It’s almost that time of the year again (I can’t believe it either!). Soon the little ones will be knocking on our doors in the dark in hopes to get some sweets they’ve been looking for all year long. As adults, while we think “I am purchasing this candy for trick-or-treaters”, some of it disappears waaaaaay before dark. So how do we survive the holidays and not gain a bazillion pounds, especially since the holidays seem to start sooner every year? How do we stay mobile and lucid when stuffing our faces and sitting on the couch are so tempting? Is it possible to replace “Happy holidays!” with “Healthy holidays!”?
Let’s be honest here. Holidays – Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas (if you celebrate any) are the amazing time of the year. There is so much warmth, excitement, and kind energy in the air… Add pumpkin spice everything, warm tones of tree colors outside, and chilly (or very cold) mornings. Everything around you forces you to slow down, but on the contrary, holidays create a significant rush, stress, and often a lot of extra weight put on and just overall “blah” feeling.
Healthy eating during the holidays: What can go wrong?
I would love you to feel better this year. Let’s look at the following holiday’s components. On our naughty list:
1. Old fashioned eating. A lot of eating. Too much of eating.
2. Lack of movement. Moving two feet to get your remote or steps to the refrigerator do not count.
3. The increase in drinking (eggnog and other adult beverages).
4. Slippery slope and an All-or-Nothing approach ( “I will start over when the holidays are over” mindset).
1. There is nothing wrong with eating. In fact, you should be eating in order to live, move, and enjoy yourself. The problem with the holidays is… we stop paying attention to 1) what we eat 2) how much we eat 3) when, how, and what quality of foods we eat. It often feels like the holidays are a months-long buffet. Every item is hard to turn down, you want to try everything, and everything seems to be your favorite. Even worse, everything becomes your favorite when you see it regardless of what was your favorite a few minutes ago!
There are ways to learn how to eat mindfully and to address stress issues so that your holiday meals are truly memorable and delicious in every bite you take.
2. That full belly and two servings of dessert WILL slow you down. Holiday foods are often fattier, carby, and sugary (well, full of protein too depending on the dish, but at that point, all your body thinks is “SUGGGAAAAR!!!”). In addition, often it is cold and snowy outside (unless you are close to a warm beach), and it will make you want to stay in more than you should. Pick up a new routine – maybe do a 10-15 minute workout with your friend or partner, stretch more, choose to work standing up, and walk around (or do push-ups, planks etc.) Challenge yourself during your lunch break. Anything is better than sitting.
3. Since we are already eating and sitting more, why not have another drink, right? Add the warm company of family and friends, and you are in for a two-month long chain of social events involving drinking, eating, and sitting. Whether you are choosing some eggnog or more serious beverages, you are indulging, and often lose or shift your focus towards less important things (i.e. relaxing WITH the help of other substances). This can lead to the detriment of your positively built habits.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying a drink or two, but there are a few potential outcomes:
1) You will really enjoy your drink or two; 2) You will enjoy way more than a drink or two ( and pay for it the next day), and 3) You will enjoy those drinks, and start getting munchies. I mean MUNCHIES. Alton Brown recently shared that he doesn’t have a problem with a drink, as the problem happens after when we decide we are hungry for something tasty. Shelf-sweeping, table-cleaning munchies. If you have good self-control, this may not affect you badly. But if you don’t, and if your friends or family, try to entice you with another drink or dish, chances are you may regret it later. Anyways. Enjoy your adult beverages, but be reasonable. You don’t want to have regrets around the holiday season, there is enough going on already.
4. A slippery slope ride can start with the aforementioned combination of drinks + food, or just too many drinks, too many events, and too many temptations. You find yourself lacking motivation or any ambition. It is easy to tell yourself: “Tomorrow”. It is okay, it is the time of the year to slow down, but watching what happens today can help tomorrow be much easier.
Other factors such as stress, lack of sleep, and additional travel can affect your healthy habits too. Choose to stick with most of your healthy routines, and do your best to follow through. Sometimes following one positive habit enables to follow others. The holidays often include getting together with family, and people you have not seen in a while. It can go very smoothly, and also it can cause some drama. If you are an emotional eater, check out this article.
As for your sleep and stress, it is easier said than done but remember: most stress is self-inflicted, and lack of sleep can be fixed by better time management and…sleep. Forgive me for being the Master of the obvious here. But it’s the fact! Go to bed early, prioritize, delegate, and ask for help. You will be just fine if your puppy gets 5, not 6 gifts this year.
15 tips to have healthy holidays (and feel awesome)
1. Try going completely clean this season. Look up recipes, prepare, find the best-rated stuff, increase your carbs – but stay on the wagon. Find a good reason (or three) why you want to do it, find a partner in crime, and do it!
