Staying Fit Through the Holidays

Unless you have a superhuman willpower, sticking to a diet from November through January can potentially be an arduous task to say the least. October is usually the month in which we enter a downward spiral into the Dark Abyss of obesity season. There’s Halloween parties, candy and pumpkin spice errrthang. Throw a birthday dinner or party in the mix. It’s all good, you say. The good news is that most other holidays aren’t as destructive metabolically because they’re smaller celebrations, one or two days. November with Thanksgiving and all the yummy pies, meats and potatoes, grandma’s dinner rolls, family gatherings….good gravy!! (see what I did there). It’s also no surprise that National Diabetes Awareness month coincides in November. Then December shows up the next week it in all its glory with all of the Christmas cookies and eggnog and the welcoming feeling of hibernation season gives us all the urge to want to eat, wear comfy, stretchy clothes and stay warm next to a fireplace, and throw all care to the wind because, you know, we’re “bulking” or whatever, and not going to the beach or anywhere swimsuit-worthy anytime soon. We’ll just layer up. ;)

That being said, with so much tasty food so easily accessible so often, it seems impossible to make everything fit your carbs, fats and proteins on the daily, even if you’re bulking and eating a little more than most.

For those trying to diet on “poverty” macros though, it seem be like an impasse. The Great Wall. The Iron Curtain.

So, it looks like you’re in a tight spot. Decision time.

Do you stay strong, push through, stick religiously to your macros, have small servings of one or two things you crave each day, but possibly face criticism and mockery (which I have personally experienced) from your crew and potentially feel like you missed out on all the fun, or do you sigh, shrug and say “oh well” for a couple of months and get back on the diet in the New Year? What do you do? Well, I can’t tell you what to do.

Only you can make that call, but if it ends up being the “screw it” mentality, it’s highly likely the first few months of the new year will be spent making up for lost time.

So, without further adieu, in no particular order, here are a few tips for staying lean and mean while making progress through the holidays:

-Prioritize Protein

With the arrival of Thanksgiving this week, this one will be easy to start with. Protein is the most filling of all the macronutrients, so start every meal with a protein source.  Dark leafy greens can have the same effect of filling you up, so at the dinner table, load your plate up with turkey or lean roast beef, along with plenty of greens, before deciding if you really need anything else. If you want, you could even take this a step further by having a protein shake before leaving the house when you’re going out.

-HIIT it.

Plan a head by doing a little extra cardio or adding in extra volume (sets/reps) to your workouts in the days leading up to the event/holiday. That way you won’t even feel guilty for enjoying a few extra treats on the big day. This extra calorie expenditure will act as a calorie buffer for any excess intake, especially if you think you’ll be going over by 300 to 400 calories per day.

Also, you don’t want to create a negative association with food and exercise by having to “punish” yourself for enjoying some extra food. 

Additionally, doing some high intensity, short duration bouts of cardio will also activate your glucose transporters (aka GLUT-4). These transporters ensure that carbs get shuttled into the muscle cells to be used for fuel and not stored as fat.

Double bonus: high intensity cardio sessions burn twice the amount of fat as low intensity, long duration cardio. Sled pushes anyone?? 

- Sample One of Everything

When I lived in Brazil the Brazilians used to tell me: “You don’t need to eat an entire cake to know that it tastes good.” It sounds simple, but there’s no reason why you can’t exercise a little self control here.  You may not be able to have a whole pumpkin pie, a loaf of banana bread or 3 helpings of Aunt Gertrude’s stroganoff, but you can probably have smaller portions of each. Kind of like a mini-buffet. I like the sound of that. 

- Prioritize the Foods you Crave

At social gatherings, events and holidays there’ll always be what I call “lame” foods like chips and chocolate hanging around, but these are available year-round, so why calorically spend on foods you only get around the holidays? Save your calories for those rare foods.

-Planned Re-Feeds

This has been and continues to work great for me as I have found this to be extremely helpful. Re-feeds and high carb days can be useful from a physiological point of view, as they increase leptin levels, and elevate thyroid hormone levels, but psychologically, they’re even better. If you usually have two re-feeds per week, skip these in the days leading up to the big event or holiday, and give yourself a couple of extra planned refeeds when you’re going out to meet friends, or visiting family for an epic holiday feast.

-The Morning After….Go Keto.

I’ve been there. The dreaded carb bloat. The remedy? Go keto. Anytime I’ve had an epic cheat meal my body will naturally hold water the days following (1 gram of carbohydrate holds 3 grams of water btw).

In order to eliminate that bloated, distended feeling I’ll switch my diet completely and go ketogenic the next couple of days, where I’m consuming only proteins, full fats and fiberous green vegetables. You’re muscles have enough stored carbs in them from your refeed/cheat meal that you’ll be fine to go without them for a couple of days, even WITH training.

