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Tracking Macros vs. Holiday Meals – How to Survive the Onslaught of Massive Meals
The holidays can be an overwhelming and intimidating time for anyone that is trying to hit their macros. There are so many calorie dense foods around, sugary sweets, carb loaded and buttery deliciousness. Not only are many of our favorite holiday dishes calorie dense, we tend to have lots of options and heaping portions available to us as well.
This year, don’t be afraid of the sweet potato casserole and don’t run away from the pumpkin pie. There are many ways in which you can navigate through the holidays without going horribly overboard on your macros or even hitting them right on the money. I plan on teaching you how to not only survive the holidays with your body composition and diet goals intact but also how to enjoy the time with your family and still make your macro aims work.
Remember the most important part of the holidays
The holidays are a great opportunity to spend time with the people that you care about. The last thing you need is one more variable adding extra stress to the mix. It can become easy to alienate family and friends or to unintentionally guilt them if you make too big of a scene. Letting people know you have goals and need to stay within certain parameters to meet them may help your loved ones to understand why you may choose to eat less, or not partake in certain dishes.
IIFYM is all about enjoying all the different aspects of life while keeping them in moderation to promote good health. The holidays are no different and moderation can be a big key to making it through the holidays with your macros intact. Going overboard doesn’t have to happen and here are some tips on how to enjoy everything the holidays can offer.
Set yourself up for success
Mentally preparing for the festivities is great, but physically preparing for the festivities may be a better option. Here are a couple tips to help set yourself up mentally and physically so that you can successfully adhere to your macronutrient goals.
1. Take some time beforehand to get an idea of what the macros will entail with your holiday meals – This will give you an idea of how to address your meals and how to set up macros while allowing yourself enough wiggle room to stay on target. Go into your tracking app and look at your family’s typical holiday dishes, that way you have a better starting point of how much of your daily macros that you will need to set aside to stay on point.
My preferred method for tracking alcohol is to use the overall caloric value of the beverage and then divide by either 4 to take it from carbs, or 9 to subtract it from fats.
2. Know where you stand – Not everyone can expect to be maintaining on 400+ carbs and 100+ fats, recognize where you stand metabolically and plan accordingly. Don’t allow yourself the opportunity to end up too low on your macros that all hope becomes lost.
3. Decrease your macro numbers for the days surrounding your holiday meals – Decreasing your overall calorie intake for some of the surrounding days gives you more of a cushion on the actual holiday. For example, taking 10g of carbs out of each other day during the week gives you an extra 60g of carbs to eat on the day of.
4. Stick to more “Bro” foods in your meals – Vegetables are a great way in which to eat a larger volume of food without killing your calorie and macronutrient numbers. This also helps to avoid having a light or empty plate that may garner comments from friends and family. Having lots of voluminous food sources during the holidays can also help you hit your fiber goals as well as getting in important micronutrients.
5. You may have to skimp on your breakfast or dinner – This will give you more calories to spend on your larger meal/s, strive to not overdo it too much or you will end up hungry later. Remember that your macro numbers are for the whole day, while it’s not necessarily optimal, you can most certainly take macros away from other meals so you can better fit the larger meals during the holidays.
Ok, so you’ve prepared beforehand, now what?
Having a plan of action beforehand is great but life doesn’t always go as planned. Things happen and situations change so you may have to adapt a bit when it comes to your holiday meals. Stay relaxed and don’t freak out, there are still plenty of other ways to stick to your numbers. Here are some “day of” pieces of advice to help you stay on track.
Pay attention to your alcohol intake
Alcohol can be a huge roadblock in terms of staying on track with your macros. Remember the actual alcohol compound garners 7 calories per gram and that is normally what accounts for the difference in calories on labeling (i.e. 120 calorie beer with only 4g of carbs). If you are drinking distilled spirits, you will need to account for differentiating alcohol content in those as well and it will depend on the proof of the beverage.
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Make sure you pay attention because drinking is an easy way to overconsume on your macros. My preferred method for tracking alcohol is to use the overall caloric value of the beverage and then divide by either 4 to take it from carbs, or 9 to take it from fats. You can also use a mixture of the two, and subtract those numbers from your fat and carbohydrate intake. This way you can alleviate any concerns with over consumption while still relaxing and enjoying an adult beverage.
