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Holiday Eating Guide. Eating Like a Fiend, While Staying Lean and Mean.

AHHHHHHH!   It’s that time of year again.  Stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pies, and about a million other tasty treats that threaten to derail your diet progress.

I get it! You work hard in the gym and have changed your habits to see some serious progress on your physique.  The holiday temptations can set you back and make you feel bad about yourself.

I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be this way. You should enjoy your times with family and friends without stressing about your food choices. And Love yourself.  Always.  Don’t beat yourself up.

Occasionally indulging or overindulging, in your favorite foods can be done guilt free and is necessary for a healthy relationship with food.  In the following paragraphs, I will tell you how you can strategically eat like a fiend while staying lean and mean… or hopefully just Lean.

First some background information:

Fact:  It takes 3500 pounds of extra calories to gain a pound of fat.  That’s 3500 extra calories on top of your daily maintenance level of caloric intake.  It’s hard to gain significant fat over the holiday season unless you eat high-calorie dishes every chance you get and just say “screw it,” ignoring hunger cues.

Fact:  To make up for the heavy calorie meals of the holidays, you can eat less at other meals.   You can learn to compensate.  Example:  If your caloric maintenance level is 2400 calories, you have many feeding options that will allow you to stay at the same weight.  You can eat three meals like this:  800 + 800 + 800 = 2400.   Or you can eat three meals like this:  400 + 400 + 1600 = 2400.  The net effect is the same. Your body fat level will stay the same.

Fact:  No matter how many calories you eat over the holidays, it is normal to gain five or more pounds of water weight.  This doesn’t matter.  It’s water weight.  Holiday foods are notoriously salty, sugary, and loaded with carbs that will make you retain water.  So if you weigh yourself the morning before feasting and boozing has begun and weigh yourself the day after heavy feasting, do not throw your hands up in despair.  Dieting and healthy eating is a long-term plan.  Gaining water weight has no negative effect on your long-term progress.  A few days of normalized eating patterns will return it to pre-feast levels.

Fact:  Nobody wants to be around someone that is miserable from dieting.  You likely are seeing friends and family that you do not get to see often.  Why risk not being your 100% best by suffering through meals?  It just doesn’t make sense unless you have a great reason to keep the diet going.

In light of this, what should the game plan be for most people?

-Enjoy your festive meals with your family.  Pig out if you desire.  It’s the holidays.  That’s part of the fun. Remember, gaining a significant amount of fat in a short time is hard.

-When you eat a non-festive meal, try and eat less to limit excess calories. My strategy is to cut out most of my carbs and some fats in all of my meals except for the big ones.

-Keep protein high.  Protein releases satiating chemicals in the body that will make you feel full. You will be less likely to overeat when protein consumption is elevated.

-Eat fewer meals.  During the holiday season and whenever I go home, I cut back from four meals per day to three.  Sometimes I lose weight from this.

-Limit mindless eating of treats like cookies during the day, unless refraining puts you in a bad mood. If you can’t resist these treats, try and take something else out of the equation.  It’s compensation.  I eat less cookies and treats throughout the day, because I personally do not crave sugar.  If you have been eating clean for any amount of time, you will probably crave sweets less than your cookie monster nephew.

-Keep training hard when you can.  Gyms are all over the world in every town. You should not need to lose more than a workout or two around the holidays.  When you are at the gym, get extra work in if you know you will miss a workout or two.

With these strategies, you can fully enjoy your holidays while minimizing the damage of your binge eating fun.  Long term food restriction isn’t healthy nor is it necessary.  Now go forth and spread your holiday cheer.

Food Police: Evolution in Thought

Personal training is not a mindless endeavor. I actually learn from every single client I train. Some sessions I am confirming that what I know works and is, indeed, working. Others, I learn I need a new approach to inspire a “tough case” or to help get them into a proper squat position. Some days I test a new silly cue on clients with a particular sense of humor (“spread your taint, anyone?”).

As a performance coach, there are so many skills to improve upon on the quest to help as many people as possible. As soon as I feel like I have mastered a skill, like teaching squats (formerly nicknamed Sir Squatswell), I focus on something else like psychology, business development, program design… blah, blah… the list goes on.

Each month, my training is slightly different than the month before. I’m always growing.

This is the main reason I never get bored with my job. I am certain I can continue to hone my craft until the day I die. The moment work starts to feel like work, I realize a new opportunity for growth.

This Labor Day weekend, as I studied incessantly for my Nutrition Certification, I realized how much I’ve failed some clients. And I got really excited about it!

You see, I have always half-heartedly coached nutrition. I got a lot of clients great results, but some faltered and left me.

The thing is: studying in-depth nutrition bored me. It was much easier to align myself with a Paleo-Zone Diet camp because it worked. And it was a very simple shortcut. I read a couple of books and tweaked the diets to something I could sustain.  I have followed a very similar diet approach for years, and if I could get a client on board for Matt’s Diet, they would see good results.

However, no diet plan is perfect for everyone. People have different schedules, tastes and preferences.

Again and again, I was the bearer of bad news. “You can’t eat bread.” “No eating out.” “Eat 4 cups of vegetables at dinner.” “You have to eat breakfast.” No wonder some of my clients left me. I was the food police.

I knew what worked for me, and that was enough. See, instead of focusing on what would work for them, I tried to put round pegs into square holes.

Well let me tell you, I have seen the light!

People need to be coached as individuals.  Dietary recommendations need to be outcome-based with progress tracked. If the plan is working, continue.  If progress stalls, it’s back to the drawing board.

I am learning the tools to really get into clients heads and make step-by-step corrections that people are ready for. I am developing programs to tell clients that want to track calories exactly how many calories they need. Clients that want to track macronutrients can get individualized macronutrient recommendations sent to them.

So here is the take-home message. You ready? There are two things.

One. For a personal trainer/nutritionist picking a camp, like “I’m Paleo. This is what we do..” is an easy shortcut for decision making.  Stubbornly sticking to an opinion (or diet plan) and promoting the hell out of it can sell a lot of books and create disciples and zealots. It’s a hell of a lot easier. Some people will get great results, others will leave frustrated, blaming their will power for failing them.

Two. For those fitness professionals reading this, it is our duty to use critical-thinking skills to sort through the noise. We need to distance ourselves from narrow-minded camps and join the progressive camp. For every destination, there are many roads. No tool will work for every individual. This is why you need to learn many methods and strategies to deliver the same outcome.

Design a program that fits the individual. Don’t fit the individual to the program.