To truly enter ketosis, it takes about 7 days. But you can eliminate the excess bloat, water, and waste by not taking in any “usable” carbs other than fibrous dark, leafy greens. While my macronutrients will have completely flipped, the calories stay the same because calories are king. A ketogenic diet just means more than just “going low-carb.” A true ketogenic diet is supposed to be around 60-80% fat, 5-10% carb, and just 10-30% protein, which means that even if you’re consuming 2,500 calories per day, protein will only be at a maximum of 187 grams – and probably even less. As for carbs, you might have 30 to 50 grams of carbohydrate today. At most. And it works like a charm.

-Enjoy yourself.

Realize this: it’s only one day (or maybe two). Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s are only one day each, and taking one day “off” out of 365 really isn’t going to affect long-term progress, so don’t sweat it if you do go (a bit) wild. No one cares if you aren’t near-perfect every day of the week. It might be the case you have a few days over the holidays where you do completely forget your diet, which is okay, just be sure that you’re still mindful, and don’t binge, or eat out of boredom because you’re off from work.


Just like you would do with money, build a”macro budget” that “affords” you some junk over the holidays. So, just ensure that the majority of your day is filled with nutrient-dense food with the exception of your “allotted” calories for your holiday meal. Alternatively, reduce your intake by small amounts each day in the days leading up to or just after holiday functions and events, basically ‘stockpiling’ some macros for added caloric cushion. 

-Stay Accountable         

It’s easy to get lazy and stop tracking over the holidays. That’s the purpose of accountability—to keep you in a state of mind where you’re far less likely to slip. You might over-indulge a little, but it will be a lot less than if you were to freestyle it for a month and give up tracking entirely. I currently use the Nutritionist app, but MyFitness Pal works just as great. Nutritionist does the calculations for you and gives you the options of an “off/rest day”, “low activity day” and “high activity” days.

-Take Digestive Enzymes

This won’t reduce the amount of calories in food at all, but your stomach will thank you. Taking digestive enzymes will simply help break down the food so you don’t suffer the dreaded Carb Bloat later. Enzymatica Digest Gold and SolaRay Digestive Enzymes are great. Throw in some Pepsin HCL (hydrochloric acid) and turn your stomach into a wood chipper.

You ability to process the incoming food will be turbo-charged.

-If All Else Fails….Track Total Calorie Intake

If you can’t hit your protein, fats or carbs individually just shoot for a total calorie intake and a minimum protein intake. While this might not be optimal for long term use (which it isn’t),

you’ll be okay in the short term because you’ll still lose fat being in a deficit, because calories/calories out have priority.

Lowering your protein intake a little bit will also give you more room food carbs and fats, a.k.a. fun foods.

-Final Destination

What is your desired outcome? Where are you trying to go with your nutrition? If you have a contest coming up, or a photo shoot in January or February, then you probably do need to be fairly strict with yourself over the holidays.

If you’re in maintenance mode, or “bulk mode” though, then maybe you can have some fun – besides, the higher your intake, the smaller the percentage increase in total calories will be if you do slip up and over-eat.

-When Possible...Train

Be sure to get your training in and use the extra calories to get a few brutal sessions in. Try to stick to mostly nutrient-dense foods, track your macros when you can, but don’t sweat it.

Just like a week of healthy eating won’t turn an obese person into a shredded Greek God, one week of being (a little) off the wagon won’t wreck close on 12 months’ of hard work.

If you want to “take some time off” from your diet, that’s fine too. Go for it. Just remember that like Newton’s Third Law, for every interaction, there is an equal and opposite reaction. (Thanks Sir Isaac.)

At the end of the day, own your actions. Do what makes YOU happy, and don’t worry about what others think. But you MUST take ownership of your actions.

Now for the best part….                                                                                                                                              

Here is how you can unleash your inner fat kid.
These are some things you can do that I actually do to minimize the damage:

-----------CHEAT MEAL PROTOCOL-------------
-Lower carb intake for the day 

-Remove intra-workout carbs

-Plan your cheat meal/ refeed after a big workout (legs, back or HIIT session, or both)

-Take Glucose Uptake Supplements like Glycolog, Indigo 3G or Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA). These mimic insulin and help to partition carbs into the muscle cells versus straight to fat cells.💪

-Activate your Glucose transporters...AKA, GLUT4. GLUT4 is the insulin-regulated glucose transporter found in muscle. It will pull the carbs you eat and utilize them for muscle fuel rather than store as fat (that's science too).👌

So, the next exactly do you do that?

- Do a short/quick, hard circuit workout or HIIT session before and/or after OR just do 50 squats before and 50 and/or 15 min after.

Daniel Saunders