Indulgences and regrets: avoiding the holiday-party pitfalls

Holiday party hijinks / Image source: firmex.com
Holiday party hijinks / Image source: firmex.com

Indulgences and regrets: avoiding the holiday-party pitfalls

Whether it’s a large-scale work event or just a few friends gathering to celebrate the end of the year, it’s holiday party season. While most of us look forward to getting dressed up and spending time with friends and family, there is also a quiet dread that those of us working towards a goal must face. Will the holiday party send me off-course?

Instead of designating the weeks leading up to Christmas to New Year’s Eve as a complete fitness wasteland, here are ways to stay on track.

  • Eat before you go: Buffets, food stations, even sit-down meals can be full of foods that you would never consider. However, once they are brought to you on silver trays, these highly caloric treats can be too hard to ignore. If you’ve arrived on an empty stomach, it will be even harder to say “no thanks.” Make sure you eat at least an hour before your party so you aren’t attacking the buffet like there’s no tomorrow.  

The open bar is not your friend

  • Make choices: Whether it’s sweets or savoury options, restraint will only take you so far. So indulge in only the foods you know you love. This is not the time to try everything, but instead find one or two of your favourites and help yourself.
  • Beware the open bar: The open bar is not your friend. To help navigate the open bar, make sure that every other drink is water. Keeping hydrated will ensure that alcohol won’t go to your head. If you do end up drinking more than you expected, have a Gatorade or other electrolyte drink before bed to fight off a hangover.
  • Burn some calories on the dance floor: Dancing is a great way to get your heart rate up. Don’t worry about being self-conscious — once you get out there, the dance floor is a judgement-free zone.
  • Don’t be the last one there: You might have serious FOMO if you leave before last call — but you don’t need to shut down the party. The longer you are there, the more you are likely to overindulge. We also know how critical sleep is to a healthy lifestyle, so extending your party stay may interfere with your precious sleeptime. 
  • Work in your workouts: Use the time you have wisely. If you can only spare 20 minutes, take advantage of the circumstances. Instead of writing off exercise until the new year when things slow down, opt for a quickly 20-minute HIIT routine. Do a yoga routine at home from an app instead of taking a class.

Don’t let December become a dead zone for diet and exercise. There’s no need to start the new year overcoming two weeks of indulgences. Instead, do what you can and be mindful when attending gatherings. There’s no need to derail your progress while enjoying yourself.

Having fitness goals is a great idea, but be smart about it

Smart fitness goals: woman running across a bridge. Image credit: SoPosted.com

Setting fitness goals is a great idea, but you want to be smart about it

For many of us, deciding to start on our health and wellness journey begins with a goal. We may find ourselves winded after climbing the stairs with groceries or receive an invitation to a 25th reunion. Something sparks inside us and says: “it’s time to get healthy” or “it’s time to lose weight.” This will be the motivation we need to take that first step. The idea has been planted in our heads and  it’s time to make positive changes.

But how do you know if you’re setting a realistic goal for yourself? What’s the difference between declaring “I want to get healthy” and “I want do 45 minutes of cardio, three times of week”?  And which approach will be more successful?

No matter if you’re setting a goal for business or fitness, success is most often achieved when goals are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Reasonable, and Timely. What does this actually mean?

Specific: “I want to get healthy” is not a specific goal. What does “healthy” mean to you? Is it reducing your bad cholesterol numbers? Maybe it means snacking less on unhealthy foods and bringing your lunch from home. Think about the one thing that you want to achieve and make it very specific and personal.

Measurable: How do you measure “healthy?” By having a number as a target, you can achieve your intentions. Quantifying your goals makes your achievement clear. Did you go to the gym four times this week? Did you perform six pull-ups? Were you able to climb three flights of stairs? Either you did it or you didn’t. There’s nothing in between.

Action-Oriented: If you want to “get healthy,” there’s no concrete set of action steps to adopt. How will you get healthy? Whether it’s writing down everything you eat in a journal or not bailing on your interval training class when you would rather crash, your actions have consequences. What actions will you take?

Reasonable: If you said your goal was to run a marathon by October and you had never participated in a 5 KM run before — I would say that your goal would be unreasonable. However, if you wanted to run a marathon in October, 2019, and you were prepared to commit to training five days a week for the next year, I would applaud your dedication and we would work on a plan. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming and imagining ourselves achieving (and even surpassing) our goals. But we all need a shot of reality.

Timely: By setting a time-frame to achieve your goal, you will be more motivated to stay on track. It gives us something to work towards and an actual framework to work within. This isn’t the mindset of “special occasion” weight loss (which we’ve previously discussed), but a logical, measurable length of time.

