Thanksgiving marks the beginning of a joyous holiday season that includes spending time with family, exchanging gifts, and reflecting on the blessings of the past year.
It also marks the onslaught of delicious meals that are capable of completely derailing your fitness. Ugh—you can almost feel your waistband getting tighter…better loosen up that belt.
Here’s the good news: If you put the right plan in place, you won’t come out of Thanksgiving and other big holiday meals carrying 10 extra pounds with your diet in shambles.
This piece includes the exact strategies you need for before, during, and after the big holiday meal. If you can master each of them, you won’t have to refuse a piece of grandma’s famous pumpkin pie.
Three Strategies for Surviving Thanksgiving
As we approach the holidays, we all fall into one of three categories:
- You’ve already hacked your fitness and are maintaining a lean physique. You can employ a few of these strategies to minimize the fallout, but since you’ve put in the hard work all year, the holidays should be a breeze.
- You’re smack dab in the middle of a cut and you’re dreading having to face the holidays just as you’re starting to see some upper ab definition. You contemplate moving out of the country and converting to another religion to protect your fitness progress.
- You’ve struggled with fitness all year and, quite frankly, you’re sick and tired of messing with it. After all, 2017 is just six weeks away. You decide to f*ck fitness, enjoy the holidays, and deal with the fallout starting January 1.
If you fall into category 1 or 2, I have to applaud you for being proactive about the impending holiday binge and looking for strategies to minimize the potential fallout. You’ve come to right place. We’re going to get you through the holidays with minimal fat gain.
These strategies work better if you’re already eating clean and lifting heavy (although you can still use them if you’re not) and can also be employed for any big cheat meal, not just holidays.
Strategy 1: Make the Holiday a Workout Day
Your first step is to make sure the holiday meal falls on a workout day.
You want to do this because you’re allotted a higher calorie budget on workout days, and when you’re facing the prospect of a big meal, you need the biggest budget you can get.
If you’re not lifting heavy, just get some kind of workout in, whether it’s a lift or cardio. Even if you just burn 100 calories at the gym, that’s 100 more calories you have for dinner.
Strategy 2: Employ Eat Stop Eat the Day Before
An advanced strategy for the holidays is to employ Brad Pilon’s Eat Stop Eat fasting protocol where you actually fast for 24 hours before the big meal.
For Thanksgiving, you would eat a big dinner Wednesday night and then begin your fast. You won’t eat anything on Thursday until the big Thanksgiving dinner is served.
This strategy isn’t for everyone, but if you’re already used to fasting or have serious mental discipline, a 24-hour fast will seriously help you minimize your holiday weight gain.
Strategy 3: Save Your Carbs & Fat for the Big Meal
If you can’t handle a 24-hour fast, use the lunch before your big meal to get in 75-80% of the protein you need for the day and save your carbs and fat for dinner.
Protein is always hard to come by during holiday meals. Aside from the turkey, everything else at Thanksgiving dinner will mostly be carbs and fat. By focusing on protein during lunch, you can afford to indulge during dinner with sweets and starchy dishes like mashed potatoes, stuffing, and all sorts of bread.
This strategy works even in the off season if you’re just eating at a restaurant because protein is usually the most expensive item on most menus while fat and carbs are abundant in the side items you order. If your big meal is happening at a restaurant, research the menu beforehand so you know exactly what you’re going to order and how many calories the meal will cost you.
Regardless of where you’re eating, if you need to eat a second, smaller meal right before dinner, that’s totally fine. I call this tactic “pre-eating” and actually recommend this strategy for a couple reasons:
- If you don’t get all your protein in during lunch, you can get the rest during this meal.
- You’ll go to dinner with a full stomach and will be less likely to indulge.
What to Do About Booze
Alcohol tends to go hand-in-hand with any sort of celebration, and just like food, it has the potential to negatively impact your fitness if you’re not prepared.
You should avoid beer due to the carbs and pass on sugary mixed drinks. If it’s frozen or has an umbrella sticking out of it, give it to your friend who’s waiting until January 1 to tackle fitness.
Stick with red wine or a hard liquor with a zero-calorie mixer like Coke Zero or club soda. As we’ve previously covered, you really do lose when you booze. But if you’re selective with what you drink, you’ll have a higher chance of keeping your diet intact and avoid a hangover.
The Day After Ultimately Dictates Your Success
The single most important part of any celebration or binge holiday meal is the day after. Whatever unfettered gluttony happened the night before, you have to bounce right back the next day and resume your regular diet and exercise routine.
No Bloody Marys or greasy burgers for lunch. You had your fun the night before. There’s a limit on how much fat you can add in a 24-hour period. Even if your Thanksgiving dinner was 10,000 calories, you’ll only add a limited amount of new body fat. Basically, you won’t come out of Thanksgiving 10 pounds heavier.
But if one bad meal becomes a second and a third, and you throw in the towel and decide to start again with your diet on Monday, you’re venturing down a slippery slope. This kind of mentality is the fastest way to end up 10 pounds heavier come January 1.
All that said, you shouldn’t be afraid of cheat meals like Thanksgiving. Life is too short to stress over meals that are about bringing people together to celebrate a joyous occasion. Remember, preparation is the key to being in control of every situation you face in life. So plan accordingly, be thankful for all that you have, and have a happy Thanksgiving!
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