How to Eat Like a Runner Again After a Holiday Junk Binge

binge-1It’s that time of year. Many of us have celebrated the holidays for well over a month now. Our holiday diets may have deteriorated into cookies for breakfast, leftover cheesy casseroles for lunch, and dinners out with some beers or eggnog on the side. To make matters worse, we may have slacked on our running plans. The carefree attitudes of yesteryear may have us starting the month of January with bloated bellies and heads full of regrets. Don’t fret! Getting back on track can be easy and enjoyable.

Read on for dos and don’ts of getting over your holiday splurging and getting back to eating for optimal performance.

What you should NOT do

Feel guilty

So you had a good time with family and friends. This usually involves eating and drinking a lot. Would you take back the good times you had and the precious moments you shared to be back to your pre-holiday healthy self? Probably not. You have no reason to feel guilty for having fun and even overindulging at times. Accept the past and look towards the future.

Do not treat your diet as punishment for your past sins. Instead, resume a healthy lifestyle that you enjoy. Enjoy the process of good health, not just the results. Savor activities such as cooking and eating foods that are nourishing for your body. To make it easier and more fun, enlist the help of friends. Go on group runs or join a yoga, spinning, Zumba, or anything class. Set up a healthy cooking girls night in. Committing to others holds you accountable for showing up and increases your chances of eating better and feeling like your pre-holiday self.

Try a cleanse or detox

For those who feel so inclined, there is a time and a place. I have even done one myself! However, I do not advise a post-holiday cleanse because this goes along with the feelings of guilt and punishment, not to mention science does not back up the claim that you can detox or cleanse your body of toxins by starving yourself and drinking cayenne pepper and lemon juice topped off with vinegar. Your liver and kidneys work 24/7 doing that by themselves. But I digress.

By indulging in holiday junk eating and drinking and then telling yourself you need a cleanse, you set up a mentality of punishment. You can be healthy without fasting, starving, punishing, or isolating yourself. Want to do a one-week juice fast? Forget going out to lunch with friends or even having a cookie with coworkers in the break room at your work. You will feel as though you are being punished and you will be more likely to fail at healthy living in the future. You will also look back on the fun times you had with friends and associate those times with eating and drinking yummy delights. And try to do a long run after drinking only juice for a week. No thanks!

Life should not be lived in an all or nothing manner. Balance is the key.

Up your mileage too quickly

Every January, the gym is packed with “resolutioners”. You know, those people who never go to the gym but then make a New Year’s resolution to go to the gym two hours a day seven days a week starting January 2nd. This phase usually lasts until about February. Many of them drop out due to injury or mental burn out. If you attempt to become a different person, you know like someone who runs seventy miles a week rather than thirty, overnight, things aren’t going to go well for you and it’s not what indulging in holiday goodness warrants. Instead, ease into a new plan because you want to train, not to lose the couple of pounds you gained noshing on pie.

So what SHOULD you do?

Say it’s ok

Do you ever encounter those people who seem to have it all together? They’re faking it. No one’s lives are perfect and everyone struggles in different ways. So you fell off your diet and missed some runs. It may have been a few weeks or even a few years. It’s ok. Even the elites take long breaks in between training cycles. We can’t train at 100 percent all year round. And we can’t eat perfectly all the time. Accept what happened and make a plan for the future. Write down a long term plan but take it a day at a time. For instance, eat three servings of vegetables today.  Write down your daily nutrition goals so they are tangible and more attainable.

Get a training plan

I know. I just said NOT to go overboard on an exercise plan. Instead, start gradually. If you have a good mileage base and aspire to do a spring marathon, get on a training plan. Having a training plan, if you didn’t before, will help you feel more structured and better able to view food as fuel again. Most marathon plans are 16-18 weeks. January is the perfect time to begin a training plan. If you are just getting back into running after a break, look at some lower mileage plans, as they will still hold you accountable. Better yet, join a running group that meets regularly. Whatever you think will help you get where you want to go.

Devise a nutrition plan

Again, if you attempt to become a different person and completely change your diet overnight, chances are you will fail. If your daily diet consisted of pizza, beer, cookies and soda, don’t expect a smooth transition to one of beet juice smoothies and kale. Instead, aim to change one thing at a time. For instance, limit sugary alcohol, soda, and other sweetened drinks. Eat more of the good stuff. If you place a ban on a food or drink, that item will seem all the more tempting. Allow yourself to have some of your old favorites but in moderation. When it comes to diet, steer clear of the terms “don’t”, “no”, and “never.” And stick with, “healthy,” “delicious,” “will make me feel great on my run tomorrow morning.”

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Eat enough – focus on improving quality rather than limiting quantity

After a period of overdoing the junk, you may feel tempted to cut calories to get back to “race weight”. However, this will mess with your blood sugar and make you more likely to fall victim to binging on unhealthy foods later on. Eat a solid three meals each day and you won’t be as hungry for the less healthful items. Be patient. And trust that with a healthy performance-focused diet along with your running, your body will get where it needs to be.

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Old school research indicates that it takes just 21 days for activities to become habits. So instead of the “New Year, New You!” mentality, think, “New Year, SAME You but With a Renewed Nutrient-rich, Performance-focused Diet!”

Did you overdo it this holiday season? How do you get back on track?

I am a dedicated runner and classical musician. I am currently chasing a sub-3 hour marathon (3:00:38 PR). I often feel like the underdog going up against "serious" runners-I took up running after college, I do not have a typical "runner's body type", and I am mostly self-coached. I travel a lot to perform with different orchestras and run when I can, where I can. I love to (over) eat and that is my number one motivation for running! Follow me as I chase my goals!

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