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How To Refrain From The Holiday Guilt

Posted by: on December, 17 2013

Found on Lava.com and written by Ryan Schneider

What’s five pounds of holiday weight gain?

I’ll tell you.  In the throes of a never-ending holiday pastry parade, five pounds translates to a multi-layered cake filled with guilt, delight, relief and guilt. With a dollop of guilt on top.

I suspect I’m not the only one who’s eaten this deceptively delicious dish too. And come back for fifths.

But it’s only five pounds, right? It feels like so much more.  After working with a strength coach and a sports nutritionist for most of the year, I discovered what appears to be my ideal racing weight. I won’t reveal that number –  I don’t dare share it at home with my wife either.  If the subject arises, it actually becomes more of a passive-aggressive conversation with her.  We don’t talk directly about my weight (or lack thereof). Instead, homemade pumpkin bread magically appears in front of me if my cheeks have disappeared and my eye sockets resemble caves. I call that tapered. My wife calls that skeletal.

In all seriousness, I’ve had a hard time letting go of my svelte physique these past few weeks. Or at least the idea of it. I realize that maintaining race weight 24/7/365 is at best unnecessary. In more severe cases, the pursuit of perma-lean ultimately can lead to mental and physical distress over food obsession. Yet when I “punished” myself by practically skipping dinner last week because of a massive lunch on a light workout day, I worried that perhaps I’m dangerously closer to that pit than I’ve ever been.

My challenge is that I’m eating like I’m training 15 hours a week still while working out for much less than that. My in-season appetite hasn’t caught up with my offseason training regimen. It’s hard to describe the feeling of the few measly extra pounds on my frame to those who don’t understand how we meticulously watch what we eat and drink. But I swear it’s noticeable, in the form of a slightly elevated heart rate, sluggishness getting out of bed, reduced resistance to eating unhealthy foods and an increased resistance to eating vegetables.

It’s as if my appetite is on a hunger strike, but instead of starving it’s railing against the constant discipline required to race fast and hard all year long.

I could moan how my friends and family seem to all be in cahoots on the “Feed Ryan” conspiracy. There’s not a meal I can join lately where a dessert isn’t being gently nudged in my direction even if I’ve said I’m full. Then, I eat it. Who’s fault is it really then?  Am I the victim, or the enabler?

Or better yet, how can I just chill the hell out for a while and not take this whole triathlon thing so damn seriously?!

I remember an interview I conducted with Jordan Rapp a couple years ago following his gruesome bike accident.  “If you do have control over something, make the most of it,” he said.  Bingo. Perhaps the only time we feel out of control in our lives is when we either yield control purposefully or accept that we can’t always control every detail of our lives. So where’s the balance between feeling our best and feeding our inner beast?

With that in mind, I’ve returned to a few basic habits to help me push aside the guilt cake while still enjoying the holiday season.

Set a Goal, Not a Deadline: Instead of arbitrarily telling yourself you’ll start eating properly on New Year’s Day, compromise on a weight you can accept heading back into your “normal” training regimen.  This has helped me accept that there are too many yummy things to turn down during the holidays, but that I also need to moderate what I’m eating to hit the ground running in January and not break it from my heavier footsteps.

Enlist Support: When that second piece of pie is calling my name and I know I’m just eating it because it’s there, I give my wife “The Look.” The one that says, “Please, woman, take this plate away immediately before I turn into the Tasmanian Devil and tear through the rest of the dessert cart!” Now, she dutifully grabs it, puts a napkin on it, mashes the napkin into the remaining dessert, and places the plate out of my reach at the table. Even if I try to reach across her to grab it. That’s true love, and one very understanding lady.

Plan Ahead: If I know in advance I’ll be at a holiday party with lots of unhealthy options, I’ve been trying lately to eat as well as possible beforehand. This ensures I have less of an appetite before arriving to the unhealthier occasion and in case I do choose to indulge a bit, at least I haven’t eaten like a garbage disposal all day.

Go Digital: Now that my training hours are reduced, I’ve been turning to apps like My FitnessPal to help me better reconcile my caloric intake along with my training. This is helping me understand exactly what I ought to be eating based on my current workout load.  Knowing I don’t need as many calories helps me realize that those cravings I have are more mental than physical.

As the holiday season zooms towards its frenzied peak, I feel more comfortable in my own (slightly expanded) skin.  Whatever dining and drinking choices I make are my own, and by accepting those consequences, I feel more in control of my slightly neurotic training lifestyle.

The guilt cake is all in my head. It’s just cake, and if you can manage to enjoy a simple slice every once in a while – it tastes that much sweeter.