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If you asked the average casual exerciser, someone who doesn’t lift for a living, or have unlimited free time, but has a tough job or kids or a busy schedule, most would tell you the holidays are like a mine field of temptations, distractions and obstacles blocking their path to a lean and healthy body. I know how many people feel this way because I recently surveyed thousands readers in our Burn The Fat Feed The Muscle Facebook group and asked: “What is the biggest challenge or frustration you have sticking with training and nutrition over the holiday season?”

The replies weren’t just a bunch of whining about how hard it is. Ok, maybe I heard a few excuses that were a bit flimsy. But mostly I heard a lot of undeniably legitimate challenges nearly everyone faces.

Holiday Frustrations And Problems All Have Solutions

Even though it’s a fun and festive season, at the same time, people feel so stressed and overwhelmed, it’s no wonder they say, “Why bother? I’ll start in January.” But it doesn’t have to be that way, because these problems all have solutions.

I won’t claim that all the solutions are easy to act on – it requires some will and some work – but the solutions are simple. Sometimes all it takes is a change in mental attitude. Your success will also require you to think, plan ahead and pause to reflect before acting.

The good news is, I’ve done a lot of the thinking for you. You simply have to take these thoughts and put them into action.

There were hundreds of response to my “what are your holiday fitness frustrations” survey, yet I heard the same frustrations over and over again which showed that many people are sharing the same struggles. All of them fit into only a half a dozen recurring major themes:

1. Social pressure
2. Environment (food temptation everywhere)
3. Busier schedules and travel
4. Cold, dark and gloomy weather
5. Meal planning and food tracking difficulty
6. Mental challenges (stress, depression, lack of motivation)

Below, you’ll see the full list of holiday fitness frustrations and my simple solutions for how to deal with them. Knowing in advance that these are the trouble areas is half the battle won. Once you’re on guard for these problems, you can develop solutions and build defenses in advance.

1. You can’t escape it – temptations are everywhere the whole holiday season – indulgent food on TV, ads, billboards, online, in stores, malls, restaurants, food vendors on street corners and even in the parks. I end up giving in.

You can’t escape temptation completely at any time in the modern world, unless you move to the country and disconnect your TV and smart phone (go off the grid). In this day and age, you must develop physical, emotional and social strategies to stay strong in an “obesogenic environment” all year round. A great place to start is with this list of solutions right here in this article.

2. There’s food EVERYWHERE at work.

The food may be in the building, but take control of your own work space and keep food out of sight. Food in reach in plain sight gets eaten. Food in sight but out of reach will also get eaten, but not as often. Food out of sight and out of reach will rarely get eaten because it’s out of mind – it’s not a trigger. Also, do not go to work hungry – eat a substantial healthy breakfast. Plan or bring a healthy lunch and bring healthy snacks so if you’re offered food, you can say you already have some.

3. There are so many holiday parties.

Go enjoy a party or two. But if you’re not required to attend them all, then don’t. You don’t have to “party all the time.” When you do, eat something healthy beforehand. Most people who try to “save up calories” find that plan backfires and they eat all those calories and even more. If you drink, drink in moderation and avoid mixed drinks with sugar or fat. Alcoholic beverages not only pack a lot of calories, they also lower inhibitions and increase appetite.

4. If someone has a special meal or cookie recipe and you don’t eat their food, they feel like you’re snubbing them or even get offended.

If you really don’t want the food, say no thank you. Every time you let other people dictate your health decisions because you’re afraid of hurting their feelings, your will gets weaker. If you really want the cookie or meal, have it! As long as you don’t eat surplus calories for the week, you won’t gain fat.

5.People bring me food and I get gift baskets. When a gift is food and you refuse it, you look ungrateful.

If you don’t want food gifts, then create expectations in others in advance. Let it become known that you’re the type of person who won’t eat holiday food gifts. No one EVER sends me junk food for gifts… they know better (see what I just did there?)

6. My challenge is the holiday food I see only once a year and I love it.

I’m the same way. I love holiday food. And I don’t just “see” holiday food, I make it.  For years my mom made the best Christmas cake ever! It’s a green and red jello vanilla poke cake slathered with whipped cream with green and red sprinkles on top. She’s 86 now and doesn’t cook anymore, so that’s why I make it now. And I eat it! But I don’t eat ALL of it, and obviously I don’t eat cake every day. I have one slice on Christmas and I admit, usually another slice a day later from the leftovers. Who says you have to give up your special holiday foods completely? Just don’t overeat into a calorie surplus.

