Christmas is upon us. I'm still trying to figure out how fast it comes around every year. This is the time of year where we start to wind down. Training seems to get interrupted thanks to parties and shopping and on top of that, we are indulging in all our favourite food and drink because, why not? It’s Christmas! So why do we feel so guilty when it’s all said and done?
The pervasive diet culture has much to do with this and even more so through social media. The messages regularly peddled out from articles and fitness accounts end up creeping into our psyches insidiously and embed themselves there. Leading us to manifest obsessive behaviour and to have feelings of guilt or shame when we haven't trained hard or eaten ‘clean.’ This eventually forms a damaging mental and emotional relationship with food and exercise. This is no less prevalent during the festive season. You may see articles promoting healthy swaps such as sweet potato mash instead of Yorkshire puds, encouraging readers to make ‘smart’ choices to lessen calories and not fall victim to ‘bad’ foods like chocolate or alcohol etc.
As a trainer, I’m finding an increase in responsibility towards clients to overturn the harmful programming they have been exposed to – re-educating them in order to build a healthy alliance between food and exercise. Fitness is not exclusively about aesthetics, this is why I emphasise rest days, eating a balanced diet that includes so-called ‘unhealthy/sinful/naughty’ foods, and an overall appreciation of fitness as a long term process. By doing so, the goal is to procure feelings of motivation, strength, health and accomplishment along the way.
Furthermore, what I want my clients to understand about training is that it’s cyclical by nature, not linear. It’s not constant, incremental progress from the day you start until the day you stop. You will have peaks and also troughs. You will take three steps forward only to find you have to take two steps back. This is down to a multitude of reasons, such as illness, injuries, holidays, work and yes, Christmas!
This is why I want to let you guys know that it’s perfectly okay to indulge yourselves during the festive season. If this time of the year means it’s your chance to relax and prioritise time with your family and friends, then do so. Alternatively, if you love training like me and you do have time to fit in exercise, then go for it! This article isn’t intended to dissuade you from exercise. What I am trying to remonstrate against is the notion that you need to train in order to earn your Christmas dinner and feeling the accompanying anxiety and unhappiness that abounds when you can’t.
There is a fine line between your love for training and your addiction to it. If guilt underpins your motivation rather than love, you may need to explore why it’s the former and not the latter. It may well be the social media messages you are exposing yourself to. So rather than forcing yourself to follow a script that social media has set out for you – relax! If Christmas means your foot is off the training gas and you lose a bit of strength or fitness or put on a few kgs, it’s okay. You can jump right on the band wagon when you return to your regular scheduling. This concatenation is perfectly normal and in fact, it allows you to learn and master your physical, mental and emotional correlation to food and exercise. This is why it’s so important to enjoy the long journey because it becomes part of who you are.
So please put down that article with the recipe for the gluten-free, protein packed, chia seed mince pie alternative and look forward to having a proper one instead. With brandy butter AND a glass of wine. Why not? It's Christmas after all!
About the author: Natasha Jawad is a personal trainer and Sundried ambassador.