“Eat, drink, and be healthy!”
The holidays are a notoriously challenging time of year for anyone who wants to keep up their healthy lifestyle. . It’s one of the reasons why people make so many health-related New Year’s resolutions: they overindulged on food and skipped their workouts during the holidays and want to get back on track! They figure it’s easier to wait until after the cookie exchanges and office parties to start diets and workout routines.
But the truth is, making healthy food and drink choices over the holidays is a lot easier than you think! Even better, you don’t have to completely deprive yourself of hot chocolate or your favorite sweets. Just a few adjustments here and there, and you’ll be feeling fit and fabulous when you ring in the New Year.
Ready to take on the holidays without ending up with a Santa belly? Read on for our favorite holiday tips for healthy habits during “the most wonderful time of the year.”
10 Tips for a Healthy Holiday Season
“But the holidays always make me fat!”
Research, rumor, and anecdotal evidence predict that we’ll each experience a weight gain of 1-10 lbs. over the holidays. And it’s not hard to see why, given all the nut-meggy amazingness wafting in from the kitchen, the endless platters of Christmas cookies, the cocktails, the pies… mmm pie.
We promise ourselves to be “disciplined this year” and vow to dodge all the desserts, then we drink a couple of cocktails, polish off the pumpkin pie, and feel guilty and flabby for the rest of the month.
Why? Instead of being proactive about holiday decision-making, we react after the damage has already been done.
So the key is for you to create and stick to your “stay healthy holiday gameplan” beforehand, instead of worrying about correcting last night’s cookie binge.
1. Know Your Triggers
Why do we overeat November through December? For one thing, when family is close (as they often are during the holidays), stress isn’t far behind, and suddenly that jug of eggnog looks especially enticing. Emotional eating and drinking ensues.
And then there’s the stress of traveling, gift-giving, increased traffic, inclement weather. Reaching for comforting holiday foods is a tempting way to try to soothe your nerves. And while you may feel a little better or distracted in the short term, over the long haul it’ll push you farther and farther away from your health goals.
Know your triggers and choose to avoid those emotional situations that lead to over-indulging. If the post-meal political discussion usually has you reaching for that second (or third) helping of dessert, take a deep breath and walk away from the table.
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2. Say No, Politely
Food gets personal. Many family members and friends will question your decisions if ancestral, keto, or paleo eating isn’t “normal” or “healthy” in their worldview. In most cases, our family wants what’s best for us. And, they also think they know what’s best for us.
“What’s wrong with you? You’ve always loved fruitcake!” (No, you didn’t.)
Remember: it’s okay to say “No, thank you.”
You may take some momentary flack for politely declining your Aunt Nelly’s best dessert attempt—bless her heart for making it for you—but if you don’t want to eat it, you don’t have to. Really.
Oftentimes, pressure from loved ones stems from them not wanting to be the only ones indulging. They’ll feel better about themselves if others join them in overeating or drinking. You definitely don’t have to give in to their peer pressure—and interestingly, consistently holding the line on your health encourages those around you to reconsider their unhealthy tendencies!
3. And Say Yes, Within Reason
We all have our favorites! Whether it’s the world’s creamiest mashed potatoes or Grandma’s pecan pie, there are just some foods that we expect (and want) to see, have, and enjoy during the holidays.
And guess what happens when you try to ignore those cravings completely? You’ll fill up on other foods because you’re trying to avoid the pie. But you’ll still feel deprived, so you’ll likely end up eating the pie anyways. Double the calories, and double the regrets and guilt afterward.
A better solution? Go for some of those tasty treats. Have a few bites to make your taste buds happy. And then you can forget about them until next year!
But do try to pick foods you can’t get the rest of the year. Maybe it’s your family’s special eggnog recipe. Maybe it’s the Italian Christmas cookies that only come out once a year. Pick something special, and moderately indulge guilt-free.
4. Focus on Satiety
During your main meals, focus on eating to get full, not stuffed. You don’t need to be counting calories or analyzing the ingredients, just chill out and choose healthy, filling foods that will satisfy you. You don’t need to eat until you’re stuffed, just until you’re no longer hungry.
If your meal satisfies you, you’ll be much less likely to overeat at the dessert table.
5. Identify Your Problem Foods
Some foods are known to trigger binge eating, especially food with high amounts of sugar, salt, or unhealthy fats. And naturally (and unfortunately), those are the most common foods at holiday gatherings.
Acknowledge which foods might trigger a binge episode and eat something else instead. If you know that a handful of chips is going to have you reaching for more, and more, and more, best to let them go altogether. Fill your plate with something else that will satisfy your sweet (or savory, or spicy) tooth, but that you know you can eat in moderation.
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6. Enjoy Your Food
Plan to indulge, but not to the point of sickness. Go ahead and add your favorite foods to your plate. Then dedicate yourself to enjoying the process of eating, not fearing what might happen to your waistline. Eat a cookie or two, savor them, then move on. Planning ahead of time to savor in moderation eliminates anxiety, reduces guilt, and allows for balance in eating and drinking.
Also, try to focus on what you’re eating, when you’re eating it. Don’t snack mindlessly while wrapping gifts. Stop, focus on your yummy holiday treats, then get back to business.
A great technique for enjoying within health limits is something known as “Mindful Eating.” (And yes, this is an offshoot of mindfulness.)
