7 Emergency Hacks to Stay Healthy in the Winter
“Winter is coming”
– House Stark.
Like the White Walkers of the old stories our Gran used to tell us, winter is descending upon us mere mortals, and we must prepare! This endless onslaught of vicious attacks on our brains and our bellies will leave us ripe for slaughter if we’re not careful. What began as celebrations and a time to ‘bring together’ has been corrupted by evil forces:
Holiday parties tell us to embrace our love of engorging ourselves with so much food our belt buckles burst. We stuff ourselves like turkeys being fattened for slaughter. Eep.
Cold weather that encourages us to sleep in, avoid the elements, and say “maybe tomorrow.” A sun that rises too late and sets too soon means we often go days without seeing the damn thing!
These and more challenges are just begging us to go off the rails. And a built-in excuse called January 1st where we promise to “start over” helps us rationalize us acting like an ass until then. Black Friday has come and gone. Cyber Monday is now in the rear view. Thanksgiving is now a distant memory.
And yet…the challenges are still just getting started.
Like the divided houses in Game of Thrones, the White Walkers and the forces of winter in real life will pick us apart one by one while we pretend everything’s okay.
After all, it’s so much easier to give in, and say “I’ll wait until later” to deal with it.
To all that I have two things to say:
- I hear you.
- Bring it on.
If you’ve seen The Emperor’s New Groove, you’ll be familiar with this scene. This is how I want you feeling about Winter:
Don’t run in the wrong direction
We need you back in the fight, right now.
If you ate like crap last week (thank you Thanksgiving), you probably also missed a workout. You have that little guy or gal or demon on your shoulder saying “well now what’s the point? Just wait til January!”
We all see January 1st as the “reset,” and there’s nothing wrong with a reset to start out the year. The problem is when you compound your issues by digging yourself deeper into a hole that you have to eventually climb out of!
Eat very poorly for long enough, and the hole will start to resemble Bruce Wayne’s prison in The Dark Knight Rises:
Think of it like you’re on the starting line of a race for a healthy life that starts Jan 1st. You have two options:
- A) Hang around the starting line: Hang out and wait for the gun to fire. Then start running.
- B) Run in the opposite direction. Run farther away from the starting line, so when the gun goes off you have even FARTHER to run in the race.
So, step 1 is not running in the opposite direction. This means you can’t skip all your workouts and eat like crap and give up til January. This is you going the wrong way, and will make the task of “starting over” on January 1st that much more brutal.
Instead, do what you can to “tread water” and hang out around the starting line. If you CAN, stay on target. One bad meal doesn’t ruin things. One missed workout isn’t the end of the world. If you have an awful day, respawn and get back in the fight. Immediately.
A four-week freefall however, is a hole you don’t want to be in. You also don’t want to be in THIS hole, but that’s beside the point..
So forget B. Let’s aim for A.
Never Two in a Row
I first talked about “Never Two in a Row” back in like 2012, and it’s a mantra I’ve been living by ever since.
You’re human. And life happens.
What CANNOT HAPPEN is missing two days in a row. Or eating TWO bad meals in a row. Or having TWO bad days in a row.
Why? One bad day can feel like a speed bump if you’re trying to get healthy. Get back on track right away and there’s no problem.
However, missing two days in a row is like turning that tiny speed bump into the Misty Mountains. If you miss one day in a row, no problem! Just act like it didn’t happen and get back on track. But once you miss two days in a row, you are now 67.42% more likely to fall into a multiple week hole. Okay, I made up that statistic, but two days very easily becomes three, which very easily becomes a week, which easily becomes “I’ll wait til January.”
That’s running in the wrong direction. Stop it!
So NEVER EVER EVER miss two workouts in a row. If you miss a workout on Monday, go on Tuesday and get right back on track. If you eat a horrible lunch at the office because Kevin brought in pizza, lasagna, garlic bread, and other carb bombs (classic Kev), make your dinner healthy AF. Do that, and you’ll be fine.
So whenever you have a bad day or do something wrong, I need you respawn right away (“start over” in video game lingo) and make the next day the best day you possibly can.
If you’re going to eat like crap, use intermittent fasting and skip meals
Spoiler alert: you’re going to eat like an ass this upcoming month. (Unlike Noel’s delicious Thai Zoodle recipe above)
I know it. You know it. So we can do one of two things.
