How to Navigate the Holidays as a Fitness Competitor
The holiday season brings us an opportunity to press pause in our "go go go" lives to give thanks and celebrate the seasons with our loved ones and passerby's on the streets.
Smiles seem to be warmer, grocery stores always smell like cinnamon broom sticks, and there is just something so comforting and romantic about the way the holiday lights glow over paved streets, fallen leaves, and across rooftops.
When you are a competitor though, sometimes the holidays can feel a bit scary. You might wonder how you will get through your free meal without going overboard or how you will sit around and eat out of your tupperware while the pumpkin pie is dressed with a whipped cream coat. You could be fixating on how you will try to make your macros work perfectly so you can have multiple meals in one week. Sometimes you resort to manipulations and calculations to make everything ‘perfect’ that even a mathematician would say, ‘no way that is worth it!!’. In all seriousness though, while some people may feel excited and comfortable with the holiday season, others can be robbed of the joy of the present moment because thoughts of food, body image, and judgment swirl through your mind.
With warm hearts, memories, people, and traditions to savor, the last thing we want is to be so fixated on food that we cannot truly embrace or be present in what the spirit of the season is all about.
Many of the competitors I have met and worked with can relate to the ‘all or nothing’ mentality. This cognitive distortion subscribes to the belief that if something is not perfect then it is not worth it and if you cannot commit everything, you should commit nothing. This usually leads us down self-destructive rabbit holes like binging or restriction or joining the Grinch by wallowing in self-pity, staring into the abyss, and wrestling with self-loathing. I am sorry sis, as comforting as that type of painful justification of negative behaviors sounds, you and your family deserve a better version of you during the holidays!
If any of these are concerns or struggles of yours, then this blog will be of benefit to you:
- Anxious around or thinking about food that you will be around
- Find it difficult to determine when you are satisfied because usually either stuffed or hungry
- Distracted from the present moment by worries
- Wondering if other people are judging you for your choices
- Struggling to set boundaries
- Thinking you will lose complete control if you have a bite of something
- Restricting leading into or out of a holiday event or meal (not just food but also through things like wearing super tight clothing during a meal to make yourself uncomfortable or forcing yourself to do more cardio to make room for more food)
- Obsessing over how your weight might change or avoiding check ins with your coach after
- Believing you have to earn your food
- The list could go on but if you already checked off one, then we are on the same page... let’s focus on growth now.
If you can, start exposing yourself to foods that you will be around or offered now. Maybe try to work in a serving of cranberry sauce to your macros this week or a sugar cookie that you plan to make or some stuffing. Normalizing these foods can reduce your fixation on them on the day of the holiday because you will feel like you are not restricted from them and you can have them even beyond this day. This can help with feeling that urge to eat as much as you can because you won’t be able to again for a long time and have to be ‘back on track’ tomorrow.
Set intentions for the event or meal. I have a video covering this here: https://youtu.be/UdH8NXdvs0A. But to sum it up, we cannot hit a target we can’t see and if 9 times out of 10 you have had a negative experience with food or your body around the holidays, the likelihood of that happening again is high. To shift the balance, we have to do something different. Drawing from past experiences can help. Maybe you identify where things weren’t so smooth last time and how you might set intentions for that this year. For example, you might have gone to a holiday party and been offered a food item that you really didn’t want but you felt obligated to have it so you did and then someone asked you why you are eating that and they thought you were on a diet so then this triggered you and you ended up either eating the rest of the night or restricting until you got home only to eat everything there… The intention you might set is to text the host ahead of time that you are looking forward to enjoying the party and even though you are on prep and will be eating your own meals you cannot wait to catch up with everyone. Or maybe you aren't on prep so you set the intention of making a plate of food with the items you really want, letting others know you are going to just start with what you have and see how you feel, and then playing with the kiddos or catching up in conversation while your body settles before deciding if you need seconds or not.
Absolutely do not, under any circumstances, work off or try to earn your food. Did you know that some researchers have found that your hunger levels actually can increase with longer cardio sessions? Seems counterproductive. Why not use that time to spend with loved ones? Plus, earning your food perpetuates the belief that food is only meant to be eaten when “worked for” but really, we need food regardless of movement just to function. This creates a worse relationship with food because we also can more easily fall into justification patterns of ‘it is fine to eat this because i will just work it off later or because i did cardio earlier’. These types of thinking block you from learning to listen and honor your body and lock you into dieters mentality rather than trust in yourself and your body.
