How to Stay on Track With Your Fitness Goals During the Holidays

Two lifters posing near a power rack

Connor Kovacs hears it every year: “I was doing so great with my goals in September. Then the holidays hit.” 

It doesn’t have to be that way.  

The last few months of the year don’t have to be all that bad on our health and fitness – and in truth, they actually aren’t, says Kovacs, an IFBB classic physique pro and competitive/lifestyle coach. The statistics back this up. 

The idea of holiday weight gain is an overhyped myth. The average American only gains one pound during the holiday season. That’s hardly something to panic about (and who’s to say that’s real fat gain and not just due to extra sodium and water retention?). 

Yet between the parties and the financial strain (and the stress of trying to figure out which freaking bulb is out that’s causing the entire string of lights to go black omg), no one can dispute our patterns get disrupted this time of year. And this can lead to a dominoes effect, where you have one off day and that becomes the new norm. That’s why Kovacs urges people to be wary of an all-or-nothing mindset.   

“Have a good plate of dinner and dessert, and most importantly, don’t get down on yourself for enjoying your life. That’s the worst thing you can do – wake up in the morning after Thanksgiving and think you have to make up for the food you ate or talk negatively to yourself. That’s not the way to live, and that’s not the way to go about pursuing your goals,” Kovacs says.  

Celebrate. Indulge. And the next day, get right back on track, he says.  

A weighted ball resting on the ground

For perspective, there are 61 days in November and December. If you eat three meals a day, that’s 183 meals during these two months. Thanksgiving dinner is one. Christmas Eve makes two. Throw in a few more parties. Even 10 off-plan meals out of 183 barely register in the bigger picture. 

The issue isn’t those 10 parties. It’s the 173 other missed opportunities to return to your regular routine rather than giving up entirely. It’s the snowball effect.

And Kovacs discourages people from trying to “make up” for a piece of pumpkin pie.  

“That doesn’t exist. That’s a major trend among people who have fitness or physique goals, and a major pain point for some,” he says. “People obsess unnecessarily, trying to be perfect. They think they need to ‘make up for it,’ when the best thing you can do for your body and goals is to enjoy yourself, relax, and just go back to the regularly scheduled programming the next day. It’ll always be fine.”  

Just remember balance and moderation, he says.  

Sure, there may be higher demands during the holiday season, but there’s nothing that says you can’t treat life like normal.  

“Maybe you have to go to the store or your child has a Christmas event, but your kid has soccer in the spring and school events on a random April day also,” Kovacs says. “The habits you build for yourself throughout the normal parts of the year should be directly transferrable to the holiday season.”  

Woman lifting in her home gym near her family

Still fine-tuning your routine?

Here are some more strategies to help you create a system to carry you through the holiday season:  

  1. Plan ahead. Create a plan. On Sundays, prepare and portion out all your meals for the week. Put your workouts on your calendar. One of the best ways to ensure success, even amid stress, is to have a plan and stick to it. Bonus: This is one less thing you have to think about and decide throughout the week. 
  2. Exercise in the morning. Get up early and get in your workout before work and all the demands of life start flooding in. Plus, this will give you energy throughout the day and start the day on a positive note. 
  3. Drink your water. Drinking plenty of water is an easy, free way to improve your health that takes up zero extra time in your day. 
  4. Bring healthy food to share. If you’re unsure about the food at a holiday party or event you’re attending, make (or buy) a healthy dish to share. Not only will this help keep you on track with your food, but it’s also courteous – and provides alternatives for your friends and fam, too.  
  5. Sleep, sleep, sleep. Getting enough sleep has a huge impact on your health and costs approximately zero dollars and demands exactly zero effort. It’s the (literally) easiest way to improve your health. Even if you can’t get in your workout or meals for the day, get in your zzz’s. 
  6. Find a friend. Having an accountability buddy can help you through the hard days and normalize healthy choices that make you feel good.  
  7. Add some action. Food isn’t the only kind of tradition out there, you know. Make some new family traditions this year, like a Christmas Eve walk through the neighborhood to look at lights or an annual ski trip. Buy active gifts. Find ways to get up off the couch and make some active memories with your crew. 
  8. Travel wisely. Pack for success when you travel. Here are 10 pieces of equipment you can add to your packing list.