We can pretend like it’s not going to happen, and then be surprised and beat ourselves up when we put ourselves in a carb coma and go on a calorie-induced bender.
Or we can be smart about it and negate the impact these days have on our waistlines. Better yet, we can make these additional calories work FOR us.
For starters, our metabolisms aren’t that smart. Your weight will fluctuate based on total calories consumed over many many days, not after ONE power-bomb of a meal.
So, if you know you are going to eat a monster lunch and dinner (I see you, Christmas), eat a stupidly light breakfast, and a light breakfast tomorrow – the calories will average out in the long run.
Or, if you’re willing to dig in and do the research, SKIP breakfast (and maybe lunch) before your monster meal. It’s called “intermittent fasting,” and it’s what I do to stay on track during weeks when I know I’m going to eat poorly.
First, I skip breakfast every day (I haven’t eaten breakfast in 3+ years). Second, I might choose to skip lunch as well the day after a monster meal. Again, dig in and do the research (or just read this), and you’ll find that missing a meal isn’t the end of the world. In fact, it can lead to a healthier lifestyle for the right person.
Make big meals work for you by timing them properly
Whether or not you take advantage of intermittent fasting, you can time your workouts to coincide with your unhealthy meals.
As I mentioned in our article on building the right kind of physique, think of all the calories you eat as first-year wizards at Hogwarts. They need to be sorted into one of three houses (“Burn as energy,” “store as fat,” or “rebuild muscle.”)
The extra calories you eat over the holidays always go towards “store as fat” unless you give them a really good reason to head to the “build muscle” common room. Politely asking them won’t help.
You need to give them a reason. And that wonderful reason is STRENGTH TRAINING.
When you strength train before a big meal, your muscles you trained are broken down and need to be rebuilt. So, over the next 48+ hours many of those extra calories will be diverted to rebuilding (stronger) muscles instead of becoming fat.
This year I did my heaviest strength training workout just a few hours before my Thanksgiving dinner, and then proceeded to eat like crap along with everybody around me. While they all lamented “I’m so full, I’m so fat, I ate too much, wahhhh,” I knew my calories were being used to rebuild muscle so internally I was doing an evil villain laugh… Muahahahah, you know the one.
Work smarter (like a nerd).
Don’t rely on motivation
Here’s another spoiler for you: you are NOT going to want to work out this month. It’s going to be dark and cold, and your nose is going to run (better catch it!), work is going to suck, you’re going to be hungover, and so on.
The amount of motivation you’ll need to get over these obstacles is gargantuan. So don’t force yourself to try and “dig deep” and just “work harder” and feel guilty when you’re “not motivated.”
So do whatever you can to never, ever ever rely on motivation. Your body won’t say, “oh that’s okay, I’ll not get fat this month because I feel bad for you.” There are 31 days in December just like there are 31 days in August.
Which means you need to stay on track even though it’s much easier to do in the summer. So instead of motivation, build fail-safes to make sure you are staying healthy. Schedule your workouts in your calendar, and set up alerts so you are reminded. Recruit a buddy to work out with you.
Or go with one of these more diabolical examples:
Take a really really embarrassing photo of yourself, or type up a tweet with an embarrassing secret. Schedule it to post at 6:15 (or whatever time is early for you) every morning before you go to bed. Put your phone in the other room. If you don’t wake up on time, and run in the other room and cancel that tweet, it goes out! Better just get out of bed and train before work.
Give your co-worker $250. Tell him/her that you will work out 3 days per week, and text him a photo of you at the gym. If he does not receive that photo, he will donate $50 of your money to a political cause you can’t stand.
Set your credit card alerts to email you and your wife/husband every time it’s used. Agree ahead of time you’ll never use that card to buy fast food or else you’ll have to be on diaper duty for the next 3 months straight (or something that fits your situation).
In each of the instances above, you’re going to do exactly two things:
- Get really mad at yourself. Probably swear a lot. Swear vengeance on your past self.
- Do the damn thing you know you need to do while also being mad at yourself.
Never ever ever rely on motivation. Now, motivation doesn’t hurt. It’s just not reliable. So if you are in need of some motivation to get started, try this watching this video to remind you that training in the winter makes you a badass:
Just don’t rely on it, or feel guilty when you don’t have it! Whenever you DO feel a burst of motivation, use that extra energy to build systems. Here’s how to use motivation properly.
