How a Sport Psychologist Advises Tackling the Holiday Season

Group of Friends Working Out Together

Did you cut back on candy at Halloween, avoid more cheeseburgers than you could count at summer barbecues and wake up early to work out all year? Bravo – you’re in the home stretch of 2017 and your fitness goal finish line is in sight.

But just because you’ve made it this far doesn’t mean you’re home-free. As if I need to tell you, we’re about to hit the hardest time of the year to stay on your health A-game – the holidays.

But rather than miss out on family traditions because you have to wake up early to work out or avoid seeing old friends because you have to meal prep chicken and broccoli for the week, I recommend striking a balance. Yes, it is possible to have fun over the holidays without totally falling off the health bandwagon. As I tell the patients I see at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center: Just remember the acronym H.O.L.I.D.A.Y.

H: Have a plan.

We all know that the holidays mess with our healthy routines, especially if we’re spending it away from our usual training facilities and healthy restaurants. At this point, though, we know it’s coming. Spend some time planning now so that when you travel, you’ve got a road map in place to help you be as health-conscious as possible. Look into getting a three-day membership at a local gym. Scope out some restaurants with healthy menus to visit with friends. Offer to cook a dish you know will pack a health punch. Going in with a plan means you’re less likely to fall off the wagon.

O: Offer yourself up.

It’s always easier to do things with a friend. Find a holiday accountability buddy to keep you in check. This person can go with you to the gym and encourage you to wake up early to work out after a night of one too many Christmas cookies. If you can’t find someone, join a group exercise class. Share your holiday fitness goals on Facebook and encourage your friends to hold you accountable. Be open to the encouragement of others.

L: Live it up.

Life is all about balance. It’s not reasonable to expect yourself to crush – or even show up for – every workout over the holidays. You’re already going to be dealing with enough external stress, so putting too much additional stress on yourself may make you miserable. Enjoy yourself this year! Don’t beat yourself up over a cheat day or two.

I: Ignite your motivation.

Think about what motivated you to get healthy in the first place. Maybe it’s getting that perfect beach body. Maybe you wanted to run a 5K or look good for your class reunion. Revisit those goals and think about what’s coming next. If you did your 5K, maybe consider a 10K or a half-marathon. Swimsuit season will be here before we know it, so now’s not the time to let yourself slip into old territory. Spend an hour to assess your goals and light that fire once more.

D: Do it again.

So you miss a few days of working out or eating healthy over a long weekend. Not a big deal. The bigger issue is slipping back entirely into those old habits. That’s something you can’t let happen; otherwise, all of your hard work will be for nothing. Think about how good you feel in the long run when you’re acting in a healthy manner and make sure you get back to that place once the holidays are over. Fitness is a lifestyle, not a trend.

A: Accept your mistakes.

We all venture off the path from time to time. Don’t beat yourself up over it. That’s only going to make it harder to get back on the path. Approach each new day as a re-do and start over once you’re ready.

Y: Yes you can.

If you find yourself getting discouraged at all this holiday season, remind yourself just how strong you are. Repeat this mantra: “Yes I can!”

Sometimes, the hardest part of getting your fitness in for the day is just getting started. But once you’re on that treadmill or doing those pushups, don’t be surprised if you feel your holiday stress start to melt away. That time you spend at the gym may be the saving grace you need this year.

James Bark