How a Personal Trainer Eats During the Holidays

"I don’t let perfect be the enemy of good."

All photos courtesy of Emily Newman.

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For Emily Newman, a personal trainer at Onelife Fitness Skyline in Falls Church, indulging over the holidays doesn’t mean starving yourself all day so you can eat and drink liberally at a family dinner or work happy hour. Rather, the 40-year-old—who has been a trainer for over 16 years and averages six personal training sessions per day—utilizes the same common-sense approach she tells her clients: “Freedom within boundaries.”

Typically, Newman counts macros (carbs, fat, and protein broken down into grams) and has protein at every meal. She doesn’t exclude food groups, saying that it’s important to include a variety of foods in one’s diet. At a holiday meal, she follows what she calls the 15-Bite Rule: Eat unlimited protein and low-starch veggies, plus 15 bites—total—of any other starches you want (a “bite” is about a tablespoon). Yes, that includes dessert—and alcohol. She recommends to her clients to follow this rule, too, and to drink plenty of water to flush out toxins; slacking on the latter is a common cause of weight gain over the holidays.

For a look at what Newman eats on a day that’s capped with a festive meal, take a look at her five-meals-a-day food diary below.

Meal #1

“I typically do fasted cardio in the morning, so I have breakfast right after that. Since my dinner is usually smaller and lighter, with little to no carbs, I typically wake up hungry,” says Newman. Breakfast is a protein pancake with a sprinkle of Garden of Life greens powder, a very small handful of berries, and Walden Farms Calorie Free Syrup, plus a small Honeycrisp apple with one to two tablespoons of Crazy Richard’s peanut butter. “This breakfast will keep me full—and full of energy for hours, which is perfect since I’m typically on my feet the first part of my day.”

Meal #2

A first snack is often a birthday cake-flavored Quest Protein Bar. “Is this perfect? No, but I don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. I eat this on a quick break at work, it doesn’t need to be refrigerated, and it’s an easy thing to have pre-workout because it has the right ratio of carbs and protein.”

Meal #3

For another snack at work, Newman has four egg whites, ¼ cup of chopped apple seasoned with Flavor God chocolate seasoning, two popcorn rice cakes, and sometimes a small, homemade, fat-loss-friendly treat (or two). “This can either be my post-workout or pre-workout meal, depending on how my day goes. I have a lot of my carbs early in the day and taper off as it goes on.”

Meal #4

Meal #4 is 1½ cups of egg white and avocado salad, a slice of toast, celery, tzatziki, and ¼ cup low-sugar, high-protein Halo Top ice cream. “I always add small treats into my day, so Halo Top is my treat here, but notice it’s not much—just enough to satisfy my sweet tooth.”

Meal #5

For dinner, Newman has three ounces of chicken breast and ½ cup green beans, followed by either hot tea, hot lemon water, or hot water with powdered magnesium, which is calming, detoxifying, and “gets me sleepy, too,” she says. “At this point, I’m sitting on the couch and my work will be on the computer. I’m not being active so there’s really no need for me to have a huge meal. Not only that, but I don’t like going to bed feeling full.”

Holiday Meal (to replace meal #5)

On days Newman knows she’s having a holiday meal, “I would keep my breakfast exactly the same, as well as my first snack, and probably try and get in a workout after breakfast,” she says. “Then I would reduce my carbs at meal #4—I may just have the egg white salad without the additions, or just a protein shake.” For the holiday meal, “I would eat all the protein and low-starch veggies I wanted and be particular about what foods I really wanted to eat after scanning the table.” Here’s how the 15-Bite Rule recently played out.

Appetizer: Smoked salmon and Swiss cheese 
Turkey: As much as she wanted
Green beans: As many as she wanted
Broccoli and cauliflower mix: As much as she wanted
Sweet potato: 1/2
Stuffing: About 8 bites’ worth
Dessert: Newman took out the apples from a piece of apple pie and added whipped cream, avoiding the crust. “I actually preferred the whipped cream and apple—it’s what I really wanted. Plus, I chose to eat plenty of stuffing, so this had my 15 bites covered.” Newman says she chose not to drink alcohol, but if she did, she probably wouldn’t have had the sweet potato. “It’s all about choices.”

Kim Olsen

Kim Olsen ([email protected]) is a freelance writer in Alexandria.