Strategies for surviving the holiday season with minimal damage

Christmas cake

Image: Filomena Scalise /

With the holiday season almost here it makes sense for us mesomorphs and endomorphs to start thinking about how to get to the 2nd of January with minimal damage. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, you should have paid attention to your science teacher in school. I mean, the ectomorph/mesomorph/endomorph classification has been around for decades (in fact, it’s older than me). But still, if you know but have forgotten, simply put: ectomorphs are people who have a hard time gaining weight, endomorphs are people who gain weight pretty much just by breathing and mesomorphs are people in between. That means that for mesos and endos, holiday season is a nightmare because it’s very likely that we fall off track and gain some weight and/or body fat.

I’m not a nutritionist (although I hope to become one in a hopefully near future) but I did study nutrition at cooking school and spend a lot of time reading about the topic. There is great advice out there but you gotta take it with a grain of salt. Nowadays almost every health/nutrition/fitness claim is backed up by scientific research, which can be flawed. Research is often sponsored by companies that want scientists making positive claims about the products they sell. Even if a study is completely independent, science often looks at isolated components of a whole and that doesn’t compare to our “real” lives. So what often guides me towards a worthwhile piece of advice is common sense. I ask myself it the person giving the advice is a good example of whatever they’re talking about. You wouldn’t buy facial products from a person with pimples, would you? I also check out references from that person: do they have support from known and respectable people or organisations? Finally, if practical, I test on me. I think we’re all grown ups and we can figure out what works for us and what doesn’t, because even if somebody claims that cause X will lead you to result Y, we’re all different and we might get different results.

It’s pretty clear by now that this post is not like my usual ones. It’s more like a small contribution to people like me who don’t want a negative effect on their bodies by the end of the year. And it’s also for me. It’s a fact that you learn more by teaching than by receiving a lesson. So this is my way of pushing the theory a bit more deeply into my brain to make it work in auto-pilot. I’ve compiled these tips over the years from a number of sources (John Berardi and the Precision Nutrition team, Alwyn Cosgrove, Craig Ballantyne, Marion Nestle, Michael Pollan, among others). And again, even when they work for me they may not work for you, but you can give them a shot.

  1. Avoid
    You will read everywhere that the key to keep your body composition under control is to avoid empty calories (beverages other than water and unsweetened tea/infusions, sweets, etc) and, in general, the overload of calories that happen this time of the year. I go a step further and say: avoid the circumstances that put those foods in front of your face. If you’re like me, it’s hard for you to refrain yourself from eating/drinking something if it’s right in front of you. It talks to you and calls your name, and that is hard to resist. One of the greatest pieces of advice on this topic is to toss all processed foods from your home. If they’re not available, you won’t eat them, and if you’re lazy enough you won’t bother in going to get some and will stick to healthy foods. So the trick is to avoid situations in which you know there will be snacks and drinks, in my case that would be Thursday nights after meditating with friends and Friday afternoons in the office.



  2. Prioritise and choose
    Of course we can’t spend our lives avoiding social situations. I mean, we could but that probably wouldn’t be so psychologically healthy. What to do, then? Prioritise the events you have during the week and choose just one or two. For example, I’m going tomorrow to Metallica’s show (I’m not a huge fan anymore but they didn’t go to South America when I was younger so I’ve never heard them live). I know I’m gonna have to eat something there and chances are that it’s not gonna be healthy. Then my sister and I will have lunch with Latin American friends on Sunday. That means lots of food (at least, homemade). So this week I decided to skip drinks after meditation on Thursday, and drinks after work and dinner out on Friday. I think the key here is planning, and that’s easy if you’re fully aware of your schedule.

  3. Stop making excuses
    We humans are big on excuses. We have one or many perfect excuses for everything that means a little extra work. I think it’s fine to excuse ourselves from eating a bit of unhealthy food in events we can’t avoid, but come on. The fact that the end of the year is around the corner is not an excuse to skip workouts. Or to stuff yourself with whatever sweets you can get your hands on. Anything is a good enough excuse for being unhealthy.

  4. Think before you act
    This advice applies to many things in life, but now I’ll focus on food. Before eating or drinking something take a few moments to think about it. Most of the times we eat without even being hungry. If you’re not hungry enough for eating an apple or a cup of steamed broccoli, then maybe you aren’t hungry after all, right? If you think that approach is a bit too extreme try this other one: is what you’re planning to eat something you absolutely love? If not, better save those calories for later. Also think of everything you do and eat in terms of an aid or an obstacle in relation to your goals.

    Dessert and coffee

    Image: Daniel St.Pierre /

  5. Know what you want
    Speaking of goals, I think most people don’t know what theirs are. They clearly have goals, because there’s an intention in everything they do, but they just don’t know them. For some people is good to have proper goals (that is, clear, achievable and measurable), for some is better to focus on the process instead of the goal (for example: to do some kind of exercise every day and eat healthily 90% of the time, instead of to drop 10 pounds by next Friday). Whichever approach you choose, make sure it’s clear for you and remind yourself from time to time.

    Goals dilemma

    Image: jscreationzs /

  6. Get enough water and sleep
    Water and sleep are two of the best weapons you can use against many things: hangover, headache, stress, the flu, lack of energy, etc. Plus, you’ll save money (think of the hundreds of dollars people spend on drugs, supplements, energy drinks, coffee, etc) and will help you with point # 1 (by drinking enough water you’ll avoid ingesting empty calories and by focusing on getting enough sleep you’ll avoid staying late for drinks and nibbles).

    Drink enough water

    Image: Andy Newson /

  7. Choose and use the carrot or the stick
    Am I the only one who gets a sexual connotation from that phrase? Maybe it’s just a language thing. Anyways, some people respond better to the carrot (motivation) and others better to the stick (punishment). Know what you like and use it. Here’s an example: you’re in Norton St Grocer surrounded by panettones of all sorts (gianduia included). If you’re a carrot kind of person, remember a nice comment you have received about your physique and refrain from buying one. If you’re a stick kind of person, remember that sad feeling you get every time you look at your bloated belly after eating too many carbs.

  8. Cook more
    Even if that means eating out more and having less material for your foodie blog. If you cook more (aim to weekdays, at least) chances are you’ll eat healthier food unless you are like that lady in Jamie Oliver’s show that deep-fried everything. I mentioned weekdays because I know for most of us is harder to cook on weekends when you get to hang out with friends and family, and relax a bit with a “cheat meal”. As Michael Pollan puts it in his Food Rules: seconds and sweets only on days that start with “s”. Also, when invited to an event, offer to bring something, cook it yourself and try to make it healthy.

I’d like to close this post with a great quote I read in Alwyn Cosgrove’s blog long time ago: “It’s not what you eat from Christmas to New Years, it’s what you eat between New Year’s and Christmas that counts.”

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