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How to Get Fitter During the Holidays

zen holiday

Because of a number of family gatherings in the past week, I'm feeling heavy. I've overeaten and my exercise has been minimal.

That's just a part of the holidays sometimes — things get so busy you can't help but let your healthy habits fall off.

So as of today, I'm implementing a new holiday plan, to take me to the New Year. I'm calling it my Holiday Fitness Plan.

Here's the plan:

  1. Be as consistent as possible, when I'm not traveling and have no visitors. We're going to be traveling a bit, and right now we have visitors. So during those times, and whenever we have a family gathering, I'm not going to worry about being consistent, but just try to not overdo things. During all other times, I'm going to try to be as consistent as possible, with both exercise and eating.
  2. No sweets or starchy foods, more veggies & fibrous foods. For eating, the biggest difficulties for me are starchy foods (French fries, breads, pizzas) and sweets. So I'm just going to cut those out, unless I'm traveling or have a family gathering. Even during those times, I'm going to try to limit the carb-rich foods to a reasonable amount. Instead of sweets or starchy foods, I'm going to focus on eating as many veggies as I can, as well as other fiber-rich foods like nuts, seeds, beans. Fruits are fine too.
  3. Eat moderate amounts. I don't really like tracking my calories or anything, but I know my habits tend toward overeating. So the key, other than food choices, is to eat a moderate amount. Meaning eat to less than full (because when I eat to full, it's usually a little too much). This requires mindfulness of how fast I'm eating (I tend to eat too much) and portion sizes. When I'm eating alone, this is much easier, but when I eat with the family, mindfulness is more of a challenge. I think I can do it if I remind myself before each meal.
  4. Weights to keep the muscle, running to keep fit, yoga to keep sane. I plan to lift weights twice a week (just to retain muscle), doing squats, deadlifts, bench press and chinups. Then run three times a week to stay fit (my wife and I are doing a half marathon training plan), throwing in some sprint intervals in the shorter runs. The Saturday run will usually be a longer run. Then an almost-daily short yoga session, which I need for flexibility but also believe is a great meditation session.

So a pretty simple plan: no starchy or sweet foods, eat lots of veggies and fiber-rich foods, lift weights 2x a week, run 3x a week, with a short yoga session most days. And it's flexible: if I'm traveling, am at a family gathering, or have visitors, I don't have to stress out.

The key is to stick to this plan. Here's how to get better at sticking to plans like this:

  • Write it down. Put it somewhere you'll see it regularly.
  • Picking some simple rules, like the ones above, help make things clear-cut, with no decision making or negotiating every day.
  • Each day, wake up and have a plan. What are you going to do to work out? What are you going to eat?
  • Pick a few meals and just make those on most days. I like scrambled tofu with veggies for breakfast, tempeh stir-fry with veggies for lunch and dinner, and big hearty salads. Sometimes a bean and veggie soup.
  • Have reminders. How will I remember to work out? How will I remember to stay mindful at meal times?
  • Get better at keeping promises to yourself. Does this matter to you? Does it matter more than urges to eat sweets? Does it matter more than the discomfort of exercise? If it matters, make a promise to yourself and keep it. If it doesn't matter, don't make the promise, do something else.

The holidays are always busy, always filled with overeating and too many unhealthy meals. But they don't have to be the time when you just drop everything. I'm going to do my best to stick to these simple rules, and keep my promises to myself. I'll let you know how things go, by the New Year!

Zen Habits is about finding simplicity and mindfulness in the daily chaos of our lives. It’s about clearing the clutter so we can focus on what’s important, create something amazing, find happiness. My name is Leo Babauta. I live in Davis, California with my wife and six kids, where I eat vegan food, write, run, and read.
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