2. Go 80/20. Stick to your clean meals most of the time, but allow some room for treats. This approach works really well with planning ahead. You know you are going to a few holiday parties this weekend? Eat well for the rest of the week! If you think about it in terms of numbers, most people eat 2-3 meals a day + a snack. Let’s average it with 3 meals + 7 days = 21 meals. 20% of it is 4 meals. In this case, 20% are your treats, and they won’t make create 80% of your results. But they won’t destroy your achievements, either.
3. Drink lots of water. Whether you are eating, or not, training or chilling, drinking alcohol or avoiding it – water will help to flush out the toxins, keep you hydrated and fresh during the feast. Plus you can’t eat as much in comparison to non-hydrated state. Sneaky, I know.
4. Stay full..before the party. You don’t need to feel stuffed, but have a snack or light meal including some protein, vegetables, and healthy fats 2-3 hours prior to going. You will be less tempted to eat everything in sight, and you can still taste and enjoy the offerings.
5. Make better choices. From better to best – that is the scale to abide. If you decide to have a dessert but know that you are usually not feeling great after gluten – choose a healthier version with almond flour, coconut or cassava. Next option would be the one with fewer carbs ( cheesecake), and the best would be to avoid dessert. I am kidding. Something with alternate sweeteners can work if you know that the sweet tooth is unavoidable. Pick the best natural sugar sweetener for you.
6. Focus on holidays, and be loyal to your own choices and others’. Please do not freak out if your aunt did not use organic cranberries and fair-trade Madagascar vanilla beans for Cranberry sauce this year. She really tried her best, and she acted out of love. The goal is to aim for a healthier lifestyle, and it is difficult to hit the bullseye every time. Try not to be arrogant about your healthy choices either! ( I will still love you, but others may not).
7. Choose vegetables and meats as your main fuel source. A bit of butter will make them even tastier. If you can, stay lower carb for the majority of your meals. Having enough protein and vegetables will also keep you more energized than gobbling up every type of pie that exists (despite wanting to try them all!).
8. Avoid stress eating. There are many ways to handle stress and emotional eating. Focus on identifying your triggers, and switching up your routines. Choose a brisk walk instead of a sugary dessert.
9. Move often regardless of what you ate. Get up and walk your dog ( instead of just letting him out). Go for a walk after a meal instead of plopping yourself in front of the TV. Do a quickie (not what you think!) – choose an easy 10-15 minute workout using just body weight (use this guide). You may not hit the gym or go running easily in the winter, but if you desire to stay in shape and energized, you will be able to find quick and effective ways feel good about yourself.
10. Make it about family, friends, and connections. It is the warmest time of the year, time to be kind and thoughtful, generous, and giving. It is also time to reconnect with others as well as with yourself. Be mindful of how you are doing things – with kind intentions, in a caring way, and focus on the intimate connections with the people you love. Foods come after that. Everything is less stressful when we focus on the right things.
11. Bring your favorite clean dish (and eat it too!). This is your chance to share something with others – something you truly love. One of my favorite things to share with the most surprising taste and health benefits is mashed cauliflower (or cauli-mash). It tastes like real potatoes when made right. This will a) keep you on track 2) share your love for healthy eating with others c) inspire someone to try it at home. Win-win, right?
12. Postpone the indulgence. There is not going to be a hole in your heart if you don’t eat the dinner rolls you planned, but only if you shift your focus. Decide not to indulge the last minute – and feel good about it. Be proud of who you are, and the choices you made. It is tempting, but willpower is a skill that gets trained just like a muscle. Use it more often and you will be surprised how much stronger it becomes.
13. Avoid guilt when indulging. What’s the point? Let’s be honest here. None of us are eating 100% perfect 100 % of the time. Guilt is a buzz kill and a stressor that will cause more trouble on top of all holidays stress. It does not mean that you should just “worry about it later”. It means to be reasonable, but avoid guilty feelings if/when you indulge. Nobody’s perfect, and we live once.
14. Keep your eyes on the prize. Have some goals in mind? If not, it is about time to set one. How about running a 5k in the spring? Or remodeling part of your house without hiring help? Sleeping more and moving more? Even the simplest goals can help you to stay on track during the holidays. The more complex and ambitious ones will motivate you even more ( care to join me for a marathon in March?)
15. Enjoy whatever you do as long as it fits your goals! Does not fit your goals? Time to tailor it up. Simple as that.
What are your strategies to stay on track? Do you have any holiday season tips or tricks you would love to share?
See ya soon,
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Author: Anya Perry battled boring diets, low energy, and declining health for over 10 years before she found what works. Now, she helps women achieve their dream state of health, fitness, and vitality… without the struggles, battles of miserable diets and yo-yo results. She can’t live without coffee and challenges.