One of the joys of setting SMART goals is that you can fall in love with the process. It’s not about the quick fix but the longer journey. Instead of focusing on the “when,” it’s a concrete plan for “how.” By breaking down your goal into very specific parts, you can track your success.

Take a look at your goal — and then take it apart. Tweak and adjust it until it’s SMART and you can evaluate your progress every week in a clear way. Did you achieve everything you set out to do? If not, what needs to change? Minor adjustments will keep you focused and increase the probability of attaining what you are setting out to achieve.

Spinning isn’t scary: a group workout that lets you forget about what you’re wearing

Spinning class / Image credit: Duvine.com

Spinning isn't scary: a group workout that lets you forget about what you're wearing

At its very core, spinning is a cardio workout on a stationary bicycle in a group exercise environment. Despite the rise in studios with their expensive merchandise and inspirational mantras, spinning is not an elite activity that should be only attempted by those looking for a transformational experience. It can be intimidating to set foot in these highly curated environments and feel out-of-place in your worn gym clothes.

But if you are curious about trying spinning, here’s what happens once you enter the darkened world of the studio.  It’s not scary. It’s fun, challenging, and highly individualized. And you are in control of the workout the entire time.

At your first class, make sure to get the instructor’s help setting up your bike. Every studio has slightly different equipment so it’s worth checking in with the staff about proper form. If you need to clip in with special spinning shoes, don’t worry if it takes you a while to get the hang of it. Even between studios, each bike may have their own particular quirk. It helps to step into the pedal and snap down as if you were in motion. Like any piece of equipment, the more you are familiar with it, the easier it gets. Again, don’t be afraid to ask the staff for help clipping in.

Most spin studios are incorporating one session of arm exercises as part of the 50-minute class. Make sure to check the weights on your bike and adjust as necessary. The arm workout is not long but it can be challenging. Choose a weight that you think you can work with and will accommodate biceps, triceps, and shoulder reps.

During the class, the instructor may turn up the music or their microphone very loudly to encourage an atmosphere of intensity. Some studios have earplugs available so don’t be shy about grabbing a pair (or bring your own!) if you are sensitive to noise. It’s better to be comfortable than in pain — some of the instructors are loud. Really loud.

Throughout the class, you’ll be guided through each song. The instructor will suggest how much tension to add to the bike. You can adjust as necessary. Because spin is an individual exercise in a group activity, it’s ideal for people who are just starting out or recovering from an injury. You can work at your own pace or even feel free to change up the activity. Studios are usually dark, even candle-lit, so it won’t be obvious if you are unable to keep pace with the pack. Do your own workout or follow the instructor. As long as you are challenging yourself, you’ll be fine.

In other blogs, we’ve discussed exercise types that are conducive to forming cults of personality. Lead by charismatic instructors or studio owners who believe their own hype, these people can cloud the true purpose of the activity. Spin has recently become one of those places where aesthetics appears to be more important than athletics. Don’t be dissuaded. By focusing on what is happening inside the studio, and ignoring the racks of t-shirts with inspirational sayings, you will be treated to a 50-minute workout that will push you and have you returning for another session.

Don’t let over-hyped evaluations get you down

Trainer discussing evaluation with client. Image credit: Youfit Health Clubs

Don't let over-hyped 'evaluations'
get you down

When you join a gym, many of them offer you a “free evaluation.” Fuelled with images of your new body and setting the record of pull-ups, you make an appointment with a gym personal trainer to see how close you are to your goal.

I have very rarely heard of these appointments going well. As a personal trainer, I am often confronted by my own clients following their initial evaluation. They could not perform the activities. They were called obese. They were pushed to perform exercises that damaged their body.

They felt like failures.

What my clients don’t realize is that there’s no such thing as a free evaluation. These one-on-one sessions are designed to sell personal training sessions. The gym environment is extremely competitive, and personal trainers often have to fight for clients. Offering new clients an evaluation is a trick to make them feel like they are extremely out of shape and can only be rescued by a personal trainer.

The fitness evaluation is a tricky thing. As there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to training, there is also no one-size-fits-all fitness evaluation. Instead, personal training is a give-and-take relationship with clients opening up about what they want from a session (or long-term plan) and a trainer constantly refining what exercises will help them achieve their goal. The trainers at most gyms quickly use a series of tests to gauge where they think a client is at — and select the exercises that will best highlight the weakness.

Evaluation as sales technique

I am not saying that personal trainers at gyms are unprofessional or unqualified. The truth is that they are under extreme pressure to retain their jobs and build a clientele. In a numbers-driven sales environment, trainers are pushed to make a hard sell to potential clients. These environments do not prioritize the trainer-client relationship. Instead, it’s about the numbers.

