that I can splurge? McDonalds breakfast, Chick-Fil-A lunch, big steak for dinner (with fries of course), throw in a couple Pepsis and beers…it adds up quick. I think it depends a bit on how you’re wired. I need pretty strict rules, because I will push the edges of even the ones I write for myself. But if I put boundaries on it, say I can do the big steak, but only if I offset it with a long run and a small dinner the next day, that I can manage. But that’s the way my brain works, and I learned long ago it works different than most people’s…for good and for ill.

  3. Landon

    Those are pretty much the rules I followed to lose 20lbs in 8 months and maintain ever since. Tracking in/out calories and the psychological benefits of the food sabbath day cannot be overstated, IMO.

  4. Keith

    Tracking is something I’m restarting after my diet going completely to hell for about six months. One challenge is that I took on an onsite client 3x/week, and they have a cafeteria, so I eat lunch there. Usually generally healthy (well, now that my head’s back on a little straighter), but I have a very hard time with understanding how to log the more prepared items in the salad bar. So if I can’t do it RIGHT, I short-circuit and don’t do it at all.

    One stumbling block I identified is that I don’t understand ounces. I dial up TUNA SALAD on LoseIt, and it says, Sure! Tuna salad! How many ounces? and I’m like…can’t I tell you how many tablespoons.

    So the first attempt at a solution, as soon as I get a check that isn’t needed for other things, is going to be a kitchen scale. I’m hoping that will gradually help me internalize food weights.

  5. Erin Sikes

    I have to be mindful of all the food I eat. I mean, all of it. One of my weaknesses is eating while baking or cooking, and then instantly forgetting the calories ever happened. I probably ate three servings worth of iced oatmeal raisin cookies while dropping them on the cookie sheet, yet I would also say with a straight face that I made three dozen cookies and didn’t eat any of them. This practice becomes problematic this month, when I do even more baking and cooking than usual, often foods that are among my favorite delicious treats.

    To combat this, I have to treat cookie dough, even the stuff I scrape from the bowl and lick off the spatula. like an actual cookie, and control my portions. I also have to be very vigilant about what I allow in the house. Today I am home all day with a sick kid and am grateful that I didn’t bring the leftover cookies home last night. The days at home are hard, because I have to fight off temptation all day long.

    1. MaryAnn McKibben Dana Post author

      Oh me goodness… that is HUGE for me.

      I read somewhere that there are abstainers and there are moderators. Abstainers just can’t have the stuff around. It’s easier for them to eat none than one. Moderators are able to eat small portions and stop. Going without is so much deprivation that it would backfire.

      I think I’m secretly an abstainer at heart, but I love sweets too much to take that step.

      1. Kris

        I’ve been trying to eat “regular” food (i.e., those things I completely gave up to lose weight) and it’s hard. I think I’m really an abstainer, too. Ugh…

        Really good tips. The one I need to work on (that you don’t need to include with your excellent marathon training) is that I need to stay consistent with exercise. I was doing really well for a while but since it got colder I haven’t run…and scheduling has worked against my going to the exercise class I was attending. Time to join a gym!

  6. Jennifer Kieltyka

    Ran “Chicago” at age 52, ate hot dogs and tater tots every night, worked full time, ran very early in the morning and sometimes got lost in the dark but always ended up at work on time…..don’t worry about the food!! Enjoy the journey, the best is at the finish line.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *