A Disciplined Diet: Your Strategy for Holiday Willpower

Go into the holidays with a game plan to keep your healthy lifestyle on track.

Everyone wants to know how they can lose weight, get healthy, add muscle, or attain other worthy goals with little effort and tiny changes. While I am all for habit change and scaling behaviors to achieve success, the idea that it doesn’t take any willpower is simply a myth. It takes conscious effort, grinding, and picking yourself back up when things have gone wrong.

Since we only have so much free will to use, we must use it wisely. This is why the holiday season is so difficult to navigate. It isn’t so much about the food at parties, cookies in the office, and leftovers at home. In reality, school breaks, travel, work deadlines, the sun setting by 5pm, gift shopping, traffic, weather, and the overall frantic aura of the holiday season drain your free will. You could normally resist eating those four cookies, but since you are stressed about every other decision, the cookies become irresistible.

5 Strategies to Positively Channel Holiday Willpower

Instead of a new food plan or hardcore exercise routine, let’s look at strategies to save your finite pool of decisions and reduce wasted willpower.

1. Choose Your Top Five

Here is a quick exercise. Let’s say your friend is starting his or her New Year’s resolution early and asks you for advice on simple healthy meals. What would be your top five meals? Take that list, and cycle it through your holiday season.

Make the planning and prepping as automated as possible. For example, my go-to top five menu would be:

  1. Turkey sandwiches
  2. Crockpot roast with onions and carrots
  3. Shrimp stir fry
  4. Tuna salad and hummus with raw veggies
  5. Hardboiled eggs, nuts, and cheese

2. Park Further Away When Shopping

This isn’t just to make your Fitbit happy. Parking further away can be a stress reduction practice. Even if you aren’t gift shopping, just going to the grocery store can be hectic. Parking far away takes a decision out of your hands. Yes, it might be cold, but wanting what nobody else wants is a calming notion. There is no competition for the spot way out at the end of the parking lot, and it will be one less thing to worry about.

3. Follow a Simple Strength Training Program

Pick a simple training program that will make you think about next to nothing. No writing your own programs this time of year. Follow someone else’s path, and simply execute it. Easy Strength and 5/3/1 would be my go to ideas. You can do them 2-4 times a week, or whatever works for you. With the inevitable extra holiday calories, you can get quite a bit stronger with either one.

4. Get Better Sleep

Getting more sleep may not be realistic, but we can work on sleep quality. While the typical advice of adjusting schedule, breathing, and winding down is all great advice, for the next month or two we need quick and easy ideas.

Of course, buying a few things for yourself is a great way to piss off family members stuck for gift ideas for you. I’m notorious for it. Here are three purchases to make for better sleep:

  1. Take Natural Calm, a magnesium supplement. Start small and find the minimum effective dose. It won’t leave you feeling groggy like other sleep supplements.
  2. Get a blue light filter or app for your mobile device. Blue light is known to disrupt melatonin and sleep quality. Staring at a phone or tablet while in bed isn’t the best idea. But changing that habit now requires effort. Spending a few bucks on a blue light filter or app can be an easy way to improve sleep. They’re easy to find.
  3. Pick up a Himalayan pink salt lamp. The dim red light won’t be as disrupting to your sleep cycle, so if you need a light before bed or when getting up during the night, use the lamp instead of a bright light.

5. Use a Treat Bag for Portion Control

Get a Ziplock bag and put whatever treats you want in there for the day. Only have treats if they were placed in the bag the morning or night before. It makes resisting the cookies in the office a bit more black and white. You don’t feel deprived, and it helps you make a decision. It’s not a perfect solution, but it helps prevent overeating.

Stay One Step Ahead

Don’t use the holiday season as an excuse to go off the program. There’s a reason gyms fill up in January with people curling in the squat rack. All or nothing doesn’t work. Plan ahead, think about how to reduce stress, and keep some free will in the bank.

In the end, taking it easier will in fact yield better results. Resist the urge to add more and punish yourself in the gym for eating that cookie, because after the holiday season, you have Valentine’s Day and Easter break. Learn to deal with busy times now.

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Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.