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By Justin Murray

What foods should people stay away from this holiday season?                         

It is a safe bet to stay away from what I would call “combination foods”, or foods with multiple ingredients: stuffing, casseroles, deserts…you get the point! Most of these foods have the obviously bad things like starches and sugars, but a lot of them also tend to have hidden goal busters like butter, dressings, etc.

What foods should people lean towards?

It sounds funny to say, but you should lean towards foods that you know what they are.  No I don’t mean “I know that this is apple pie”, I mean “ yes, that is turkey…that is a salad, those are beets, etc.”  Stick to foods that have less ingredients, and if you want, then you can kick it up with a sauce here and seasonings there.

Do you have any recommendations for someone wanting to restart the fitness process?

Yes I do!  Simply take yourself to the place that got you going the first time.  Lifelong health is a big commitment in the beginning, with the building of good habits and the elimination of others…so it usually takes something BIG (good or bad) to push someone to take that step.  Go back to what made you take that step, and restart your walk on that path…it’s still there, so go!

What activities can people partake in around the house that will serve as an alternative to going to the gym?

Well, it’s the holidays and people are busy…I get it.  While there may not be as much time as usual to do a structured workout or go to the gym, I feel like with family in town, errands to run etc, that there are more opportunities to MOVE than usual.  Capitalize on these…go play in the yard with the kids, move around and help out in the kitchen, go walk your brother’s dog with him, run from your grandmother…use the holiday-friendly opportunities you have to maximize movement, and stay away from inactivity, because this can also lead to extra snacking too!

How can people decrease their calorie intake this holiday season?

Drink.  Sorry, not eggnog, beer etc…but water and other low-calorie drinks.  Although alcohol is fine in moderation, my point is that water will help keep you full so that when meal time comes you won’t be quite as hungry and therefore less likely to overeat.  I also have my clients keep their travel-friendly healthy snacks around, so they can eat this during downtime which also cuts down on the overeating at dinner.  You can also have someone else portion you that knows your goals (hubbies and wifeys I’m talking to you), so now you not only have the correct portions, but you get VIP service with your big holiday feast!  Try the “I’ll plate you and you plate me” format, and this alone can accomplish better portion sizes, or start a holiday fight…let’s hope for the better.

What advice can you give to preparing a “healthy” holiday dinner?

Keep it simple.  A lot of holiday dishes aren’t terrible themselves, it’s the sauces etc that come with them!  One way to enhance the health and keep the taste in your meal is to ditch your sauces and dressings when possible and replace them with low-sodium seasonings.  This cuts down on the calories, but it also enhances the fat-burning potential of your meal since many seasonings are what is called thermogenic, which is a fancy way of saying that it can aid in burning fat!

What struggles have you faced when eating during the holiday season and how have you overcome those obstacles?

My struggles don’t revolve around the food as much as the drinks!  There’s plenty of family time that goes into the holidays, and with that comes wines, whiskeys, beers and home made concoctions from my girlfriend’s family that could make Santa himself sleep through Christmas!  I overcome this  by sticking to higher concentrated drinks or even shots, and accompany this with water…or I simply make healthier drink choices.  For instance, instead of even a vodka-cranberry you can go with a vodka & seltzer water, pop a bit of flavoring in if needed and boom…you’re happy and so is your health, as long as you don’t have too many!

What is the biggest difficulty people face when it comes to fitness during the holiday season?

The biggest difficulty for people I feel is thinking that it’s difficult in the first place!  Don’t overthink it people…it’s the holidays and yes it is a time to be jolly, and yes that includes eating, drinking and being too busy eating and drinking to work out.  You really just have to pay attention to these variables, make a conscious effort to portion yourself and stay away from the aforementioned things and move as much as possible.  If you have time for a home-based workout then great…I actually have ebooks for this available on my site (jayjohnsonmlp.com/ebooks), but the goal for the holidays is to be smart, minimze damage and to maintain your goal-getting momentum throughout.

Should people eat protein along with their meals during the holiday season?

