Christmas and New Year's Eve is upon us! It's a much welcome time for celebration, spending time with family, indulging in delicious food, and enjoying a well-needed vacation.
If you're a vegan, however, it can also mean it's time again to brace yourself against the barrage of incoming jokes, constant questioning of your choices, and a feeling of not being entirely welcome.
Likewise, for anyone trying to live a healthy life and wanting to stay fit, the holidays can be a trying time. One meal after another, brimmed with everything you know you really shouldn't eat but now are expected to. Drinks, parties, and sour faces if you leave the comfort of the sofa to go work out.
Just imagine then if you're a vegan athlete! Don't worry though – I have you covered.
Following is a collection of tactics I've successfully tried myself, or that others have told me works for them. It'd be impossible to implement them all, so instead consider it a toolbox, from which you can pick and chose whatever works for you – continuously making one year better than last.
If you feel like I've missed anything that you think should be here, please let me know!
As with most fitness ventures, diet will make or break your success.
#1 – Control your environment
If I sit down with a small bowl of popcorn to watch a movie, I'll eat a small bowl of popcown. If I instead sit down with a big bag, that's how much I'll eat. Sounds familiar?
Availability influences your behaviour but luckily you can control the availability.
Don't buy excessive amounts of crap food, candy, and things you normally wouldn't want to eat.
Give or throw away leftovers if you don't really want to be tempted to eat it again.
However tired the saying – failing to prepare is preparing to fail.
#2 – Pick your poison
I definitely think there's room for indulgence but do you really have to eat the coconut cream smoothie, the peanut butter candy, and chocolate filled donuts, all in the same meal?
Go for the unhealthy main dish but consider swapping the french fries for boiled potato.
Have a dessert but pick the healthier starter then.
Remember, it's neither carbs nor fat that's the problem – it's crap food and we all know what that is. If you can eat it when you're stuffed, it's probably not the healthiest.
#3 – Use good filling
Our stomach can only hold so much food and during holidays this limit is certainly put to the test.
However, food comes in a wide variety of caloric density. There's a huge difference in calories between filling up on broccoli or a bag of refined sugar.
Use this to your advantage!
First eat your veggies, grains, fruit, nuts, and then go scouting for the bad boys of the table.
Drink water to quench your thirst thirsty and use other beverages for their taste.
Have a protein shake before sitting down to eat.
#4 – Decide beforehand
It's much, much easier to make a sober decision when you're removed from the problem.
Think about these coming days and decide now how much you want to eat and drink, before you're faced with the food and beverages and have to make a split second decision while celebrating.
#5 – Don't starve yourself
The body is not a simple bank account or a computer system and so while it seems logical, deposits and withdrawals aren't as clear cut when it comes to calories.
Have you ever come home late from work or school one day, ravenously scavaging the fridge for something to eat and then ending up eating the most unhealthy thing you could find?
Don't skip breakfast just because you have a big, upcoming Christmas lunch. It'll only put you in a very bad spot for making good decisions about what to eat later on.
#6 – Duck and cover
I believe the worst of the "holiday damages" comes from the constant nibbling, day after day, coupled with almost complete inactivity.
With thay said, there are some proper calorie bombs we can look out for, to try and mitigate some damage. Here's how you spot them:
Super sweet. If something's very sweet and it's not a fruit, it's probably not the best thing to eat.
Greasy. If it's dripping with fat, you can most likely find a hundred things better.
Salty. Not a normal suspect but salt does throw our self-regulatory systems off balance.
#7 – Take a rest
While some people are on vacation for weeks, Christmas is normally just two or three meals. If you blame what goes on between, on the holidays, then you're doing yourself a disservice.
Every day doesn't have to be a party.
#8 – Every second water
Born from a Swedish health campaign, the phrase "every second water" suggests you drink one glass of water for every glass of alcoholic beverage. This will make you happier the following day.
#9 – Find the middle ground
It's easy to adopt an all-or-nothing attitude, especially for fitness people for some reason.
