A Runners Guide To Navigating The Holidays

Updated: Nov 11

By Holley Samuel MEd, RD, LD, CPT

As we enter the holiday season, many people- whether they are athletes or not- may find themselves experiencing certain struggles. The holiday season is the “offseason” for many when it comes to training, which can be a welcome break for some or leave other runners feeling uncertain and off-schedule. Runners may also struggle with body image, nutrition choices, alcohol consumption, seasonal depression, holiday-related mental health issues, and more this time of year. If this is you, know you aren’t alone!

If you struggle with body image, your relationship with food, and feeling confident in navigating the holidays, check out the tips below.

Practice Mindful Eating

Much of the stress around holiday gatherings is related to food. This comes from a negative relationship with food and perhaps alcohol or simply being out of your typical eating environment. Identifying what about the food or eating environment is stressful may be a good place to start. Is it stressful because you have a restrictive mindset around a particular food or alcoholic drink? Where does that restriction come from & does it serve you well? Know that if you’re stressed about food, that usually means the restriction isn’t serving you well. Food should not cause stress.

Many runners struggle because they are exposed to foods that they don’t give themselves permission to eat any other time of the year. Know that you’re allowed to have these dishes or foods any time of year. This takes the control away from the food and brings you back to your own intuition so you can stay present in the moment instead of obsessing about the food that you see as forbidden because you never allow yourself to have it. This process is called food habituation, where being exposed to foods repetitively over time eventually leads to a sense of control and self-regulation effortlessly around all foods. This won’t happen overnight and may take years, but the time will pass anyway, so it is beneficial to start working through this now one step at a time.

Allowing yourself unconditional permission to have any and all foods may seem scary at first, but this is a necessary step in the process to improve your relationship with food.

Restriction is the most significant predictor of bingeing. If you find yourself constantly “saving up” calories, macros, or points for the holiday meal, know that this will likely cause overeating to occur. Preferably, maintain your regular eating schedule of eating several meals and snacks daily that contain protein, healthy fats, carbohydrates, and fiber leading up to holiday events.

How To Navigate Unhelpful Comments

Do family members and friends make comments on appearance or food?

Know that it is not your responsibility to educate others on nutrition, eating disorders, or body image, unless you have the energy and want to talk about your journey.

If the company aspect of the holidays is stressful, going into gatherings with an action plan can be helpful. Know that it is not your responsibility to educate others on nutrition, eating disorders, or body image, unless you have the energy and want to talk about your journey. Have a couple statements prepared for when these topics arise, such as “I don’t want to talk about my appearance” or “I would prefer to keep the conversation away from food or diets or politics _____ insert topic here.” Have a couple of subjects prepared so you can change the subject if the conversation starts to become uncomfortable, or remove yourself from the situation if you can.

Exercise Around the Holidays

Despite frequent messages from the fitness industry, you do not need to earn your food. Keep movement as a part of your life that feels good and know that this can change with life seasons. Focus on the way movement makes you feel rather than focusing on how it makes you look or “deserve” more food. Fitness and food do not have moral value, but they can be components of what make you feel your best when used correctly.

"Run because it feels good or rest if that feels better to you."

It's normal to experience ebbs and flows in training. In fact, taking breaks throughout the year is healthy to allow your body to recover. This way, you can continue your consistent training injury-free and avoid burnout.

Let this season bring you peace and joy instead of guilt and shame.