“I feel like Jake LaMotta when he’s all fat and out of shape and laughing at his own stupid jokes at the end of ‘Raging Bull.'”
I was leaning against the counter at my parents’ house, drinking a glass of wine and munching thoughtfully on a tortilla chip. As I’ve been coming off a serious back injury that brought my exercise routine to a screeching halt, I’ve been going into the holiday season, which means excuses to eat are everywhere. I haven’t exercised since the Friday before I hurt my back, and unlike the weeks before my black belt test, I’ve been eating a little more than my typical brown rice/roasted veggies/eggs/fruit diet.
So what to do when you’re an athlete in a demanding sport, but you also have a mother who puts Italian sausage in her Thanksgiving stuffing? (I know, awesome, right?) Here are my tips for staying semi-fit and fully sane during the next month of solid eating:
1. Choose Wisely
Unless you have some serious dietary restrictions, it’s OK to indulge. We only get one life, and that life should include carbs, sweets, and salt. It doesn’t mean you need to eat every salty, sweety, carby treat that’s in your sights. I can skip the store bought cookies at the office potluck, but the aforementioned sausage-infusted stuffing? NO. I’m eating it. If you’re going to indulge, choose wisely and really enjoy it, don’t just mindlessly shovel in crap that doesn’t even taste good.
2. Honor the Family Traditions
Is there a special dish that is significant in your family? Don’t deprive yourself!
This isn’t a holiday food per se, but I recently had the very last taste I’ll ever have of “lake fish,” which any family members reading this will understand. My grandparents owned a lake house for thirty years until selling it last year, and there is nothing better than finely filleted and fried crappie that was swimming happily (and organically, just FYI) until its untimely demise. No one cleans a fish like Grandpa, and no one fries fish like Dad. After my grandparents sold the house we all knew there was a dwindling supply of “lake fish” in the freezer, so every last bite was cherished.
Will I ever eat fried fish any where else? Gross, no. Other than “lake fish” prepared by Grandpa and Dad, I hate fish and refuse to eat it. I’m not going to waste my calories on some sub-par, disgusting, greasy fried catfish with bones sticking out everywhere and the skin still on it. (Cause y’all know that’s how most people fry fish. Amateurs.) The calories I spent on hand-cleaned and deep-fried Oklahoma crappie were calories well spent.
3. Keep Up the Exercise
I hate cold weather with a bloody passion and may have to resort to my cold weather inside routine if the ice storms hit. Sometimes it’s hard to stay motivated when it’s gray and yucky outside. Feel like skipping the gym? Just remember how good it feels to get your body moving and feel those endorphins kick in. Even if you can’t do your regular workout a walk around the block or some push-ups while you’re watching a movie can keep the winter blues at bay.
4. Trim the Fat Elsewhere
I always try to lose a little weight before the holidays kick in because I know I’ll be indulging and will be hindered from getting out as much as I’d like to by rain and cold weather. Maintaining a steady diet of whole grains, produce, and lean proteins will help you stay energized and feel light during a time when it’s so tempting to curl up under a blanket and eat cookies. If I keep up my normal nutrition and exercise as much as I can I feel like I have more leeway to indulge at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
5. Cut Yourself Some Slack
Look, if you gain a pound or two over the holidays, is it really that big of a deal in the grander scheme of things? We put so much emphasis on things that don’t matter: getting all twisted over a project at work that really can wait until tomorrow, mindlessly scrolling through our phones while ignoring the other people in the room, agonizing over a bite of cake because deep down we feel ashamed of our own bodies. My grandparents are almost ninety. I would rather sit at the dinner table, linger over pie and coffee, and listen to them tell stories than go for a run outside by myself. The exercise and the diet opportunities will always be here. My family won’t.
I know I’ve gained a little weight, and going back to taekwondo class is going to be tough after a two-week break. I know taking the pounds off won’t be as easy or as fun as it was to put them on. Oh well, I’d rather be thankful for a healthy and fit body than make myself miserable when I have my moments of being a tad less fit. I can breathe, walk, move on my own, take care of myself without assistance, and feel that as far as being able wake up the next day, the odds are in my favor. Many people don’t have that reassurance. Be grateful for what your body can do.
No one will love you or respect you any less for that slice of pie, and if they do? F*ck them and their insecure, superficial, limited little minds.
6. Remember That Spring Will Come
Okay, so it’s sleeting outside and your aunt made her famous brownies that you don’t think you should eat, but you reaaaaally want to. The world is not going to end if you can’t make it to the gym or if you have that brownie. Practice moderation, remind yourself that you will soon be able to get back to your regular training, and remember to enjoy the precious moments with people you love, Italian sausage, brownies, and all.
And if you don’t like your family? Go outside for a run! Problem solved!