As Thanksgiving officially kicks off the long holiday season until New Year’s Day, it’s time to prepare how you will approach what often is a stressful, indulgent, workout-skipping and exhausting period. Don’t get me wrong – I love the holidays, with their traditions, favorite foods, time to reconnect with family and friends and more. But even the best-intentioned can get somewhat derailed when it comes to our overall health routines during these very busy months.
Prepare yourself by considering how you will manage. It’s not just about watching your diet, but also about fitting in regular workouts, managing stress and getting sufficient rest. Here we provide some helpful recommendations on keeping the holiday season healthy. Do what works for you. You got this!
Keeping the Holiday Season Healthy
Did you know that people can consume 3,000 to 5,000 calories during the Thanksgiving meal? That’s enough for two days’ worth of meals – all in one sitting! And over the Christmas-New Year’s holiday season, people gain an average of 1.3 pounds. That may not seem like much, but research indicates that it can take up to five months before people shed that extra holiday weight.
Because so much of the holiday season revolves around food, it’s smart to plan how you will enjoy these special times without overindulging and packing on pounds.
- Follow the 80/20 rule. When it comes to your food choices, make smart selections 80 percent of the time, and allow yourself some of your favorites that may not be as healthy about 20 percent of the time. This realistic approach doesn’t result in you feeling totally deprived and can help keep you on track. Trying to completely eliminate or shun all special holiday foods can backfire, leading to binging.
Granted, you must have self-discipline and the ability to control portions and stop eating. But this way, you avoid the all-or-nothing mindset that can be very challenging when food is abundant.
- Eat a good breakfast daily. Don’t skip this important meal, thinking you’re “saving” calories for later. Research shows that people who skip breakfast are more likely to overeat and make poor choices later in the day. Fire up your metabolism and energy level with some protein, carbs and water each day.
- Don’t skip meals. Skipping meals causes blood sugar to drop, resulting in an energy crash, which often is followed by a mad dash for whatever you can eat – often high fat, high sugar and high calorie foods. Plus, not eating at regular intervals slows the metabolism, so you’re not burning as many calories. If you’re trying to “save” calories for a party or special meal, eat lighter meals and smaller portions to keep your system humming along.
- Limit portions. Again, it’s fine to have the fried appetizers or your grandmother’s pie, but don’t overdo it. Keep portions reasonable and fill up on healthy foods, like veggies and fruits, as much as you can. Have an eggnog if you must, but keep it to just one – then switch to water. Sample a holiday cookie but don’t eat one of every kind at the office.
- Hydrate wisely. Drinking lots of water keeps you hydrated and can help you feel full; plus, it can stave off headaches and fatigue, which are common during the busy holiday season. Keep a bottle in your car, at your desk, in your gym bag and wherever you go as a reminder to keep sipping. Limit coffee, soda (especially caffeinated) and alcohol, which are diuretics that cause additional fluid loss.
- Schedule workouts. Don’t count on finding free time, but instead plan exercise sessions ahead of time and put them in your calendar. On Sundays, evaluate your week ahead and designate when you will exercise. Guard this time like any other important appointment.
During the holidays, also seek out fun activities that you might want to do with family or friends, such as a Turkey Trot, Jingle Bell Run, New Year’s Day special class or cross-country skiing.
- Be flexible. Of course, sometimes even the best plans get interrupted by life. If you can’t get to the gym due to a last-minute shopping trip, then do a quick workout at home. If you oversleep and miss your morning exercise routine, fit in a lunchtime sweat session or go for a power walk after dinner. Or if the kids get sick and you can’t leave the house, try a streaming workout online, or pop in an old favorite exercise DVD. Be creative and find ways to get some exercise in without simply skipping it altogether.
- Travel smart. The holiday season often means traveling, which can throw a wrench into fitness routines. Look for a hotel that has a good fitness center or privileges at a nearby health club. Or bring resistance bands, a jump rope and your laptop so you can exercise in the room; or ask the concierge for some safe running or walking routes. If you’re staying with family or friends at their home, check into getting a guest pass at a local fitness center, or hit the pavement in their area. Be sure to pack your gear – no excuses!
- Sneak in activity. All movement counts, so rally the family for an after-dinner walk to burn some calories and get some fresh air. Or get them going with a pre-meal touch football competition, or a game of Twister or Dance Party in the evening. Go bowling, mini-golfing or to a trampoline park rather than sit on the couch. Try sledding or ice skating if weather permits. Or walk the mall and seek out great deals.
If you are lounging at home in front of the TV, do calisthenics and stretching, or walk up and down the stairs during commercials. Just keep moving!
- Don’t overcommit. Definitely easier said than done, but remember that it’s OK to say no, or to cancel if necessary, for your health and well-being. No one has to go to every party or attend every special event. Allow yourself some down time so that you don’t burn out.
- Sleep. Another one in the “easier said than done” category, but this is so important for your health. Try to maintain regular bedtimes and wake-up times when possible to keep your body in its rhythm. Take short naps during the day to keep yourself going after a late night, or in advance of a long evening. Lack of sleep causes irritability and moodiness, along with headaches and other physical ailments. Do yourself a favor and rest whenever you can.
- Recharge. Take the time to practice relaxation, such as yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, a bubble bath or a massage. Even if only for a few minutes a day, having some quiet alone time and forcing yourself to slow down helps renew your body, mind and spirit so you can fully enjoy the holidays.
- Practice gratitude. After all, that’s what the holidays are about, right? Consciously reflect and be grateful for all you have in your life. Look for the good whenever you can, despite the challenges, frustrations and inconveniences that are part of life. With gratitude, plus some laughter, you’ll nurture yourself and others around you.