7 Tips For Staying Lean Over The Holidays

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It feels like it’s really started, doesn’t it? Now that December is here, the holiday season comes in with the force of a snow storm (I’m really hoping we won’t be having one of those soon!).

The Santa Parades have come and gone, the lights and Christmas trees are up everywhere, and all the stores are decorated with sparkly things to encourage us to spend our hard-earned cash. The holidays have truly arrived!

Between official parties and special events for the season, trying to catch up with friends, and all that shopping…it can be a hectic time of year.

The general vibe is what my husband repeatedly says from about mid-November:

‘Tis the season!

For him, that means eating 75 Lindor Truffles in just over a week. For many people, it means more drinking, less time for the gym, and more eating of treat foods. So should you just give up right now and vow to start in the new year?

Please don’t.

You’ll feel worse and you’ll have a harder time when January 1 hits.

This may indeed be the time of year when you’re thinking about weight maintenance, rather than getting leaner.

That’s fine. We’re less than a month away from when it seems a lot more socially acceptable to spend every day in the gym (unnecessary!) and eat nothing but chicken and broccoli (also unnecessary!) or doing juice detoxes (unnecessary and unhealthy!).

In the meantime, let me guide you through some tips to minimize the damage to your physique over the holidays:

1) Adjust Your Food Intake

If you know you’re going out and having more food on the weekend, try to stick to lean proteins (chicken breast, fish, lean beef & good-quality meat or seafood) and vegetables for any meals that you’re still eating at home.

So whenever you’re not attending a food-related event, keep your meals lean (low fat) and packed with protein and vegetables.

So maybe it’s an egg or two with extra egg whites and tomatoes, mushrooms, and spinach for breakfast. You can even turn those ingredients into a delicious omelette. You might then have some chicken or fish and roasted vegetables for lunch.

Most treat foods are high in carbs and fat, so you want to keep those low throughout the day so you have some to spare for the evening’s festivities.

Get your protein in early to keep you satisfied and your blood sugar level throughout the day.

That’s not to say you should starve yourself the day before or early in the day. This never goes well! Usually what happens is a monumental binge that leaves you feeling bloated and completely disgusted with yourself. Not the smart way to go.

A pre-event snack like a protein shake, nuts, and some fruit can help take the edge off your appetite so you make wiser decisions.

2) Get Your Workout In Early

It can be really easy to skip workouts when your holiday schedule is jam-packed. Get it in early in the day, if you can, before the holiday eating and festivities begin. Not only will you keep working at building muscle (the best way to stay lean!), but the higher post-workout insulin levels allow you to utilize the extra carbs you’re eating for muscle recover and repair.

In my experience, you also tend to make more sensible eating decisions after working out because you don’t want to destroy all your efforts in the gym by going nuts at the Christmas party. By making the trip to the gym first, you’ll feel like a health conscious and body-aware person that wants to nourish his or her body with good food.

Occasionally people get so proud of hitting the gym that they decide to reward themselves with some hefty eating. Be aware if that’s something that seems to be true for you and make a conscious effort to resist that urge.


Don’t try to fight those “calories in” by hitting the treadmill though. While cardio increases your calorie expenditure slightly, you won’t be able to outpace your meager calorie burn from jogging (or cycling or rowing or the elliptical) with the speed that you’re able to deliver excess calories to your mouth with a fork.

Do a weight training workout instead.

Building muscle will help boost your metabolic rate in a sustainable way because muscle burns more energy (calories) than fat.

That’s not to say that traditional “cardio” is a waste of time, but its benefits pale in comparison to weight training or HIIT (high intensity interval training).

As a bonus, weight training sessions can be done more quickly, especially if you do shorter rest intervals or work in a circuit. HIIT is designed to be fast and challenging, and is an efficient way of burning fat in a short period of time. And time is definitely something you’re limited with during the holidays.

3) Make the Right Drink Choice

If you drink alcohol, this is the time when it seems to be most socially-acceptable and the pressure can be the greatest. Alcohol can be very damaging for fat loss, not only because of what it contains, but because it tends to loosen your inhibition to devour the contents of the buffet table.

Your body puts off all metabolic processes, like fat-burning, until it deals with processing the alcohol you’ve consumed. Throw in excess calorie consumption in the form of cookies, stuffing, chips, samosas, brownies, and pumpkin pie and you’re heading for trouble.


Choose the type of alcohol that you enjoy, but be wary if what you enjoy is egg nog or sweet rum mixes. Those drinks have sugar and fat in addition to alcohol so they’re more likely to add up quickly.

Plain drinks without added sugar like vodka or gin with water or soda water (or on the rocks) are the best option. You can add lemon, lime or mint for flavour and festive spirit.

Wine and beer are popular and reasonable choices too, but remember that the quantity adds up fast.

Before heading out to a party where you want to drink (you don’t always have to!), decide how much you’re planning to have and try to stick to that number. If nothing else, it sends a subconscious signal to your mind to keep track of what you’re consuming.

Lastly, try to drink a glass of water between each alcoholic drink. Not only will you fill up faster, but you’re less likely to get dehydrated and end up with a hangover.

Always a bonus for post-party recovery!

4) Choose Your Treats Carefully!