7. I find myself saying, “To heck with it, I’m going to enjoy the holidays. I can get back on track with healthy eating and working out in January.”

You can enjoy the holidays (including the food) and get fit – it’s not one or the other (dichotomous thinking). Second, make it your mission to live a healthy fitness lifestyle. Your lifestyle is not something you do part of the year, it’s how you live every day and part of your identity. And live by the mantra “Do it now!” Nothing good comes from procrastination.

8. There’s more booze during the holidays than any other time of the year and no accountability because everyone around me is drinking; I would literally be the only one not drinking.

If you want to follow the herds, you have to step in turds. On the other hand if you want a drink or two, make it fit into your calorie budget and enjoy it. Indulging moderately and infrequently is okay. Binge drinking is not. Also, if you’re driving, you have an out, and you can always volunteer as designated driver for a group.

9. I’m surrounded by people who don’t work out and eat for pleasure, not fuel. They don’t understand what I’m doing and give me no support at all, only negativity.

Learn how to deal with negative relationships – it’s a vital life skill because it’s unrealistic to expect 100% of negativity to be removed from your life. When you can’t escape negative people, there are three things you can do: 1. Build immunity from the negatives. 2. Limit exposure to the negatives. 3 Increase your exposure to the positives.

10. My biggest challenge is saboteurs. People in my life where you tell them you’re on a fitness kick and they intentionally mock you and pressure you into drinking or eating the wrong things. It’s almost like they get satisfaction seeing you fail.

A little peer pressure is one thing; it’s human nature and sometimes even comes from your family. Saboteurs on the other hand, must be pruned from your life like weeds in a garden. It’s better to be alone than in the presence of toxic people. Make new friends who support you. Join our Burn the Fat Inner Circle – most supportive body transformation community online.

11. When family and friends say, “It’s just one day, it’s just one meal, it’s just one slice.”

If it’s just one meal, just one slice of cake, pie, etc, great! That’s exactly what I was talking about in #6 above. Your family and friends could be right. It’s possible to be a more flexible dieter, and enjoy one of anything, simply make sure it fits into your calorie budget and flex your self-control muscle. But be on guard. Is it really only one? And only on rare special occasions? Be cautious, because one can turn into many if you lack self-control. .

12. My problem is not being in control of the type of food that’s served because you’re traveling or visiting family.

If you don’t have control over the type of food that’s served to you on a few special occasions, remember that you always have control over the amount of food you eat. Foods don’t make you fat – excess calories do. Eat small portions, stop before you’re full, and indulge infrequently. Don’t use traveling as an excuse. Don’t wing it while on the road. Plan meals in advance and remember that almost all restaurants have menus with many choices, including healthy ones.

13. Having no idea how to count the calories when meals come from huge bowls of home-cooked food or being invited to dinner, not knowing what will be served or how to stick with my nutrition without insulting hosts.

You’re right – sometimes it’s difficult to estimate the calories in a dish. The best thing to do is dole out small portions, eat slowly, stop eating when you feel 80% full. If you’re pressured to have seconds, say you’re full and you ate a big lunch and breakfast. Thank the hosts for good food! After all, they did slave for hours in the kitchen, and everyone likes compliments.

14. Shopping, decorating, work events, family gatherings, parties, meeting friends, and kid’s holiday events, means my schedule gets crazy and there’s no time for workouts.

There’s always some time for workouts when you make health and fitness a priority in your life. Get up earlier if you have to and learn time efficiency techniques for getting great workouts in less time. Weight training with supersets and high intensity interval training (HIIT) cardio are two of the best.

15. My busy schedule of holiday events and gatherings cuts into meal planning and prep time so I end up eating unhealthy quick snacks or fast food.

Choose healthy snacks like fruit and keep them with you. Simplify your meals and recipes so less planning or cooking is required. When busy and stressed, more variety and more choice is not a virtue. Instead, eat mostly the same “go-to” meals that you enjoy and put it on autopilot by establishing a regular meal schedule. If it’s in your budget, consider a meal prep service – they’re in every major city now.

