Maintenance During the Holidays

Written by Jamie Susino


November 15, 2023

I have had quite a few clients in recent weeks ask me about focusing on some nutrition to slim down for the holidays. While the intent is good, going into these late Autumn and early Winter months can be difficult to really buckle down on nutrition and focus on losing weight or body fat. Not to say it can’t be done, but I always suggest folks consider going into a maintenance phase (or sometimes even a calorie surplus!) to coordinate with the holidays and the weather. This leaves some room for the extra goodies you love to enjoy during festive events and also provides some awesome fuel for Winter gym gains!

Finding Your Maintenance Calories

Find your maintenance calories! Maintenance calories are the amount of calories you consume in a day where you’re not losing or gaining anything. If you’re looking for some extra gains, you may consider adding a few hundred calories to place yourself in a surplus to gain a bit more muscle in the gym. You can find your maintenance calories by first finding out your body fat percentage. You can always estimate by looking up body fat percentage charts and basing it off of comparison. This can be a little bit of a guessing game though. Why guess? If you swing by our Hillsborough club, we can set you up with a $20 InBody scan so you can have your body composition analysis printed out for you and then you can plug that info along with some other stats into a calculator to determine your maintenance calories:

 If you’d like to consult with a trainer, for $40 you’ll get the same InBody scan plus we can help you understand all of this new information and give you guidance on where to go from there with your new maintenance calories!

Track Your Food (even if it’s a rough estimate)

You’ve got your maintenance calories. Now what? I always suggest downloading an app such as MyFitnessPal, CronoMeter, or any other food tracking app. You can plug in your new daily calorie goals. From there, try to get a rough idea of everything you eat in a typical day and try logging it. You may be WAY over your maintenance calories or you may also find you’re WAY under! Either way, this will give you a good idea of what you should and shouldn’t be eating within to stay on plan and you can make appropriate adjustments. Eyeballing and estimating food can still be an efficient way to stay on a reasonable plan, but if you really want to be precise a food scale can go a long way and can sometimes be very eye opening to actual portion sizes.

Prioritize Protein

In the fitness world, we are always harping on about the importance of protein. Protein is structured of essential amino acids that serve as the building blocks of muscle. If you’re not getting enough protein on a daily basis, you won’t maximize your gains. This is even more so important around the holidays because we tend to lean toward high carb and sugary foods that can derail. If you’re at a dinner or party, look for the dishes that have a lot of chicken, fish, or lean meats. Put these on your plate first and then go back to fill in some of the extras! Protein will keep you satiated through the day as well as help you avoid overdoing it on other options. It also has the highest thermic effect of any other macronutrient. This means that we use energy just to digest the protein that we consume, resulting in more calorie burn.

Plan Your Social Events

Check your social calendar! We’ve all got a lot of holidays and events likely coming up in the near future. Prioritize which ones are most important for you to enjoy food and drinks and make sure you’re prepared with a plan! Is it an event where you’re planning on drinking a large amount of your daily calories? Log those drinks ahead of time into your food tracking app and see how that drink choice may affect your day. Sometimes it’s helpful to choose either food or drinks to indulge in depending on the event rather than go all in on both.

The Taste Test

You likely won’t be tracking food when you’re out and about at a holiday party or event, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be conscious of your food choices! Many times we eat something at an event that we don’t even necessarily love, but we eat it because it’s there. Try to limit the foods that aren’t “worth it” in terms of enjoyment. Make sure you take a little bit of everything you want to try before you go overboard on a serving size. I like to try out different foods and then double back for a second serving or bigger helping if it’s something I really, really want.

Plan Your Regular Indulgences

Log ahead of time whenever possible, even just to give yourself an idea of what you’re consuming. Find those foods you simply don’t want to pass up whether it be during a holiday festivity or just during your regular work week. If it seems indulgent, putting that high calorie food into your food log first will help you plan out the remainder of your day or might serve as a friendly reminder that it’s taking up a large portion of your allotted calories.

Example: I love a slice of Trader Joe’s pumpkin bread each evening after dinner this time of year. A single slice/serving is roughly 120 calories (depending on how you really slice it) so I make sure I incorporate that in first and then add in my regular daily meals and snacks after to ensure I can still fit my most nutritious foods in. I may have to adjust certain portions when I make exceptions but it keeps me honest. As long as I ensure I’m getting in enough protein and staying within my calorie count, I’m good to go!

Everyone has different methods of navigating this time of year but I’m a big proponent of enjoying the holidays. The best method is the one that personally serves you well. Take some of these tips with you into the season and do your best to make decisions that make you happy and satisfied without guilt! One day, here and there, won’t completely derail you. The problem usually lies more so in letting “the holidays” blanket the entirety of the next 8 weeks. If you’re generally mindful about your food on any given day, you have more of an opportunity to enjoy a holiday to the fullest. Be picky about what days you truly celebrate and indulge. It’s not all going to be worth it in the end and you want to make sure those days are special compared to the average Tuesday office party!

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