This is the toughest time of year to be a cyclist. Not only is the weather absolutely atrocious (I’m looking out at a rainy day with temps in the 30’s), but this is also the time of year when, due to a mixture of holiday festivities and inactivity, the svelt waistline you worked on all year long will slowly disappear, leaving your pants tighter and setting you up for some hungry months ahead.
Before we start dispensing the tips, it’s important to admit that you can’t have you cake and eat it too (no matter how delicious it looks). If you are serious about heading into 2014 without loosing a lot of fitness and a bigger waist, you need to keep your eyes on the goal, and moderate yourself even when those around you get fully into the spirit(s) of the season. Here are some tricks and tips to get you through these next few weeks.
- KNOW YOUR ENEMY: As with all things, it’s easier to combat your enemy if you know what it is. And this holiday, just like every holiday, your enemy goes by the names of Alcohol, Parties, and Idleness.
- Alcohol: We’re all adults here, and as adults we can all admit that sometimes adult beverages get the better of us during the holidays. And, as we all know, alcohol is a quick way to pack on the pounds. The first thing to do, obviously, is make smart choices. That glass of eggnog or that bread-in-a-bottle winter ale ain’t gonna do your belt line any favors. Pick drinks that are lower in calories like light beer, red wine, or spirits. It’s also important to remember the three simple rules: 1. Eat before you drink; 2. pace yourself with no more than one drink per hour; 3. after every alcoholic drink, have some water. The reasons you’ll want to do this are directly related to number 2 on this list, and that’s that you don’t want your inhibitions to be lowered. If you drink on an empty stomach or have a little bit too much, that buffet line will become more and more enticing until it becomes irresistible.
- Parties: Even with a sober and clear mind, holiday parties can often be the downfall of even the most iron-willed among us. Office parties, friend’s parties, family parties and the like mean that cyclists the world over are facing down plates full of cookies, cakes, and a buffet full of delicious snacks. You need to really commit yourself to making healthy choices here. Even the most indulgent parties will usually provide healthier alternatives like fruit, vegetables and hummus, or lighter snacks. If you don’t think there’s going to be one, then bring one as a contribution to the buffet or party platter. Not only is it polite, but it also ensures you’ll be able to stick to the plan. And, when all else fails, and you simply must have a sweet, try to hold off until right before you leave. Sugar acts on the brain much the same was as cocaine, and leaves you physically craving more. If you can hold out until the bitter end, it increases the odds of you having only one helping.
- Idleness: No matter how much you resist the caloric temptations you’ll be presented with, it won’t matter much if you let yourself slip in the exercise department. We know it’s tough though. The roads are bad, it’s dark, and family and travel place a huge demand on your time (Thanks to the American divorce rate, I myself will be attending three Christmas celebrations in two states– neither of which I live in). But it’s important to remember that exercise doesn’t necessarily have to be done on the bike. This holiday, while traveling, I booked myself into hotels with gyms and have set the goal of running on the treadmill or lifting weights BEFORE I head over to the family. Promising to do it afterwards is setting yourself up for failure, and we all know it. Even if you aren’t staying in hotels, ask family members if they can get a guest pass to their gym, or try to sneak out for a run before the festivities really get going. It’s a good way to take some time for yourself and refocus on the year ahead.
- STEP ON THE SCALE: It’s scary, it’s tough, and you may or may not like what you see. But stepping on the scale regularly has been shown to help people both loose weight and keep it off. Don’t be discouraged if your weight fluctuates a little bit every day. That can happen depending on how much salt you’ve eaten, how much water you drank, etc.. But if you see a general upward trend in the numbers, that should start the alarm bells ringing, and give you the prompting you need to start making some healthier choices.
- WEAR YOUR KIT: Even if you aren’t riding, put your kit on regularly. It seems silly, but again, research has shown that this helps keep you accountable. Thanks to how tightly cycling clothing fits, its a good barometer of how you’ve been eating lately. Don’t laugh, but I always bring one with me when I travel over the holidays, and I put it on every morning to remind myself of what’s around the corner, and to stay focused on my bigger goals instead of the immediately gratification that a cookie (or seven) will bring.
- DON’T SIT NEXT TO THE SNACKS: While sitting around the television or fireside, don’t sit next to the bowls of nuts or plates of snacks. It’ll be too easy to find yourself mindlessly eating, whether you’re hungry or not. If you do find yourself situated next to a bowl or platter, you can simply move it away from you under the pretext of making it easier for everyone else to reach.
- ENJOY YOURSELF: Pick one day where you decide that it just really doesn’t matter. Sometimes it can be difficult to watch family and friends feast with impunity while you pick at some celery and carrot sticks. It can wear down your will, and make you miserable. So pick one day to just go for broke, whether it’s Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Years, whatever. This can help keep you motivated, and give you something to look forward too. Just be careful to remind yourself that it is only one day. The next day, you’re back on the program.
- ONLY WHAT YOU LOVE: Don’t feel like you have to eat it just because someone pushed it in front of you. Indiscriminate eating is a good way to end up consuming way too many calories. Pick the foods you really love, and stick with those. You’ll feel better and more satisfied at the end of the meal. Eat slowly and really enjoy the food. This has the twin benefit of not only delivering some tasty satisfaction, but eating slowly also signals your brain to release hormones that tell you when you’re full.