Now I can't help you if the holidays force you to spend time with family members you'd rather do without, but I have a few suggestions for avoiding some of the damage that you might otherwise do to your body and psyche.
Plan your de-load for the busiest time of year. You should periodically back off from your training to give your body a chance to rest and recuperate. Really ramp up your training - both intensity and volume - in the weeks leading up to the time when you'll be busiest (maybe Christmas - New Year's?) Then, when you miss workouts, you'll be periodizing, not just slacking off. You'll supercompensate during the "rest week" and come back stronger than ever.
Note: I don't suggest you take a week off from training entirely. Try to do some lower intensity strength training a couple of times and some dynamic stretching every day at least. You want to recover, not de-train yourself.
If you're going to overeat, strength train beforehand. People tend to think they should do tons of cardio before/after an eating binge. Nice idea, but unless you're a real lightweight in the eating department there's no way you can burn off enough calories to outpace a good feast. Do you know how much work it takes to burn 1,000 calories (a lot)? Do you know how easy it is to eat 1,000 calories (well, at least for me, pretty easy)? But if you can pack a grueling strength session before the binge you can try to shift as much of that excess energy into building muscle rather than just padding your rear end. If you can come out of the holiday season with a little extra muscle you'll be much further along on the way back to fitness than if you gain fat and lose beef.
Blow your diet, but don't completely blow your diet. Look, if you have the willpower to eat clean during the holidays, that's great for you. But if you don't there are things to do to minimize the damage. Here's my new favorite trick:
- Figure out which food is your biggest problem. I don't mean the one that does the most damage - I mean the food that most often leads you into an eating binge. For me the answer is wheat. I can overeat chocolate or ice cream easily, but the foods that really send me on a binge are all wheat based - bread, pasta, bagels, pizza. Now wheat might not be your weakness - I'm not saying it is (although I suspect that more people have issues with wheat than realize it, because of gluten's opiate properties, but I could be wrong) - but figure out what is your weakness. Don't forget to consider alcohol.
- Make a rule for yourself: Do NOT eat any of your "weakness food." I don't mean eat it in moderation, I don't mean avoid it except in your mother's famous holiday dinner treat, I mean NONE. Whatsoever.
- Make sure your rule leaves plenty of room for eating treats that aren't in your big problem area. For example, I won't eat wheat, but I can eat chocolate and drink tequila. See? I'm not totally depriving myself of all that is good in the world, I am only totally depriving myself of my favoritest thing that is good in the world. If necessary, bring treats you can eat. Dark chocolate covered cashews are delicious.
- People will tell you this: "Oh, have some [food X] - it's Christmas!" Ignore them. If you wish, slap them. You can say I gave you permission. We could spend a lot of time going into the why's and wherefore's behind well meaning people trying to sabotage your diet, but I'm not going to. Just smile, slap the person silly, and knock the cinnamon bun out of their hand.
In short: make one single dietary rule and stick to it no matter what. If necessary, eat yourself sick on foods that aren't forbidden by the rule - I might really pound back some ice cream or dark chocolate when I'm feeling weak - but don't violate your rule. You'll see that over the whole season you'll end up much better off.
Ask for gifts that support your goals (think wish list). Don't count on friends and family to buy you fitness equipment or martial arts DVD's - they're all too likely to get you pun-of-the-day toilet paper instead. But if you're into fitness and karate most people will be happy to buy you stuff you actually want if you can let them know what it is. Try using an online wish list - I've had great success with them over the years.
It feels weird to ask for presents - I understand this. Try to remember that people want to get you things you'll actually appreciate. If you need some ideas, here are a few (I have no financial relationship with any of these companies, aside from the fact that I give them money for stuff!):
- A Gymboss Timer. Great for intervals and so forth.
- A heart rate monitor (I don't have a specific one to recommend, so no link.) I think the next phase in my endurance training will be using a monitor to pace the workout instead of slavish devotion to a clock. Plus, measuring resting heart rate can help you know when you're overtrained and if you're getting fitter, and who has time to stand around with their finger on their pulse for 15 s to measure it the old fashioned way?
- Get some books. Supertraining by Mel Sif might just be the only training book you'll ever need (warning: very dense and technical.). If you're in the mood for some martial arts philosophy try some of the books by the founder of my style, Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura (shameless plug, I guess!) I've found value in everything I've ever read or seen from Pavel Tsatsouline - you can't go wrong with this stuff. I have a bad habit of picking out training and technique books written by popular fighters - try some!
- Get some training equipment for the home.. Kettlebells? Bands? Weights? Valslides? A slideboard? DVD's or books? Spend half an hour browsing at Perform Better. It's like porn for exercise junkies (that's like the second porn reference this week on this blog. I'd better start cutting back).
- Get yourself a new uniform, new patches, a heavy bag, or new sparring gear. I like Karate Depot, and Fighting Arts has awesome stuff but a small selection (disclaimer: Fighting Arts is run by my former instructor - but he doesn't know I'm plugging it here, and as far as I know he doesn't know I blog at all). I haven't done enough comparison shopping to promise there aren't better places to shop, so if you have time spend some of it on Google or whatever and look around.
- Pick up some martial arts movies. Frankly, if you haven't seen Ong Bak an argument could be made that you should have your black belt taken away. Get the movie "Black Belt," aka "Kura Obi" (again, not sure where the best deal is). I think Kill Bill is one of the better martial arts movies of the decade, plus, hey, it's Uma Thurman - you can't go wrong.
I'm asking for a Body Action System for myself - I am compelled by the website (I'm not saying it's good - I'll do a review after using it for a while!) I'll also ask for Gray Cook's new book, a heart rate monitor, and a few other choice items. The point is, anyone who feels compelled to spend money on me for some reason will have plenty of things to get me without resorting to whatever's in the bargain bin at Barnes & Noble. Result - happy shoppers and happy me. It's a win-win.
Get a designated driver. Seriously, like I need to tell you not to drink and drive? If you're going to overindulge (color me guilty on this one - I don't drink often, but when I do, it's usually too much) get a designated driver beforehand. Stick to clear liquors - tequila's good - or gluten free beer (hard to find but not as bad as you'd think). Wine is also fine. Stay away from regular beer and malt beverages (gluten).
Surviving and thriving through the holidays is a combination of damage control and keeping your eye on your long term goals. Look, if you're the type of person who can sit through a Christmas dinner and completely forego all the treats, that's a fantastic testament to your willpower and character. But if you're not - and I certainly am not - don't use the holiday as an excuse to completely wreck yourself either. You can do a lot of damage to your health in 10 weeks (I count the holiday binge as starting the week before Halloween, which is the earliest I'll dip into the Halloween candy, to whenever the leftovers run out, which is early January).
Regardless, have a great holiday season!