At its core, the practice of mindful eating involves:
- Appreciating your food before, during, and after you eat
- Eating slowly with minimal or no distraction
- Listening to your body to know when you’re hungry and full
- Engaging all your senses as you eat (ie: notice textures, flavors, smells, sounds, etc as you eat)
- Taking time to notice the effects food has on your feelings and figure
Studies show that it takes your brain up to 20 minutes to realize you’re full. If you eat quickly, the fullness signals may not have time to tell your brain to stop; this is commonly why people eat and eat and eat until they’re stuffed.
By eating mindfully, you intentionally slow the eating process down, and allow your body to get in touch with what it needs, how it’s feeling, and when it’s full.
7. Separate Your Emotions
The holidays are stressful. Don’t use food to cope. If you’re worried about how to deal with holiday stress, the best thing you can do is plan ahead for it.
In your plan, figure out what you’re going to do when something stresses you out. How about a relaxing walk? A spot o’ tea? A Will Ferrell movie? Whatever you do, don’t impulse-grab at a plate of cookies and shove them in your face. Not worth it.
8. Keep the Alcohol to a Minimum
It’s easy to have one too many drinks at a party, especially when drinking cocktails or eggnog. However, a post-holiday hangover is no fun. Try to have no more than three boozy drinks during the night.
It’s also a good idea to sip a glass of water between alcoholic beverages. This will keep you hydrated throughout the night and make it less likely for you to overindulge on less healthy drinks.
9. Load Up Your Plate (Sensibly)
You can eat a filling meal that’s still made up of (mostly) healthy food choices. Just make sure that when you’re making your plate, you go for the right combination of wholesome foods.
Fill up in this order:
- Fibrous, colorful veggies
- Formidable portions of protein (it won’t make you fat, I promise)
- Whole-food fats
- Everything else (even a treat or two)
A good mix of healthy foods is key to not over-indulging!
10. Fill Up Before Parties
Office parties, cookie exchanges, and holiday movie marathons all have one thing in common: an abundance of not-so-good-for-you treats. Sometimes, that’s all they might have! And if you’re hungry, you’ll have no other choice than to snack on those less than healthy treats.
One sure way to avoid that situation is to not show up with an empty stomach. Eat plenty of veggies and protein before you go. Drink plenty of water, both to stay hydrated and to feel full longer. Then, at your celebration, you can choose a treat or two to cap off the night.
5 Tips to Keep Your Body Moving
It’s not always easy to find the motivation to work out during the holidays. With so many activities going on, you could easily start feeling run down. But exercise, even moderate exercise, is crucial if you want to stay healthy during the holidays.
Here are some of our favorite ways to keep to your fitness schedule during the craziness of the holiday season.
1. Make Your Workouts Seasonal, Too
Give your workouts some variety with some seasonal flair! Winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding are excellent calorie burners, and fun, too.
Even the seemingly low-cardio activities can help you stay fit. Sledding is a sneaky way to burn calories, as you repeatedly climb uphill. And building an epic snowman can help you stay fit (and work off that extra Christmas cookie, to boot!).
If you don’t have snow, you can still throw your workouts into holiday mode. Find an indoor skating rink, throw on your favorite ugly Christmas sweater, and enjoy!
Or, if you’d rather avoid the cold altogether, use a video to guide you in an at-home workout or join a class. You could also try indoor sports, like racquetball or indoor soccer, or re-up your gym membership and get on the treadmill. It doesn’t take much to move the body in the right direction.
2. Be Flexible
Maybe you don’t have time for a 5-mile run when you have Christmas shopping to handle. How about 3 miles, instead? And if you have to skip your favorite Pilates class due to a holiday party, why not try a workout video on YouTube?
It’s easy to fall into the trap of skipping your workout completely when things don’t go exactly as planned. But keep an open mind as you approach working out during the holidays. Try alternative classes, shorter workouts, or something completely new. A little bit of physical activity is better than none, and every little workout win will encourage you to keep going!
3. Schedule Your Workouts
You’ve no doubt heard this tip before, but it bears repeating because it really does work. Each week, go through your calendar and schedule your workout time.
Consider these appointments with yourself to be unbreakable. Do whatever you need to do to stick to your schedule, even if that means bringing clothes to work and going straight from the office to the gym.
4. Stay Energized
The holidays are a tiring time, no doubt. But exercising will actually give you more energy and help you get through the next round of parties and gift exchanges.
That said, it’s important to give yourself the best chance at success.
- Get sunlight. It’s more difficult to regulate your energy level as the days get shorter. Keep blinds open and enjoy natural light.
- Get the right amount of sleep. Getting enough restful sleep is important for maintaining energy and a healthy weight. Be sure to get plenty of sleep, but don’t overdo it. Some people tend to go into hibernation mode when it’s cold out, sleeping longer than normal, which actually leaves us feeling more tired. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
5. Take Advantage of Commercial Breaks
If you’re more focused on the football season than the holiday season, you’re probably spending lots of time on the couch. The average NFL game has 20 commercial breaks. Imagine how many push-ups and crunches you can get done in that amount of time!
Staying healthy during the holidays might seem like a monumental effort, but it truly isn’t. By being flexible and incorporating some solid strategy around your food and activities, you’ll find it easier to make good choices this season. Remember, good health care and wellness are lifelong goals beyond the winter months and holidays.
And remember, if you do overeat or “accidentally” binge on cookies, use that food energy to fuel a killer workout. You may even build some muscle.
Holiday gatherings can be a great time to start new traditions, like an (actual) football game or a family hike.
Play outside, get your pump on, or hit the slopes and ride your sugar high down the mountain. Be active and use the cookie calories for good, not evil. Get out there and get moving and kiss your holiday weight gain worries goodbye!
Be healthy, be well, and happy holidays!
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