During the holidays, it’s really tough to keep your healthy habits! With all the holiday parties, family gatherings, travel, and decadent food and drink (not to mention social and financial stress), you can easily get completely pulled out of your routine of food, exercise, and sleep. Sometimes your friends and family don’t have the same fitness habits that you do, and it’s always hard to be the odd one out or stay strong when everyone around you is indulging.
First of all, I believe it’s really important to enjoy holidays. A lot of fitness trends and practices are focused on restrictive eating and relentless workout routines, but these aren’t always sustainable and can even damage our bodies, creating more problems for you down the road. Indulging in food and rest once in a while allows your body and mind to recover and is actually part of a healthy fitness lifestyle. This is why athletes have off-seasons and why we should all take vacation. You have to give yourself a break or else you will burn out.
On the flip side, I also believe it’s important to practice some self-control during holiday times so that you don’t go completely overboard. If you indulge too much, it’s going to be really hard to get yourself back on track after the holidays end!
Here are my answers to some common questions about staying healthy during the holidays:
1) How can I avoid overeating?
Holidays are a time of gastronomic indulgence, there is no doubt about that. To avoid going completely overboard:
- Be picky. Don’t eat something just for the sake of eating it, because you feel obligated, or because that food only comes around once a year.
- Wait. When you have finished a big dinner, sit for five minutes or so and drink a glass of water before getting up for a second plate of food. Chat and engage with others at the table. Are you REALLY that hungry that you need to get up three times? Another trick is to place your napkin on your plate when you finish your meal. This will help you avoid the temptation to fill your plate again.
- Go easy on the alcohol! Not only does alcohol pack on extra calories, it can disrupt your sleep and decrease your energy to work out. Try to drink extra water at gatherings and be selective about when you drink, how much, and what.
- Plan ahead to avoid traps. As our schedules get out of whack during the holiday season, being prepared and eating ahead of time will help you circumvent your brain’s impulse to binge. Keep your home and office stocked with good options. Eat a power snack – something with good fat, fiber, and protein – before you head to a gathering. Also, don’t skip breakfast even on big meal days!
- Say no – politely. Is it possible to graciously decline an offering of food? The reality is that your host worked really hard to make all that food and might be a little hurt if you say no. Stay strong and just be polite.
- Don’t stress. Guilt is just as unhealthy as those decadent desserts. Let yourself enjoy the holidays. Just remember that treats should be intentional. There is a time for treats and then a time for your regular healthy habits. Indulge a little and move on.
2) What are some healthy and delicious foods that I can make for gatherings or dinners?
- Stay fresh and simple. My strongest recommendation is to stick with real foods and recipes that are made from scratch. Check out my some of my favorite holiday recipes, many of which will please vegetarians! In many cases, typical holiday food isn’t the most nutritious. This is your chance, however, to make new traditions that are easier on the belly.
- Get fruity. Fruit is a great appetizer before a heavy meal! Try apple slices and cheese. It is also a much appreciated addition to a gathering with colleagues or friends. It is easy to prepare, portable, delicious, and healthy. A few options include pomegranate jewels, clementine sections, apple slices, grapes, etc.
3) How can I stay active during the holiday season?
- Be realistic. You are off your normal schedule and need to practice a little self-forgiveness during this time, but holidays are not an excuse to stop moving completely. Try to at least get some activity, even if it isn’t your typical hard-core routine.
- Get creative. Being active can actually make holidays more fun! Go for lots of jogs, walks, or hikes. Enjoy the cold fresh air.
- Build a team. Sometimes it can be tough to motivate other people to get out and get active, so try to find an activity that is fun and enjoyable for everyone. Chances are, someone else in your family or friend circle is also trying to stay on their fitness routine. Team up and get everyone else moving!
- Make new traditions. This could be your opportunity to make a new tradition so that your whole family incorporates movement into future gatherings. Find a local Turkey Trot to walk or run or how about a post-meal dance party?
- Be the early bird. If all else fails, you might be on your own to get active. Set your alarm early and just get a workout done before everyone else wakes up. You will feel better physically and mentally and not be anxious about missing your exercise.
Finally, when the holidays do end, be kind to yourself and re-introduce your routine slowly. You don’t want to get injured by going too hard right out of the gate!
Sign up for a competition or a new class, or put money down so you are committed. You might even find that you come back stronger after some mental and physical rest!