Have a Plan B for workouts and meals
“Too cold today! Can’t go to the gym and do my workout, DAMN! Looks like I’ll just have to sit here and eat ice cream.”
“Ran out of groceries, and it’s snowing. I guess I’ll just have to order pizza.”
The problem with winter is that it makes the unhealthy option always the easiest. We’re lazy, and I have to imagine we’re a bit like bears in that we want to hibernate and store fat when it gets cold out.
We have this tiny voice in our head subtly nudging us to pick the path of least resistance: aka pizza and skipped workouts.
And we can’t let that voice win. Then, the White Walkers win. And we’re all screwed. So, instead, we’re going to MacGuyver the sh** outta our winter by having a plan B prepared.
A Workout PLAN B: Have a place in your house or apartment that you can go to and do the Beginner Bodyweight Workout or one of The Nerd Fitness Academy or NF Yoga workouts. It might not be as great as the gym, but it’s still a workout. It might mean investing in a door frame pull-up bar or a yoga mat, but a small investment for maintaining momentum through the winter is worth any amount of money.
A Nutritional PLAN B: Have a healthy meal in your freezer that has already been prepared and ready to be heated up. We make horrible decisions when the fridge is empty and we’re hungry. The Sirens of Dominos and Pizza Hut beckon us to call them for a 30-minute delivery.
So use your own laziness to help! Have a meal in your freezer that’s already to go. Store SteamFresh veggies for emergencies. And delete any fast food or delivery numbers in your phone. Delete the Seamless app from your phone. Avoiding driving by your favorite fast food place. Do what you need to do to make it more difficult to make the wrong choice.
Know that every little bit counts
So you can only train for 15 minutes today instead of 20.
So you have time to do a few yoga poses instead of going to the gym for an hour.
So your ONLY option at the holiday party is pizza and you didn’t have a great breakfast.
THIS DOES NOT MEAN YOUR WINTER IS RUINED. 80% IS STILL 80% BETTER THAN ZERO PERCENT.
Every little bit counts. It REALLY, REALLY does. Every small change, or even only eating like an ass HALF of the time is FAR better than eating like an ass all of the time. Swap ONE beer for ONE glass of water, and it’s a victory that will translate to your waistline. Do 5 push-ups as soon as you get out of bed, and it’s a victory.
Winter is a problem not because people make one bad mistake, but because one bad mistake quickly sets off a chain reaction of disasters and idiocy justified by the fact they can’t do something 100%. So they opt for 0%.
If you don’t have time for a full workout, do half a workout! If you have to eat drive through food, drinking a water or diet coke is still better than the alternative!
If you go to a holiday party, you can still drink (Here’s our “healthy drinking guide”) and eat poorly, just swap out some eggnog for water every once and awhile. Your future fit self thanks you.
Every morning when you wake up, do 20 bodyweight squats, 10 push-ups, and if you have access to a pull-up bar (or gymnastic rings), hang from them for 30 seconds.
Make this the FIRST thing you do every day (using systems built back in point #6). That way, at least every day during the winter you’ve done something.
How Do You Brave the Winters?
Before somebody yells at me in the comments, yes I know a lot of Aussies and Kiwis are NF Rebels, and I know it’s nearly summer down there. You can laugh at us all you want, your winter will come soon enough. Oh, it will.
Let’s hear from you – what do you do when the going gets tough, when the temperature drops, and life gets busy as hell?
How do you fight back? What are your favorite specific tricks or systems you use to stay on track?
Leave your comment below and share with your fellow Rebels.
P.S. Looking for a fun way to build or keep up your daily exercise habit throughout the craziness of the holiday season?
We’re running a #YogaEveryDay Challenge in December. It’s simple – just do at least 10 minutes of yoga every day for the month of December. It can be on your own or in a class, split up into smaller segments or all at once – the important thing is that you do it!
You get a point for every day you do yoga – and the more days you do it in a row, the more points you get!
Play along with your friends using our group google doc as well as the hashtag #NerdFitnessYoga on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Check out the official document for details.
Photo: Mark Dumont: Inch Worm, leibolmei: frozen veggies