Especially fitness people people seem prone to adopting an all-or-nothing attitude. This can help a lot when the question is unhealthy food, the answer is nothing, and the goal is to become as fit as possible.
But the holidays are different – the question is not only unhealthy food but also enjoying life with your close ones, and the goal is probably not to become as fit as possible.
This is especially important if the other option is to pig out and throw away all your efforts.
Find the middle ground and be a bit flexible.
#10 – Maintain temperance
While a night of heavy duty drinking certainly can be fun, it's definitely no joke when it comes to putting a proverbial stick in your fitness wheel.
It's an easy trap to only consider the immediate calories from the drinks themselves. On top of this, however, you'll probably also make one or two bad food decisions when under the influence.
Further, the following day your metabolism will be severely affected and even if you wanted to burn the extra calories off, it'd be much harder to.
Do this instead: a gin & tonic without the gin tastes and looks just the same. You'll blend right in.
#11 – Take your time
It takes some time feeling full after eating, so if you chug your tofu down like you haven't seen food in a week, you're much more likely to overeat. This is a big one for me personally.
Appreciate the fact that you're eating delicious food. Take your time and enjoy every bite!
#12 – Brush your teeth
Have you ever been a bit too quick brushing your teeth at night, only to be presented with more to eat just afterwards? Everything tastes disgusing and you really don't want to lose that fresh feeling in your mouth.
Use this to stop yourself from absentmindedly putting more food in your mouth after a meal.
Plus – if you do the whole mistletoe thing, brushing your teeth will be appreciated!
#13 – It's never too late
Don't let one bad decision lead to a second one and if it does, stop it before the third one. It's easy to throw ones hands in the air and give up after a small defeat but remember you can stop and do damage control whenever you want, however late.
If you find yourself having eaten almost a full bag of crisps without thinking, don't finish it just because there's only a few more left.
If you've just eaten a crap breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you don't have to eat the crap dessert too.
#14 – Snack healthy
Especially if you'll be staying with others, you will feel like snacking during the holidays. Make it easy to snack healthily by keeping fruit, nuts, carrots about.
I promise you'll feel much better at the end of the day instead of having eaten candy all day.
#15 – No means no
Don't let anyone else decide what you put in your mouth. (Good recommendation in general.)
If you don't feel like eating more or you don't want to participate in another round of shots – it's totally fine to say no. Friends and family might not understand but if they're worth spending time with, they'll at least respect your decision.
We're not only interested in health, right? As athletes we also want to strengthen and improve our bodies, which means pushing them to do strenuous activities on a regular basis.
#16 – Do it
Keep the rhythm and stay active.
A preliminary study from the University of Michigan found that subjects who trained while indulging in a weeklong period of overeating, "experienced no change in glucose tolerance or lipolysis (chemical breakdown of fat)", as opposed to the group who didn't train.
#17 – Do it early
If you plan to work out during the day, your deadline will be midnight and by then it's too late to do it, if you still haven't.
Instead, set your deadline to lunch and make sure to get your workout in before. Then you have the rest of the day to just chill out and enjoy the holidays.
#18 – Go outside
Gym closed? No classes for Christmas? Don't worry – there's plenty of alternatives!
You could also head out and do some "real work" – shoveling snow, splitting logs, or just lifting and carrying whatever heavy objects you can find. It's never too late to bring out your inner child. ;)
#19 – Step off the scale
The scale is a tricky tool. Most people are interested in increasing muscle mass and decreasing fat mass but the scale is way too blunt to know which is which – it just tells you the total mass.
A big additional confounder is water and your retention of it. This varies a lot as your diet changes.
If you don't have a more granular method of measuring body composition, I'd let the scale rest during Christmas. It doesn't tell you anything the mirror and your diet can't tell you.
#20 – Do something NEAT
The biggest expense your body pays in energy (calories) is called non-exercise activity thermogenesis – NEAT. This includes all activities in daily life and it can vary a lot from person to person.
