The holiday season can be a wonderful time filled with joy, celebration, and delicious food. You can be rest assured sumptuous meals, abundant alcohol and sub-optimal food choices will abound. You may experience challenges not only in the quantity of the food you may consume but also the frequency at which it is eaten. Holidays can be a challenging time for those trying to maintain their health and nutrition goals.
With some planning and mindful choices, you can enjoy the festivities while keeping your health and nutrition on track. Here's our ultimate guide to surviving the holiday season:
Set Realistic Goals
Understand that maintaining your health and nutrition during the holidays is about balance, not deprivation. Allow yourself some indulgences without feeling guilty. Setting an achievable goal like maintaining your weight, rather than trying to lose it during this time, can help manage your expectations.
It is next to impossible to eat perfectly over the holidays, and aiming for nothing less than perfection can make it hard to socialize or relax. Giving yourself permission for mindful indulgences is by far a better strategy than forbidding yourself to eat certain foods followed by ‘breaking down’ and overeating When entering social situation where temptations abound, rather than, ‘I’m going to resist everything’, think of being ‘healthy-ish.’ This means making the best choices you can overall while allowing yourself just enough indulgence so you neither harm your body nor come away still dreaming of all the things you craved but avoided.
Create a detailed holiday schedule that includes events, family gatherings, and work commitments.
This will allow you to plan your meals and workouts around this schedule. On days with big meals, you could plan to have lighter, balanced meals earlier in the day.
Practice mindful eating by paying attention to the taste, texture, and aroma of your food. This can help you enjoy your meals more and prevent overeating.
If you are eating something because you really want it, eating a lot less of it is perfectly satisfying. Try to eat smaller amounts of indulgent foods—maybe even just three bites. Be present and enjoy each mouthful. Chew slowly. Put down your fork, or spoon between each bite. You will savor your food more, appreciate it immensely, digest it better, and even feel fuller.
Another way to avoid over-indulging is to limit yourself to just one treat a day. This is an easy task, especially at the dessert buffet, but it will train you to really make that one indulgence count.
Avoid Food Pushers
Your well-intended aunt insists that if you love her, you can only prove it by having a serving of her famous maple pumpkin custard pie, or giving your children second and even third helpings. During the holidays, sugar pushers come out in full-force. Be true to you. It is okay to say no. The ‘pusher’ may seem offended but will most probably forget your resistance relatively quickly and move right on to the next ‘victim’.
Learn more on the impacts of excessive sugar consumption on your health in this post
Let Leftovers Leave
If you entertain, those tempting, decadent leftovers can accompany your guests as they leave. Have to-go containers ready, and encourage your guests to take leftovers. On the reverse side, if you are the guest, it is not necessary to take leftovers that you know you will struggle to resist and will regret eating later.
Know When to Go
The time to leave the table is as soon as you have finished eating that delicious meal. Sitting around talking will suddenly find you picking at leftovers and eating more. Instead try going for a short walk, inviting your fellow diners to join you. You can continue socializing while encouraging digestion and each of you will feel better and more energized.
Steer clear of sugary mixed drinks and eggnog (unless it is your indulgence of choice). Instead, choose wine, vodka, tequila, or rum and avoid the soda mixers! Limit yourself to one or two drinks, because making smart food choices when your brain is fogged by alcohol, can be particularly challenging.
Read on here for more information on choosing alcohol
If you’ve decided to forgo alcohol, have a substitute drink. That way you can still mingle and have something sparkly in your hand while socializing. Sparkling water with a squeeze of citrus is always an easy, thirst quenching option.
Healthy Recipe Swaps
Modify traditional holiday recipes to make them healthier. Replace refined sugars with natural sweeteners (learn more about those here), use recipes calling for wheat flour alternatives (find out more here), and use naturally occurring fats in dishes. You can also experiment with alternative cooking techniques like roasting, grilling, or steaming
If you're attending a potluck or family gathering, bring a healthy dish that you enjoy. This ensures there's at least one nutritious option available.
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Continue your regular exercise routine as much as possible. Schedule your workouts early in the day if holiday commitments are likely to interfere. Working out in the morning does a number of good things: It ensures you get your exercise in before the day derails your best intentions, it kick starts your metabolism for hours to come and it makes you less likely to choose unhealthy foods later. These things are important any time and even more important this time of year.
It also helps to involve your family or friends in physical activities like group hikes, post-dinner walks, or a game of touch football.
Prioritize sleep to help manage stress and regulate your appetite. Establish a bedtime routine that promotes relaxation, like reading a book or taking a warm bath.
Get some tips on improving your sleep here
The holidays can be stressful. Practice stress-reduction techniques like meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga to stay calm and centered. Schedule some time for yourself and engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation.
It is perfectly okay to decline invitations or commitments that don't align with your health goals. Prioritize self-care and balance
You might choose to share your health and nutrition goals with a friend or family member who can help keep you accountable. Consider having a "holiday health buddy" to support each other through the season.
Celebrate Non-Food Traditions
Embrace holiday traditions that don't revolve around food, such as decorating the house, playing games, singing carols, or volunteering for a charitable cause. These activities can help create cherished memories without overindulging in unhealthy treats.
Embrace the spirit even further by giving to others. The holiday season is a particularly opportune time to reflect on good fortune and do things for other people.
Recovering from your feasting need not be daunting and having a plan to reset and restore when January comes around will help you move on from the holiday season with a renewed focus on your health goals. Stay tuned for our unique take on your January reset!
Spirit Of The Season
In spirit, the holidays are a chance to spend time with and connect more with your loved ones. Despite all the stress and chaos, dinners, parties, events, feasts, celebrations and get-togethers are meant to provide an opportunity to be with the people you love, the people who you (hopefully mostly) enjoy and have fun.
Celebrate this holiday season appreciating the love and warmth around you. Focus on companionship, connection and fellowship. Taking care of your health using our suggestions will give you the energy to handle the rough spots, and appreciate what you do like about the season.