If your macros are low perhaps you may want to refrain from drinking or at least keep it to a minimum. That philosophy may not work for everyone, but remember that you have goals to hit and that 7 calories per gram can add up quickly.
“HIIT” the weights
When you perform resistance training, your caloric expenditure is increased. Therefore, training day macro recommendations are typically higher than non-training days. If you can make time to hit the weights, then do it. You will give yourself that much more cushion to work with in terms of staying within your macronutrient goals for the day. If you’re worried about it, try to keep the intensity up and keep the pace going, of course, monitor yourself to make sure you are staying within safe boundaries and preventing injury.
This is something we refer to as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption or EPOC.
High-Intensity Interval Training is another option you can utilize to help mitigate your calorie intake as well. As a coach, if I have a client who does HIIT cardio on a certain day, with or without weight training, they still get to eat their training day macros for the day. The great part about HIIT cardio is that due to the intensity of the exercise, your caloric expenditure afterward is increased. HIIT is just another instrument in the toolbox to help set you up for success.
Portion control is always easier said than done. Take a couple bites, when it stops being world changing, stop eating… yeah because that is a foolproof plan (insert sarcasm here because I certainly can’t make this work). When you’re setting up your plate, remember to hit the veggies and proteins to help fill you up and to fully load your plate.
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Try to keep the calorie dense foods in check by not giving yourself a lot of room for them on the plate, especially if your macros are getting scarce. You don’t have to have one piece of every pie, and if you do, cut it yourself so “one piece” doesn’t end up being a quarter of the pie. Make sure you know how much you have left on your numbers and decide beforehand whether to allow yourself to have seconds.
Over-estimate your plate
Just because it’s the holiday doesn’t mean it’s time to stop tracking, if anything, the abundance of food and depending on your goals, they may make tracking even more important. Let’s be real here, bringing your food scale to the family festivities probably isn’t going to go over well with everyone. Yet, if your loved ones are cool with it, that’s a huge plus but here’s an idea if it may be a taboo. Our goal for everyone to be comfortable and enjoy the day but if a scale is frowned upon, it makes it a little more difficult. No big deal, take a deep breath and relax, there is a solution.
Over-estimate what you put on your plate, just assume you’re having more than you think.
Most families have traditional meals or staple holiday meals (turkey, ham, stuffing, cranberry sauce etc.). Since we should have at least an idea, we can guesstimate our portions to a degree. My advice is to plan for what you know will be there beforehand so you at least have a starting point. After that over-estimate what you put on your plate, just assume you’re having more than you think. It’s easy to get carried away while you’re enjoying your time with family and friends, so being exact on your portions may not be your greatest concern at that moment.
Doing this can help alleviate some of your concerns about hitting your macros. There are a lot of uncontrollable variables concerning holiday meals, especially if you aren’t the one preparing the food. If we overestimate our intake a bit, we don’t have to worry if there was more butter than we had thought, or if we got a larger scoop of ice cream than intended. This is just one more way to give yourself some wiggle room and stay on track.
Don’t intentionally go over on macros, but if you do, keep it manageable
As I said earlier, it’s not the worst situation ever to have to reallocate macros throughout the week. If you find that you have gone over on your intake, don’t beat yourself up you can lower your macro goals for the next couple of days to minimize any overall excessive overeating for the week. It can be easy to get into the “screw it” mindset and simply go all out.
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Remember, it is just one day and there’s always a method to do some “damage control” if you went over on your numbers. There are always ways to get back on track, consistency is king when talking about diet goals. Don’t allow yourself to let one poor meal turn into a bad day and then a bad day into a bad week and so on.
IIFYM is so much more than just how you eat
Don’t forget, IIFYM principles apply to your life also. Life is this crazy thing and you should make the best out of it while you can. Do your best to stay on track with your goals but remember that the holidays have a very special importance of their own.
Enjoy your time with the people you love, share old memories and make new ones. The holidays are a beautiful and wonderful thing, do your best to set yourself up for success, but also remember that tomorrow is always a new day. If you miss the mark you have a couple ways to help mitigate the overconsumption, so don’t fret. Set yourself up as best as you can, but even more importantly have a truly happy holiday.