Identify what you feel most threatened by and develop a list of ways to combat those potential road blocks or sabotages or triggers. If you feel most threatened by your partner’s parents offering you another one of their famous bread rolls, you might practice ways you can set a boundary beforehand. This point really connects back to our intention setting discussed earlier too! Please know this, You’re not a bad person for saying no but if you’re saying no make sure it’s coming from a positive self loving place and be prepared to lovingly accept questions from people who otherwise normally would expect you to eat. You’re not a bad person for saying yes either. You’re no less fit, healthy, competitive, or influential for participating in a meal because simply put, it’s food and you’re going to eat anyways. Moral attachment does not belong on your plate.
Stressing about what you are eating is worse for you than just enjoying the item of food. Before the meal, do your best to get into a parasympathetic state so you are primed for optimal digestion. Whether that is through time in nature or sitting by the fire or having a nice conversation or coloring or meditating or doing some breathwork...whatever it is, try to help yourself relax. For some, in the moment it can help to recognize what is happening in the room around you. An exercise you might implement when you start to feel those heightened feelings come on is recognize things you can touch in the room as you are. You might say, my back is touching the blanket on the couch, my hands are touching my ribbed dress, my feet are touching the metal on the coffee table...and so on, just to help reorient yourself.
Connect to your goals, values, and standards when making a decision. If you value quality time with your family, have a goal of being a better competitor, and you have a standard to treat your body with respect while supporting a healthy relationship with food then the decision to make yourself a plate of food can be better executed on.
Be mindful! Focus on the tastes, sounds, smells, textures, and experience of the food and the environment. I always like to remind my clients to treat their meals like they are at a highly recommended top michelin star restaurant in which the food was not just consumed but the ambiance and every contributing detail was assessed and experienced to its fullest potential. I recommend practicing this now. Don’t wait until the day of, do this for 1 meal a day and notice a difference in your satiation levels and experience with the food.
All of this applies and can apply any day...not just the holidays.
If you are worried about these few days of the year, it is a major sign that your relationship with food and approach to achieving your goals needs work on the other days. We have been taught to be concerned about celebrating a holiday due to the fear in the (highly unlikely) possibility of gaining fat, reversing all your progress, losing your next show, being a failure, blackout binging, never ending guilt, and desires to ghost your coach for weeks until you “work it off”. But if you believe that this is a lifestyle and you want to have longevity in the sport then being able to adapt to life circumstances and celebrations is important.
Oftentimes, we need a new perspective. Rather than focusing on the worst thing that could happen we might instead focus on how we can improve, write a new story, turn the 9 times out of 10 that we have had a bad experience into 8 times, then 7, then 6 and so on until we reach a new normal. But it takes work.
Moving forward, prioritize developing trust with yourself, learning how to eat mindfully without sacrificing your fitness goals, and spend some time healing the underlying causes of your concerns.
You will need to focus on developing a healthy relationship with food from the depths of where it begins, not just surface level solutions for “controlling” yourself on a day that we have been conditioned to believe is about feasting when it’s really meant to be about gratitude, connection, celebration…
Holidays can be a time of high spirits and fun, I know how much it sucks to be consumed with never ending thoughts about the food and only being half present with the people who matter because I’ve been too consumed in consuming.
But it doesn’t have to be your reality forever or at all. Be proactive.
If you experience the distraction of disordered thought patterns...reach out for help. There’s no shame in it and you’ll be glad you did!
I can’t imagine having lived my life with the troubles I was experiencing forever.
I couldn’t imagine being that way at every holiday or for my future kids or every celebration or literally every day and every week being so obsessed with how to eat in an effort to protect or achieve a certain look or body.
You can absolutely achieve your goals while having a healthy relationship with food and mental peace in your life.
I have been able to do this for myself and have helped hundreds of other athletes Build More than Just a Body. It is amazing what we gain when we let go of control and choose love for ourselves above all else. It can be difficult and scary but the growing pains are far better than the ongoing pain of doing nothing about a problem you have.
You deserve peace with food.
I invite you to participate in my free 8 day food relationship coaching program here:
Or jump right in to learn how we can work together:
The work we do together is not going to interfere with the work you do with your coach or towards your physique goals. We work directly on your mindset to create a healthy relationship with food, your body, and your goals by using psychology, personal development, mindfulness, and my signature PTG Process™.
Helping Women Build More than Just a Body
#1 Best Selling Author of ‘Believe your way to Badass’
Host of the ‘Confessions of a Bikini Pro’ Podcast
Passionate, Results-Driven, Speaker
-BA Psychology-Magna Cum Laude (2019)
-MS Clinical Mental Health Counseling- Summa Cum Laude (2022)
-National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer
-Associates in Science Degree: Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics