10 tips to help you enjoy the holiday season without packing on the pounds or losing your mind.
Jamie Staley, NASM-CPT, Pn1
I don’t know about you, but this time of year is my absolute favorite.
I love everything about it. The gatherings, the food, the holiday music, shopping, wrapping gifts, the cheesy Hallmark movies, and making my house look festive.
(Disclaimer: this is the year 2020, so these things are already being impacted. However, I want this blog to be applicable in a “normal” holiday season as well, so I will write as if the world is not a mess.)
With all the festive cheer, mindful eating and exercise usually take a backseat for most of us. Who has the time right now?
The answer is finding a balance. Enjoy the season AND make healthy choices where you can. Not one or the other.
How do you do that? Well let’s dive in.
1. Identify the foods/gatherings that are important to you.
If you look at a calendar, Christmas is one day and so is Thanksgiving. So how does the whole six-week period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day become a free-for-all?
Usually multiple parties and gatherings. So grab a blank calendar and enter everything into it: gatherings with family, work Christmas parties, and any other traditions that center around food (making Christmas cookies, going out to dinner, etc.)
Now here comes the hard part. If your calendar is quickly very full, you are going to have to pick which ones are “enjoy and eat whatever you want” and which ones are “mindful eating” days.
Usually your main gatherings are going to be “enjoy and eat whatever you want.” Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, etc. So those smaller events need to be held in check.
If your calendar really isn’t that full (hello 2020), you can probably manage to eat without tracking for a couple days out of a six-week period.
Within those identified gatherings, which foods are your absolute favorite. Is it your mom’s pie? Your aunt’s stuffing? The sugar cookies that are a secret family recipe?
Identify those things that are an absolute must for you. And then make healthier choices to go with those items. This will still let you enjoy the best parts of the holiday season, but can include healthy alternatives or sides as well.
2. Schedule in your workouts
So now that we have established what you calendar will look like, schedule in your workouts. Usually this is best done on a Saturday or Sunday for the following week and not one time for a whole six-week time period.
Life changes too much for that to stay accurate.
Fair warning: this may mean getting up early, using your lunch break differently, or going to the gym after work.
Take your current level of exercise into consideration. If you are working out 2 days per week right now, don’t try to up it to 5 over the holidays.
We are taking about maintaining the healthy habits you have right now, or making small changes. Making big changes during the holidays is something I don’t recommend because chances of adherence are pretty low and you’ll just end up mad at yourself.
3. Meal prep for “normal” days
The days that are minimally impacted by the holiday season, treat as normal as possible. Eat how you typically would as much as it is in your control. Grabbing a 400-calorie Starbucks coffee every day for the month of December may be festive, but if you’re trying to avoid weight gain, they won’t help.
Take one day of the week and think ahead for the next 5-6 days. Maybe just plan one category (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks) or all of them if you are used to meal prepping. Having food prepared and ready to go for the week not only saves you time on busy days, but also keeps your eating habits consistent.
4. Keep a food log
Mindless eating can run rampant during the holidays. A cookie here, a chocolate-covered pretzel there, some homemade fudge from neighbor, etc. All those nibbles and grabs really add up, especially when they are sugary treats.
Try getting into the habit of writing down what you eat each day. You don’t have to count calories or measure everything exactly.
After a couple of days, you might realize you are snacking more than usual or that you haven’t eaten a vegetable in the last week.
Maintaining a record also keeps you from mindlessly grabbing as much, but still gives you the freedom to enjoy things that are conscious choices.
5. Bring a healthy dish to pass
If you have a multitude of gatherings to attend, bringing a healthy dish to pass will transform your life. This ensures that there is at least one option for you that is lower in fat, salt, sugar, or carbs (or whatever you are choosing).
Typically, I usually bring a salad or some roasted veggies. And if your family doesn’t like it, you get to take home all the leftovers so there’s no losers here in this situation.
Or the opposite might happen. I made a roasted brussel sprouts and sweet potato dish for family one year and they all raved about it.
6. Limit the amount of candy and sweets you keep in the house
The food that is in your house will eventually end up in your mouth. That rule applies 365 days a year, but when stress is higher, it is especially important to really think about leaving a kitchen full of sweets available to you at all times.
If you want candy or sweets, buy some for a gathering so you can share with other people and don’t take any leftovers home. Or buy a single serving so that you enjoy it one time and don’t have a bag of them sitting at home.
If those things aren’t possible, keep them out of sight and hard to reach. Put them up on a high shelf that requires you to get a chair or step stool (that’s easy for us 5’1″ people), put them down in the basement on a shelf, or leave them out in your car.
This ensures you can still enjoy these things, but as a choice and not as a mindless grab.
7. Do not attempt a calorie deficit or a fad diet
Just like we talked about with exercise, this is not a time to try something super strict or attempt to lose weight. This won’t go well for most people and the fall out will do more harm than any short-term progress you make.
Again, where you are starting is going to play a big role into how these steps play out for you and it won’t be the same for everyone.
8. Find ways to get active with family members
For some people, holiday gatherings mean sitting around tables of snacks all day, giant meals, and sedentary activities.
Find ways to break up long periods of sitting, without sacrificing time with family.
Go for a walk together, play a game that requires movement, go sledding or snowshoeing, park at the back of the parking lot when holiday shopping, make up a fun living room workout, take a fitness class together, etc.
9. Stop eating when you are full
When it comes to holiday meals, most of us are not paying attention to hunger and fullness cues. We just pile up our plate and eat all of it because it’s so good and we busy talking or laughing so we don’t even notice.
Start with smaller portions and tell yourself you can go back for seconds if you are still actually hungry.
Eat slowly and chew your food throughly. Try to take notice when you start feeling full and stop eating.
Usually this strategy leaves you feeling satisfied and saves you some discomfort later.
10. Do not wait until January and make a drastic change
No matter where your fitness and nutrition are at before the holidays, this is usually a bad idea for everyone.
Does this sound familiar?
You treat the holidays like a total free-for-all and then come January 1st, you start Keto or Whole30 and an intense cardio-based workout program, only to fail with both by the beginning of February?
Yeah, there’s a better way.
Even if you can’t do all of these things, pick one. Even the smallest change you adopt now can carry over into the new year and be a building block for your next habit.
Enjoy this season. And take small steps to cruise into the new year with feelings of pride for your efforts and with the great memories you made.
How Can I Help?
If tackling your nutrition or fitness on your own feels too intimidating and confusing, I can help! I am a Certified Personal Trainer and a Certified Nutrition Coach and I work with clients who have a wide array of goals.
I will coach you through individualized action steps to meet your goals and help you formulate a plan for change that fits your life, instead of trying to make your life fit a plan. I’ll give you the accountability, real information, and guidance to make lasting change.
Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s chat about your goals!