Maintain, forget about the gain

Posted on November 21, 2011. Filed under: Nutrition | Tags: , , |

The commercial fitness industry has quite the spin placed on the approach to the holidays backed by media sources when they aren’t talking about Black Friday shopping deals.

I’ve already seen the titles popping up here and there

Save 1,200 calories this Thanksgiving
Stay slim this season
Boost fall fitness


Why is it every year around this time, the ‘health industry’ comes out with their usual advice for the holidays. Every year  as a responsible coach it’s our job to address this nonsense. Why? Because this particular nonsense has the potential to do so much real damage in the human psyche.

I remember the first time a client asked me “so what are we doing extra this week?

Why would we do extra?”

Because next week is Thanksgiving.


I need to burn off the extra calories so I can eat on Thanksgiving

I didn’t get it, and quite frankly still don’t.  But it gets pushed on us every year, right along side the shopping ads.  It holds no logic, and is a completely incorrect and scientifically invalid approach.  But I’ll explain that in a future blog.

Every year gym chains along with celeb diet and fitness “experts” write on ways and means to control your holiday eating or do specific workouts for burning off those extra indulgences.  This is the wrong way to go, and it always has been.

I love the holidays.  I love to celebrate them with those I love be it friends, family or both.  The last thing I want to be is anxious and fearful over the holidays. Creating anxiety about how you control your eating during Thanksgiving or Christmas, or how to burn off the excess creates a huge psychological battle in the minds of those who buy into this nonsense. Cultural traditions of joy, celebration, and the holiday spirit are now elf-imposed mental pressure to not “overdo it,” or “don’t eat too much,” “don’t gain weight.” This is the wrong way to go and it doesn’t work.

A good example why is found in the book Switch, by Chip and Dan Heath.

In the book,  the authors liken the left brain and the right brain’s relationship to a person riding an elephant. The rider is the rational left brain; the powerful, potentially unreliable elephant is the emotional, intuitive right brain.  The rider might be in charge for a while, but the elephant will always win in the end, especially if they’re at odds and the rider becomes fatigued from constant responsibility, decision-making, and elephant steering.

According to the Heath brothers, there’s one additional – and critical part of the equation – the path on which the elephant treads. This is our environment: the circumstances and structures that shape our choices, often without our conscious awareness.
People have connected food with culture for as long as recorded history. Isn’t that what the first Thanksgiving was represented by?   Heck, forget Thanksgiving, can you think of one major human ritual or celebration that is not connected with food.

The commercial diet and training industry have this backwards because they still emphasize body obsessions. Making yourself a prisoner to these ideas at once per year times, not only doesn’t make sense; the resultant confusion and anxiety creates much more harm than good.

Eventually your ‘rider’ will tire, and the elephant will win.  Think of it this way.  If a person restrict themselves on Thanksgiving they will not only not enjoy the holiday.  But when they eventually crash they will eat in a gluttonous way which they will then hate themselves for.  So they restrict again, allowing the vicious cycle to continue.

There are only a select few, shared, heightened, positive cultural indulgences in a year. To “flatten” this experience with weight consciousness and diet consciousness is to flatten the spirit and the intended sensibilities as well.

Most of us have our cultural events connected to a fond childhood memory. These memory connections are usually positive and expressive. This is important to hold while dealing with those that try to take that connection away.

Stop creating guilt and shame to surround the most cherished traditions and celebrations that include food. This intrusion of confusion into the psyche is damaging. This is the equivalent of throwing the baby out with the bath water. You cannot enjoy your holidays if your mind is set to consciously be preoccupied with diet and body image at a time when it wants to be free and enjoy human connection.  How do words like “guilt,” “obsession,” “sacrifice,” “pain,” connect to the word “celebration?”

Answer:  They don’t.

HolidayStress 230x300 Can Holiday Stress Change Your DNA?

Celebrating with food, these special traditions can be a good thing. They are a good thing. Celebration that includes holiday festive food can reconnect you to yourself and positive memories. It’s a joyful expression.

Having guilt and shame and worry connect to these traditions is ridiculous.  When people are told over and over again to reduce their enjoyment of food from the celebrations they have known their whole life, you are only asking for trouble.  Without being able to embrace the whole experience of the holidays, including food indulgence, then more is lost than gained.

Take my own approach for example. Every year I look forward to the holidays. I look forward to all the seasonal goodies they offer(the ones I like any way).  I look forward and anticipate the holidays arrival, and all the foods we will indulge in. Then I go get them. All part of the “experience.”

I don’t weigh down the experience with weigh ins, or double-volume routines. I workout, but only as I would normally during that time, provided it does not interfere with a family event. I just enjoy and embrace the whole of the spirit of the tradition.

I also don’t stuff myself till I’m in a food coma.  I make a plate sit and enjoy the company and conversation between bites.  watch the kids run around.  Sip some cider, and then after a few minutes when I have finished my plate.  I get another one.

What is the message here?  Have a good holiday, but holiday food is not the enemy.  Obsession, connecting tradition with pain is.

The overall health process should be connected to overall habits.  Not a narrow focus of “surviving the holidays.”

Stay tuned for tips to develop those habits.

And I promise the following tips over the holidays will be much more light-hearted.  I just wanted to be sure that as we begin you understand, you can enjoy the holiday season, as long as you keep in mind the true spirit which it is supposed to be about.

Keep fitness groovy,

Coach W


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One Response to “Maintain, forget about the gain”

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LOVE it! Every day I’m shuffling!
So good to have you back to blogging, my certified sports nutritionist. 😀

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