With the athletes I work with on the GAA Lean Athlete Online Coaching Program, there is barely a week goes by where there isn’t at least one athlete going to a wedding or similar social event, and so, each week, I find myself advising someone on how to adapt their nutrition around it.
Of course, the advice I give them is individualised to them, but in this article, I hope to give you some insight into how you might manage your nutrition around a wedding or another social occasion that would otherwise have the potential to lead to you going off-track.
The usual problem with going to a wedding, apart from having to dance with your drunk aunt, is that it can throw you off your regular schedule, and out of your usual environment, and that can lead to all sorts of problems with nutrition, from overconsumption of food and alcohol, to things like sleep and hydration.
Watching your Calories
For someone who is watching their calorie intake in an effort to lose weight, weddings can be one of those days that you can easily consume 4000–5000 kcal if you let yourself go, especially if you are also drinking a lot of alcoholic drinks, and that’s not to mention the day afterwards, where you might wake up hungover and splurge out at the hotel breakfast buffet, eat out for lunch, and get back home, where you don’t have food prepared and opt for fast-food, leading to not having food prepped for the next day’s lunch, and so on. Of course, this is a rather extreme example of how a wedding can throw you into a vicious cycle, but it can be the reality for many people.
So first, I want to give you some ideas around how you might control your caloric intake around these events. There are a few methods I have implemented with clients in the past, so I’ll outline those and you can take one or a few of these and apply them to your own nutrition.
Firstly, there is the option to lower your intake of calories in the week leading up to the wedding.
Let’s say you usually consume 2400 kcal per day, and are losing weight at a steady rate. By reducing your intake to 2200 kcal per day, for 6 days of the week, that means that you have created an extra caloric deficit of 200 kcal x 6 days, which is 1200 kcal. This gives you an extra 1200 kcal on the day of the wedding, giving you a total allowance of about 3600 kcal on the wedding day, without it effecting your progress to any large extent.
Sounds great, right?
Well, of course, there are downsides to this method. Firstly the idea of decreasing your intake by 200 kcal per day isn’t very appealing to most people, especially those who have been eating in a deficit for any length of time. Secondly, most of the people reading this are probably athletes, and will be training during the week. That 200 kcal per day decrease in intake can of course lead to a downturn in performance, and recovery, which obviously isn’t ideal. Another potential downside is that, if taken to the extreme, this can lead to a cycle where one starves themselves all week, so that they can justify their binging of poor quality food at the weekend. For this reason, I don’t usually recommend most people using this approach in general, but rather keeping it for times where it can be used to your advantage.
However, the point still remains: you can decrease your intake of food slightly during the week in order to make some room for extra food at the weekend, or in this case, you can reduce your intake slightly during the week leading up to a wedding or other social event, to allow you to consume a bit more energy on the day of the wedding.
If that method doesn’t seem suitable to you, you could consider simply skipping breakfast, or having a really light, protein based breakfast, on the morning of the wedding. Alarm bells may be going off when you hear skipping breakfast, but again, this technique is better for some people than others. If you are someone who tends to be really hungry in the early part of the day, then perhaps this isn’t for you, as it may lead you you making poorer decisions as the day goes on. Those canapés might look a lot more tempting when you haven’t had anything to eat all morning. For others, who don’t tend to get hungry early in the day, this can be a good approach to allow for more food and drink later in the day.
Another major contribution to the overconsumption of calories is alcohol. Of course, in terms of nutrition, not drinking any alcohol would be best, and if you’re willing to make that decision, good on you. But of course, it’s a wedding, and you are likely going to be drinking.
So, if you really don’t want to go the tee-total route, making better choices with your drinks can be helpful. Generally, choosing spirits with low-calorie or calorie-free mixers, is preferable to beer and wine in terms of caloric intake, and avoiding the caffeinated mixers like coca-cola and red bull is probably a good idea too.
If you don’t fancy decreasing your intake during the week, or skipping breakfast, or staying away from the drink on the wedding day, that’s understandable. Part of the appeal of social gatherings like this is that you can let loose a bit and enjoy yourself without having to restrict yourself.
However, remember that you have goals. There is a balance to be had between your goals and enjoying yourself. Maybe you can just make a few small changes that will save you from going completely over the top.
For you, that might be choosing to have either a starter OR a dessert (instead of both). It might mean you don’t go for seconds after you’re finished your dinner. It might mean taking some oats, fruit and protein powder, so that you have a healthy snack option when you get back after the wedding or for the next morning. Or it might mean taking some small aspects of the techniques I outlined previously and implementing them.
Either way, there’s one thing that I think everyone should implement, and that is to get back to your plan the day after the wedding. Don’t use the wedding as an excuse to continue your bad habits into the next couple of days.
There’s really only a relatively small amount of damage that can be done in a single day, but extend that out to 2 or 3 days and you could potentially put yourself back a week or two of progress, not to mention that this can lead to you being knocked out of good habits that you’ve been building up.
And good habits are crucial. A phrase I like, that is often attributed to Aristotle, but was apparently actually said by philosopher Will Durant, is “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
So, when we go through times when our habits are thrown off, as they can be in social events, it’s important to get right back on track, and getting those good habits back into place as soon as possible.
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