If you do join a gym and are offered a free evaluation, there’s nothing stopping you from giving it a try. Do not take the experience personally and remember the real reason behind the evaluation. However, there’s a simple way to test your fitness at a new gym that doesn’t involve the hard sell: take a class or try out a new piece of cardio equipment.

Instead of feeling badly about yourself, why not start your gym relationship positively? The potential to build a new skill and a challenge to conquer will keep you coming back to the gym — not feeling badly about yourself.

Take heart: hitting a plateau means you’re getting closer to your goal

woman holding scale and screaming because she's hit a plateau. Image credit: diyhcg.com

Take heart: hitting a plateau means you're getting closer to your goal

We’ve all experienced this: you step on the scale after a week where you rejected the office “it’s Thursdays so let’s have cake” celebration and swapped after work socializing for a killer run…only to find the numbers remain the same. How is this possible, you ask yourself. Why didn’t I indulge? And the whys and the hows just keep on coming.

Plateaus are extremely frustrating when you’ve been focused on your goal and find yourself stuck. But here’s the thing… if you weren’t moving towards your goal, you wouldn’t be stuck. A plateau is not failure. It’s the indication that you are moving towards your healthier life and away from your starting point.

I encourage my clients to start with a measurable goal in mind — whether it’s a number, a size, a rep count, or a weight amount. We make a plan and emphasize small changes along the way. Every week is an opportunity to make small modifications to the journey. Whether it’s logging food in a journal or adding an extra weights session, one change a week is not overwhelming and provides a sense of accomplishment. The following week, we’ll add another small change.

All these little changes add up to eventual results. I always emphasize that slow progress is about changing the behaviours … and making a lasting impact. Like all changes, at first this can be uncomfortable. Shaking up the routine and taking yourself off automatic can be tough. Finding yourself saying “no thanks” and putting yourself first is difficult. But we have to remind ourselves that we are doing this so we can be better and take care of others.

A plateau is when you get comfortable. It’s a signal that your body is getting used to these positive changes. If you want to keep moving towards your goal, you need to feel uncomfortable again.

To get back on track, we need to assess what’s going on with your diet and exercise by ….

Switching up your exercise 

Try a new class, activity, or ask for heavier weights. You need to feel challenged again — even if that’s holding a yin yoga pose for five minutes and just breathing through it.

Checking your food diary

It’s time to take a critical look at your food journal. Are there any trends that you’re noticing? If you thought you would give that food diary a break, it’s time to get back into writing everything/recording everything.

Although it might feel like you’re starting all over again, go back to the one change a week philosophy. What will you do this week to challenge yourself? How will you get yourself out of the plateau rut? Instead of being frustrated, it’s time for a reset and a celebration. A plateau is just a rest that reminds you that you’re on the right track … and you can keep going.  


Laura's question of the week

Have you ever hit a plateau? (Hint: the correct answer is always “yes.”) Was it weight loss? Strength? Flexibility? Aerobic endurance? How did you get past it? Let us know in the comments!

Plateau Point trail sign in the Grand Canyon. Image credit: artoftall.com

Making a commitment to fitness: Day One is today

Commitment: balance ball silhouette illustration
Commitment: balance ball silhouette illustration

Making a commitment to fitness: Day One is today


Commitment can be a pain.

You know you’ve done this at least once. We probably all have. It’s Day One. It’s the magic day when you will actually start working on yourself. Whether it’s tomorrow or Monday or the first of the month, we’ve all pushed off our start day to one that feels more “real.”

In the meantime, we give ourselves permission to indulge in the habits that we are trying to break: a last supper of all the foods that are going to be our no-goes in the future, another day of sleeping in instead of hitting the gym early, or another day of late night bingewatching instead of getting those eight hours of sleep. Whatever your goal, you’ve probably found your own little way of avoiding it. And it’s okay because tomorrow, or Monday, or June 1st … That’s when you’re going to get serious about your goals.

Things get real

And then the monumental day comes and you forget to set your alarm. Or it’s someone’s birthday at work and you just have to have a piece of cake. Or you start your first run and your running belt breaks, leaving your keys and cash all over the sidewalk. Well, so much for Day One. Now, you’re off track until next week. Or next month.

And it happens again. And again.

Break the pattern

So instead of building up Day One as the only time to get on track, why not forget about Day One altogether? Instead, look at the small things you can do today to help you work towards your goal.

Look to today and not tomorrow — and celebrate your small accomplishments instead of focusing on a bigger goal. What did you do today for yourself?


Visit our personal training page and meet our trainers!

Treadmill shot for commitment post

Laura's challenge of the week

Find one thing that gets in the way of you keeping your commitment to yourself. It doesn’t have to be anything big; little things are often easier to find, and easier to change. That’s how good things start. 

Questions? Suggestions? Let me know!