As energy intake goes up, normally so does your NEAT, without you even thinking about it. If you were to be more concious of it though, you could mitigate those extra calories during Christmas.
I personally love walking and if you're visiting friends or family in another city, that's a great opportunity to do some sightseeing, visit a market, go explore the area, or maybe visit a museum.
All exercise doesn't have to be super intensive – just move a little!
#21 – Try something new
You're out of your normal routine anyway, so why not take the opportunity to try something new?
There are so many ways to work on your cardio for example: running, swimming, skipping, etc. Or if there's a club nearby, why not try a new strength sport?
#22 – Take a siesta
I'm celebrating in Spain and will take every opportunity I can to indulge in the fine tradition of siesta.
You should too! If anyone tries to shame you for it, just tell them of all the benefits of napping.
#23 – Challenge yourself
If you have a long stretch of vacation this year, go ahead and pick a challenge to complete in this time.
Personally, I'm very inflexible and so I will embark on a stretch challenge, where I'll follow a daily stretch routine for a few weeks and see how that feels.
Maybe there's something you've been wanting to complete or improve for a while?
#24 – Recruit a partner
Doing something uncomfortable is tough. It takes effort to replace that warm sweater with a jacket and heading the cold for a run. It's much easier if you're doing it with someone else.
I'm sure in every family or group of friends there's at least one other person who would love to join you in some spontaneous workout. Invite them with you and use the strength of numbers!
#25 – Break a record
Christmas means lots of rest and lots of food.
If your gym is open, hit it with force and use all this recovery boost to set a new personal record!
#26 – Burn fat the right way
Remember that if you're looking for exercises to burn fat, sweating isn't the answer. Instead, do whatever makes you huff and puff – if your lunges are burning, so is your fat.
#27 – Peak conflict
This is time when our dietary culture peaks and people take their eating to an extreme. If you already disagree on what to put in your mouth, this will be certainly be put to the test now.
I recommend you have a look at my article on how to live with a meat eater for some practical tips.
#28 – Cook plenty
If you're cooking your own food, make sure to cook a little extra, so others can try it.
There's always someone curious about what vegans eat and this is a great opportunity to show them that you don't have to be miserable just because you don't eat animal products.
#29 – Try something new
Just like with working out, use this time to try something new, food-wise! Perhaps take a non-vegan recipe and veganize it? Or do what you normally eat but pimp it? Maybe make healthier varieties?
#30 – Indulge yourself
Get in the celebratory spirit and splurge on your favorite food.
Regular vegan food is very inexpensive but there are lots and lots of premade products that costs a little extra. Pick some out to try and indulge yourself!
#31 – Don't take it personally
There will be jokes, again. They won't be funny, this time neither.
It's a very tough thing to come to terms with, taking someone elses life for your own enjoyment, and so humour is an integral part of most people's coping mechanism. Just don't take it personally.
Also, you don't have to laugh with them.
#32 – Lead the way
In the western world, being vegetarian is considered extreme by many people, let a lone being vegan!
Be a great example of how wrong this is. Lead the way and show that you don't have to be crazy just because you care about others, whether they were born with skin, fur, or feathers.
Knowing the right tactics is great, but knowing when and how to apply them is even better. That's why I recommend you take a step back during these holidays and look at the big picture.
#33 – Educate yourself
Watch a documentary:
Read a vegan or fitness book.
#34 – Sign up for a competition
Nothing sharpens your training as having an upcoming competition.
If you're doing a specific sport, you're probably already aware of next years competitions. Else check your club's Facebook page, look up a federation or organization, or just ask around to see if others in your club knows of a competition you can sign up for.
Personally, I'm hoping to do at least one grappling competition and an obstacle race next year.
Don't think too much about it – just do it.
#35 – Plan your next year
Having dates for when to peak your performance makes it easier to plan your training around that.
Maybe you have a competition, or a sports event with friends, or perhaps you just want to look good on the beach next summer? Structure your training accordingly!
Finally, it's a time to celebrate. Spend time with your loved ones, eat good food, and enjoy!