16. After one bad holiday meal, I feel like I blew it and then I end up eating everything and just giving up on the whole thing – I tell myself I’ll start over January.

This is another form of all or nothing thinking. It runs rampant during the holidays if you don’t raise your self-awareness and catch yourself. You must stop all forms of dichotomous thinking (if you want to learn more, read this).

17. The days are so short, it’s depressing. It’s dark in the morning when I get up and dark when I get back from work and it makes me feel unmotivated and tired.

I feel the same way. Get up with the sun and get as much natural sun as you can during the day. If you wake up in the dark, consider a dawn simulator as an alarm clock. Brighten up your home and workspace. Consider a lightbox. Ask your doc about vitamin D levels. Make sure your sleep quantity, quality and regularity is as close to optimal as possible. On a dark night, how about a big blaze in the fireplace!

18. The weather outside is miserable so my cardio goes down. Running is my favorite but not much fun in sub-freezing temps, wind, snow, and I refuse to do long miles on a treadmill.

Focus more on weight training in the winter. Increase your lifting frequency if your cardio drops. Lifting weights burns calories too and it’s actually not a bad idea to periodize your cardio so you’re not always doing a ton of it.

19. It’s hard to get to the gym in inclement weather. Either I don’t feel motivated, or driving is unsafe. I don’t have space for a home gym so I miss workouts.

Minimum-space, minimum-equipment home workouts are possible! I’ve seen people do it in a few square feet in their bedroom or living room, so don’t make excuses. Learn body weight resistance exercises. Invest in dumbbells and learn how to use them.

20. Someone in the house gets sick every winter, then someone else catches it and you can’t work out.

All the more reason to start training and eating for better health immediately! The stronger, healthier and fitter you are, the less susceptible you’ll be to winter bugs!

21. Holiday stress leads to stress eating.

Develop stress coping mechanisms. Learn and use relaxation methods – deep breathing alone works wonders. From there consider meditation, walking, time in nature, aromatherapy, massage, sauna, hot tub or whatever does it best for you. Remember that stress is not bad, continuous stress without periods of relief is bad.

22. Winter depression leads to depression eating.

Do more winter workouts! Remember, exercise improves your mood, changes your brain chemistry and releases endorphins for a natural high. I know it’s easier said than done because it’s hard to get up and moving if you’re feeling down, so just break the inertia – tell yourself you’ll do a little. Once you’re moving a little, it’s easier to do more.

Parting advice for healthy holidays and a happy New Year

That was a lot of solutions! Let me add one more: Set ambitious goals for the holidays.

Set goals to be in better shape on December 31st than you were before the holidays. Sound crazy? It’s not. I know because I sponsored holiday body transformation contests for a decade.  We saw the most amazing transformations you can imagine in only 7 weeks. The reason most people don’t improve over the holidays is because they don’t even try.

Goal setting is not a one-time event. Goal setting is a continuous, never-ending process.

Set goals for the New Year as well. There’s a stigma surrounding “New Year’s resolutions,” but then truth is, January 1st is a fantastic time to set goals. Studies by Psychology professor Katy Milkman from The University of Pennsylvania showed that most people are more likely to make change stick when they begin at a time they perceive as a “fresh start.”

The biggest reason so many New Year resolutions fail is not because they start on January 1st, but because so many people choose the wrong methods and programs… crash diets, “fat burner” pills, restriction of entire food groups, quick fix workouts, and anything else unsustainable.

The second biggest reason New Year’s Resolutions fail is because people don’t have social support to help them stay accountable, feed the intrinsic need for community / connection, and keep on going.

That’s where our  Burn The Fat, Feed the Muscle New Year Challenge comes in.  It’s a 12-week before and after body transformation contest, and it’s the ultimate way to get motivated and take action.

For details about the next Burn the Fat Challenge that you can enter, click here

Train hard and expect success!

-Tom Venuto, Author of Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle
Founder of Burn The Fat Inner Circle

PS. Announcing Burn The Fat Inner Circle Gift Certificates For The 2023 Holidays… With An Amazing Bonus Now Through December 23rd, 2023. CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS

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