Whether it’s the holidays or any other time, it’s always your choice what you consume. I enjoy a treat as much as anyone (believe me!), but you won’t catch me wasting my calories on fruit cake (yuck!), egg nog (double yuck!), or fresh-baked cookies if there anything less than delicious. Now you may very well LOVE fruit cake and egg nog, and that’s fine. Pick your treat and really appreciate it.

santa-lean-over-the-holidays“Those cookies look good…I’ll skip the candies at the back.”

You don’t need to nibble from every item that’s sitting on the table just to avoid talking to your boss about why you can’t get that project done by the time you leave work for the holidays. Have a look at what treats are available, decide which ones are really worth it…and leave the rest to add a layer of fat to someone else’s belly.

5) Drink Water To Recover

Drinking water can help decrease your appetite overall, since thirst can often masquerade as hunger. When you’ve been overindulging, drinking more water can prevent the dehydration that comes with drinking alcohol and dancing until 2am to silly Christmas songs. Plus, if you’re dehydrated you might be tired and suffer from headaches, which is not going to make it easier to hit the gym or make good food choices.kermit-lean-over-the-holidays“Ok, Kermit, time for a glass of water!”

Getting water in will also help get your digestive system back in gear if you’ve overtaxed it with a bit too much food. Sometimes just getting your fluid balance right will make you feel a lot better.

6) Don’t Feel Guilty

Feeling guilty about what you ate and punishing yourself, either by starving yourself or spending excess time on a useless cardio machine spinning for hours, isn’t healthy.

Trying to solve your leanness issues by burning off more calories only ends badly and leaves you feeling exhausted.

Yes, make some minor modifications to your activity levels to account for the excess calories (perhaps a 30 minute walk with your family), but don’t do it as punishment for anything.

Moving more will make you feel better anyway so think of it as a fun, festive activity. If you make your food choices carefully, you won’t do your body much damage.


If for some reason you venture a little outside your desired plan, don’t feel guilty about it. Admit that you enjoyed it (if you did) or that you’re not perfect (because no one is) and move on the next day without feeling bad about yourself.

Too many people give up on their plans to get lean altogether because they think one bad day – or week – will ruin everything.

It won’t.

7) Take The Focus Off Food

Holidays are about more than just food. There’s also the alcohol. 😉
No, really, there are plenty of other things that the holidays are about.

This time of year is about spending time with family and friends.

Try more chatting and less snacking.

You get to watch Christmas movies on TV, like “A Christmas Carol” and “Love Actually”. I feel like my Christmas isn’t complete until I’ve watched “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”.

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, now’s a great time to get outdoors and do traditional winter activities like sledding, skiing, hockey, skating, snowshoeing, or just to go for a brisk walk.

If you’re not in an outdoorsy mood, you can spend quiet time indoors reading or relaxing with your family in front of a fireplace (real or on your TV screen).

For some people, this is a religious time and they attend church or temple.

Fascinating, right?

While it often seems that the holidays are all about food, try to focus on other things that you enjoy as well. While sitting around stuffing your face is fine for a day or two, much more than that is going to impact your physique…and make you feel like crap.

What’s YOUR Plan?

If you enter the holiday season without a reasonable plan of attack, you’ll likely throw in the towel on your fat-loss efforts long before the menorah’s lit or Santa slides down any chimneys. If you plan to “go with the flow”, then you’ll probably find that you won’t get to the gym and you’ll end up overeating – many times.


Plan to have some treats. Don’t force yourself to skip the hot chocolate at the Holiday Market if you really want it. Have a couple of glasses of wine at the annual office party.

Just don’t inhale the entire contents of your overly-stocked fridge before the rest of your family arrives for the festivities.

Put your workouts into your schedule and do your best to stick to your plan. Maybe your workouts need to be shorter than usual to accommodate the limited time you have right now.

When you hit the gym, stay focussed, push yourself hard, and then get out of there!

Enjoy Yourself!

This goes along with the whole guilt thing, but I think it’s worth mentioning again. If you go a little overboard one day or two, don’t berate yourself for being bad or decide to throw in the towel on your fat loss efforts altogether.

Each day is a new one, and how your body looks is not the result of what you do on any one day. It’s the sum of all the days of the year.

Having a few days throughout the year when you consume excess calories and sugar isn’t going to hurt your physique, but be honest about how many days fitting that description there actually are.


If you do it right, you can maintain your physique during the holiday and still enjoy all the pleasures that this season brings. Remember that the holidays aren’t all about food (it just feels that way!).

Enjoy some fun, festive time with your friends, colleagues, and family. And make those trips to the buffet or cookie table a little less frequent than last year.

You’ll be thankful for it in January.

Ivana Chapman

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Ivana Chapman

Ivana Chapman

Ivana Chapman BSc BA CSCS is a Canadian fitness and nutrition coach, happy wife, and mom to an energetic 8-year-old boy. She is a YouTuber, writer, published fitness model, speaker, 3rd Dan black belt in Shotokan Karate, former World Cup Karate Champion, one-time marathoner, and CBBF National level Natural Bikini competitor. She loves weight training, chocolate, mountain biking, and ice cream...not always in that order of preference.
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