How To Make Your Winter Healthier Physically and Mentally
To begin, I’m not going to make any unrealistic promises and tell you Santa will bring you a six pack on Christmas morning if you follow this advice. We all know that the holidays bring both presents and an extra layer of warmth, and we aren’t talking about your favourite snowman sweater. In fact:
“The 10-day stretch between the Christmas and New Year holidays is the most common time of year people gain weight.”¹
Some people cite a lack of vitamin D and lower body temperatures as catalysts for weight gain during winter², but let’s not deny that the empty mince pie tins don’t have anything to do with it.
Extra food consumption seems to be an inevitability at this time of year. Only allowing yourself to gorge out on one big meal on Christmas Day whilst starving yourself for the rest of the holidays is beyond cruel with the amount of temptations there are.
If you can stomach the mental strain then kudos to you my friend, I doubt you’ll be asking Santa for a six pack this year as you’ve probably already got some enviable abs on the go. For the rest of you here are some little tricks that might help you turn Christmas into a joyful time of year without the inevitable January guilt.
1. Bulk Buying
When I say ‘bulk’ I mean ‘muscle’. And when I say ‘buy’ I really mean ‘growth’.
It makes sense that winter is often the time chosen for people to bulk up because they can use it as an excuse to stuff themselves full of holiday delicacies to their hearts content. The problem with this is that it’s a ‘dirty’ bulk that will leave your heart health far from content.
You can indeed indulge on whatever food you like and experience both muscle growth and an increase in strength³ but with a dirty bulk you will also gain large amounts of fat that will be hard to strip off again post-winter.
To help you feel satisfied all you need to do is make some smart choices. Swap refined carbs for wholegrain, keep up your water intake (and less eggnog, it’s not actually healthy at all⁴) and try making some sweet treats instead of buying highly processes ones.
A whole tray bake of homemade rice crispy cake can be healthier than one slice of shop-bought cheesecake (in my opinion). Here is an excellent list of treats you can try at home this year to help make your bulk a little cleaner:
2. Weights For Your Waist
Just because you regress to some child-like levels of excitements around Christmas, I refuse to believe your IQ also drops. Any other time of year everyone knows that diet and exercise goes hand in hand and that especially if your diet is out of whack, you’re more likely to look like Santa instead of Dwanta Clause (check it!)
Therefore, at a time of year where you have an excuse to eat more food than usual, you have no excuse to stop working out. Yes, resting more over winter gives your body a chance to recover and is crucial during a bulking phase⁵, but you shouldn’t neglect the work — all of it!
“You might be tempted to skip your usual Cardio sessions when you’re bulking. However, it is important to keep up your overall health and fitness throughout the process.”⁶
No one wants to get to the other side of winter only to find out they’re not going to hit their beach-body goals for another year in a row.
So go get it, or just make sure you buy really heavy presents this year and walk home after. Just an idea.
3. Psych Yourself Up!
Anyone who works out and tries to keep themselves in shape will inevitably come up against the mind games that our human bodies throw at us. Some days you’ll look in the mirror and see a total god/goddess flexing back at you and others you’ll have to double check you aren’t looking at a picture of a sack of potatoes.
In reality, our bodies are in constant flux and no amount of flexing can change that. The best thing you can do to help yourself during any phase of exercise, not just winter bulking, is to check in with your psychology.
Being realistic is key.⁷ If you’re accepting that your diet might be a little looser over the festive period then don’t get disheartened if you feel a little more skin when you pinch your waist. Equally, don’t expect to double your bicep size by the New Year.
Progress in any direction takes consistency over time, so while it might take longer than Christmas to bulk up to your goal, it will also take longer than a few weeks of relaxed diet to ruin your fitness completely.
As humans we inevitably overestimate how much we move and underestimate how much we consume. These opposites can often be stretched further apart over winter and that is okay. Just like your net calories should be in a deficit over a week rather than every day, try thinking of your progress in larger amounts of time.
Staying consistent is key and if all you feel like you are doing is maintaining or even minimising weight gain over Christmas, that is a hell of a lot better than giving up all together and starting from scratch in the New Year.
This year especially, Christmas is a time where we should chill out, de-stress and relax from the mental challenges we’ve had to face over the last 12 months.
Our health and our diets can be constant sources of anxiety but they don’t have to be. If you can take a few of these tips and help take the mental strain off of these areas of your life you’re much more likely to be able to enjoy your holidays.
I’m not saying take your foot off the gas completely, but maybe this is a good time to just let yourself coast a little without worrying about the destination for a few weeks.
Have a Merry Christmas!