Absolutely!  Honestly, a lot of people don’t eat enough protein as it is, but especially when trying to limit your unhealthy carb and fat intake, protein is the way to get this done…but still within reason!  If you’re not sure on how much to eat then you can contact me through my site (jayjohnsonmlp.com/contact) and I can help you learn how to establish this.

How many meals should people eat during the course of the day?

For me, I design peoples’ programs towards the goal we are shooting to accomplish, and to form good habits on how to do this each day.  With that being said, it is usually 6 times per day I have the person eating…but this isn’t because it’s “better for the metabolism” or anything like that, it’s just because I have found that when there’s 3 big meals and 3 snacks, it’s a user-friendly enough format that makes building healthy habits easier…and we need this for long term success.

How often should people exercise during the holiday season?

I think that 2-3 times per week, even if it’s a home-based workout…but as I mentioned before just by thinking to MOVE as much as possible you are going to be adding a great bonus burn to these workouts!  Move as much as possible every day and shoot to work out 2-3 times per week for that added result.

How many hours should people sleep during the holiday season?

It should still be your typically recommended 7-8 hours per night, but this can be a challenge with family in town.  A minimum of 6 hours and maybe sneaking in a nap each day could get you there too, BUT I would recommend getting that workout in over the nap!

How much water should people consume to stay hydrated during the holidays?

With the added drinking and eating, as much water as possible!  These unhealthy temptations that will be around can tend to dehydrate you, so let’s keep it simple and say that you should drink 4 16-20oz bottles of your favorite water each day.

When is the best time for people to go on a diet during the holidays?

Never!  Anything that you “go on” just sets you up to “fall off”, or feel constrained to a set of rules that can seem impossible…because they are.  Focus on the small tips I’ve mentioned and gain these small victories when faced with challenges.  This “one challenge at a time” mentality will help you just form better habits within YOUR life, and you won’t feel like you have to do these crazy diets or try “what everyone else is doing” over and over again.  Healthy habits ensure that you will succeed and you won’t have to be afraid of rebounding or going back to where you were, since you never made huge unnecessary changes or crashed in any way to gain temporary success in the first place.

What are some good workouts to burn that extra turkey off from holiday dinner?

Good workouts for the holidays are body-weight based, since they can be done at home and are more time-friendly as well.  Along with this format, I like pairing upper body/core moves such as crunches or push-ups with lower body moves like quick squats to enhance the amount of blood flow from head to toe.  This enhances your calorie burn both during and after your workout through a method called Pulmonary Heart Activation Training (PHAT).  This is the method utilized in my FatBLAST 1.0 & AbBLAST ebooks, and both are home-friendly!  (jayjohnsonmlp.com/ebooks)

Should people plan their workouts ahead of time and if so, how far ahead should they plan?

Yes!  I still joke with my clients and say that I hate my trainer too, just like they do…because I plan my own workouts just like any other client!  The minimum should be 4 weeks ahead since this is done with a larger goal in mind and not just a daily goal of “I want a good workout”.  My clients’ programs are always 4-8 weeks and my online workout/nutrition packages reflect this since they are all priced in 8 week plans.  (jayjohnsonmlp.com/program-guidance)

Should people institute a scheduled “cheat day” for the holidays?

Not for the holidays, no.  I say this because the cheating will happen naturally during this time of year, so what you end up with is a “cheat day” and then every other day has spells of “well I just ate one” sprinkled throughout.  Once again, just make good choices and pay attention to your actions and goals throughout the holidays for ongoing habit building and success!

What is a good portion size people should maintain while eating this holiday season?

It may be weird, so you can do this mentally although I recommend actually doing this: plate yourself with as much as you think you should have, and then put a scoop back.  This is a simple way to immediately cut calories from your meal, especially when you think most holiday meals have 5-6 things going on, so one scoop of each thing can cut as many as 1000 calories!

Jay Johnson is an award-winning personal trainer & nutrition coach, and the owner/operator of Muscle Lab Performance (Team MLP) in Charlotte, NC. Team MLP offers a variety of fitness services including: private personal training, custom nutrition/workout program development & guidance, specialized ebook programs and more!

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