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The Challenges of Maintaining Training & Eating over the Holidays: Setting Yourself up for a Successful Season

by Kristi Spence

Perhaps this is a familiar scenario: The morning and evening air is a bit chillier than it has been, evening daylight is waning, and the weather forecast hints of snow. Holiday gatherings are filling up the calendar, and with a fall marathon behind you, your race calendar has wound down for the year.  With the change of the weather and the bustle of the season, it is no surprise that it is easier to skip the occasional day or two of training and change your eating habits. For many people, these uninvited and unintended behaviors encroach slowly, followed by staunch resolutions for the New Year.  But this cycle is not inevitable and breaking this pattern does not equate with strict dieting and discipline… it is all about balance. This holiday season, challenge yourself to devise a workable, fun, plan that incorporates both the endorphin rush of training with the delicious taste of pumpkin pie.


To get started, you must first know what you are up against. Each of us faces unique barriers. Identify your specific challenges during the holidays?

  • If from past years, you know that shorter days make it harder to fit in an evening run, can you carve some space out earlier in the day? Can you meet a friend? What adjustments can you make to set yourself up for success?
  • If you want some down-time from running, but you still want to maintain your fitness, perhaps your 6-day per week running plan needs to be modified to a 3 or 4-day per week plan garnished with some fresh cross training ideas.
  • If holiday parties mean overeating and snacking, be sure to eat something before the party. Then you can sample only what really sounds good.
  • If you tend to overeat during the holidays, practice slowing down, enjoying the company and tasting the food.
  • If portion size is your challenge, try using smaller plates.
  • Do you have a hard time with the cold weather? Maybe you can substitute some cross-training activities or figure out how an afternoon, instead of a morning workout might fit into your schedule
  • Perhaps your challenge is that the word “holiday” is synonymous with relaxation and a day off.  Perhaps you can work this day-off into your training or consider different, fun activities with family and friends. There is no rule that you have to run, but if you would like to figure out how you can run on a holiday, perhaps you can meet a friend and celebrate the day together, or get up and out early before the bustle of the day.

Once you have identified your biggest challenges, consider writing down some goals and drafting a plan. Consider:

  • Keep a running log. If you are used to keeping a log but get lax when your schedule changes, make a point to continue tracking your exercise this year.
  • Hold yourself accountable. If the running log is not your best tool for accountability, consider asking friends and family for their support. Setting and sharing goals can be helpful.
  • Organize family activities that involve running or other forms of exercise – a Thanksgiving day Turkey Trot or family/friends football game, a Christmas morning walk, or an afternoon of sledding can be great ways to celebrate and exercise.


As far as navigating the holiday food waters, consider adopting some of the following strategies:

    • At holiday parties, do a “lap” before deciding what to put on your plate. Pick what sounds the best.
    • Avoid going to parties famished. If you know the host will only be serving drinks and dessert, be sure to eat a good dinner before you go.
    • Focus on the camaraderie and social element of the season instead of just the food.
    • Instead of tasting every dish at a holiday meal, just take samples of your favorites.
    • Consider making less side dishes. When we are faced with more variety, studies consistently show that our natural instinct is to eat more. With less variety, you will consume less.
    • If you are too full for a holiday dessert, take your piece of pie and wrap it up for later.  You will enjoy it more when you feel hungry and can enjoy it.
    • Think twice about seconds and first check in with your body. Are you really still hungry?
    • Slow down. It takes some time for the brain to catch up with the signals our stomach sends about feeling full. If we eat too quickly, the brain gets the message after the fact and we can end up over eating.
    • Beware of drinking your meals. For some of us, eggnog, or a pumpkin spice latte is a highly anticipated seasonal treat, and one you should absolutely enjoy, but enjoy sips instead of gulps. Consider smaller glasses or a coffee drink or hot chocolate made with skim milk.
    • Use smaller plates and glasses. A full small glass is often as satisfying as a larger glass and psychologically feels much better than its larger counterpart filled only half-full.
    • Beware of alcoholic beverages – amount and frequency.
    • Especially after a workout, be sure to stay hydrated…with colder temperatures, it is easy to forget.
    • Try to resist the temptation to sample all of the cookies you make for family, friends, and neighbors. Instead, make a point of having one as a more formal snack instead of popping treats in your mouth while cooking. Taking time to eat will allow you to enjoy the cookie so much more.


Once you have identified your challenges, set your plan, and picked some strategies, you are on your way for a happy, fun, and healthy holiday season.

Merry Eating!


by Kristi Spence
MS, RD, CSSD – Masters of Science, Registered Dietitian | Sport Dietitian | Elite Athlete: Half-Marathon/Marathon

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This entry was posted on Thursday, December 26th, 2013 at 9:13 pm and is filed under Nutrition, Training, Utah Running, Winter Running. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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