How can you help your clients enjoy the holidays without gaining weight? Try these suggestions from a dietitian and veteran trainers.

Create a Plan for Success

“My most successful clients have been those who have a plan in place before the holidays begin,” explains Julie Burks, MS, RD, CSSD, ACE Expert and Semper Fit Sports Dietitian, U.S. Marine Corps, in San Diego. Burks says these clients succeed by doing the following things:

  • adhering to regular workouts (designed by a trainer) or at least 30 minutes of walking daily, and committing to using the stairs and parking their cars farther away from their destination
  • following meal plans that include breakfast every day, frequent small meals, fruits and veggies at each meal and sufficient water
  • eating a healthy snack before attending holiday gatherings
  • going easy on alcohol, caffeine, energy drinks and soda
  • eating foods that combat stress (salmon, tuna, turkey, chicken, beans and legumes, walnuts and other nuts, flaxseed, olive oil, whole grains, oats, asparagus, spinach and other dark green veggies, pomegranate, berries and dark chocolate (72% cocoa or higher)
  • using relaxation techniques that reach the pleasure center of the brain (yoga, meditation, hot baths, great music, sex)
  • recruiting the help of supportive people (spouses, significant others, friends, family, trainers)
  • removing temptations from the house
  • getting 6–8 hours of sleep per night
  • asking for help when feeling overwhelmed
  • having a nonfood reward system
  • enjoying fun and humor!

Do the Math

“My first tip for clients is to be realistic with what food and drink they have in their homes—to keep only ‘normal’ amounts and have healthy alternatives on hand where possible,” says Tom Godwin, managing director of Foresight Fitness in Manchester, England. “If we are in an environment with high-calorie, poor-quality food, we are much more likely to pile on weight.”

Godwin also relies on math to make a point. “I let clients know just how many calories they can easily consume during the festive season,” he says. “In many cases the clients may not even realize how much they could be eating! I have a chart that shows a range of different seasonal foods, snacks and drinks, with the calories in each. I then translate these calories into hours of exercise clients would need to do to work them off. This strategy normally helps them understand the energy cost of eating that extra meal.”

Move Focus Away From Food

“One of the most important ways I help my clients prepare for the holidays is by working with them year-round to develop effective strategies that will allow them to overcome personal challenges to healthy eating,” explains Dana Schlossberg Weatherspoon, MS, MPH, ACE-Certified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor and owner of Custom Health Concepts in Arlington, Virginia. “The holidays pose a particular subset of challenges, but oftentimes my clients can manage them with the same techniques they use in circumstances such as dining out, celebrations and vacations.”

She also helps clients reframe the way they think about holidays. “While we talk about the holiday ‘season,’ for most of us there are really only a few key days or events that can trigger overeating,” she says. “I ask clients to look at their holiday calendars and decide when and how they would like to treat themselves. I remind them that they can ‘budget’ for these occasions by sticking to their physical activity routines and eating healthfully during the rest of the season. I really try to help people redirect their focus away from holiday foods and onto family, friends, traditions and whatever personal, religious or spiritual meaning they find in the season.”

For more strategies on helping clients deal with food during the holidays, please see “Tricks of the Trade” in the online IDEA Library or in the November–December 2012 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal.