The words “holiday” and “healthy” are rarely uttered in the same sentence. ‘Tis the season for sugary baked goods, decadent dinners, couch potato marathons and last-minute stress-filled sprint-walks to the mall. If you’ve been focused on getting your health and wellness in order, the holidays can become the ultimate test of wills. That’s why it’s important to greet this season of overindulgence with practical strategies for each situation you may encounter. This year, don’t let the holiday season ruin your progress! Instead, follow these 3 practical strategies to help you CRUSH this holiday season while keeping your health and wellness goals intact.
Strategy #1: Make healthy holiday eating and drinking achievable through planning.
- Make and freeze healthy meals ahead of time. Whether you’re doubling a recipe and storing half of it, or swapping meals with friends, meal prep, like freezer cooking, can prevent habits like stress-eating or eating out of boredom.
- Keep an eye on your portions (literally). Use simple visual guidelines to make it easier to eat healthy portions. For example, a bowl of mac and cheese might be the size of a hockey puck, and a serving of meat is about as big as a deck of cards.
- Enjoy holiday foods in moderation. There are many ways to enjoy holiday foods without overdoing it. Here are a few tips for holiday eating with moderation:
- Don’t walk into a room full of desserts without a plan. Skipping meals or forgetting to eat a light snack before parties leaves you hungry, which makes it much harder to practice self-control.
- Buffet wisely. Choose your favorite foods rather than simply loading up your plate with one of everything.
- Strive for satisfaction. Slow down and take the time to enjoy your favorite foods. Savor them and listen to the cues your body is telling you when you’re satiated. Don’t stuff yourself.
- There are plenty of ways to enjoy your favorite holiday foods healthily without skimping on taste.
- Alcohol: Friend or foe? Unfortunately, alcohol is not only a source of empty calories, but having a few drinks reduces your ability to make rational decisions, making it a lot easier to toss your health goals out the window and indulge carelessly. Here are a few ways to avoid this pitfall and still have fun:
- Hydrate between drinks.
- Use low-calorie mixers
- Sip your drinks slowly and thoughtfully.
- Keep your focus on family and friends.
Strategy #2: Devise holiday fitness hacks to stay active.
- Keep your running or walking shoes on throughout the season. Wearing active shoes makes it easier to take the stairs, take the long way around the mall or workplace, or park the car farther away from your destination. Use a pedometer or activity tracker to optimize your spontaneous workouts.
- 10-minute workouts actually DO work. Mini workouts are another reason to keep comfortable shoes on. Ten-minute workouts build muscle, boost metabolism, and are easy to fit into your busy holiday schedule.
- Try holiday exercise challenges and fun runs. Do a holiday fitness challenge or explore and train for wintertime fun runs in your area. Recruit a friend to keep each other accountable.
- Schedule your holiday workouts and take advantage of mornings. Having a schedule makes it easier to keep your exercise commitment. As you make your schedule, consider morning workouts. Working out in the morning is not only effective, but it frees up the rest of your day for holiday activities.
Strategy #3: Sidestep holiday stress.
- Put your holiday stress in perspective by practicing Mindfulness. Mindfulness is about creating some space between you and your worrisome thoughts. Tai chi, yoga and meditation are great ways to slow down and recognize stressful thoughts for what they are – just thoughts. Mindfulness practices have also been shown to help with physical pain, which can add to stress. Self-care practices like using TENS units can help relieve any chronic, acute*, or arthritic aches and pains that have been exacerbated by the winter months.
- Get the support you need and stick close to your circle. For some, sad memories, grief and family dynamics can cast a dark shadow over the holidays. Support groups, community events, and gatherings can renew your sense of belonging and shared strength.
- If you’re prone to high blood pressure, keep a watchful eye. Stress and anxiety are known to increase your blood pressure. If your risk of hypertension is high, make sure you’re watching your numbers by frequently monitoring your blood pressure, especially during the holidays (when decadent meals and last-minute shopping are routine). An at-home blood pressure monitor can keep you in-the-know.
- Don’t forget to have FUN during the holidays! Making things special and celebrating life are the reasons holidays were invented in the first place. What you eat, how you stay busy, physical activity and incorporating mindfulness can all have positive effects on your mood, but the most important element of a successful season is your outlook. Take a step back and remind yourself that the winter holiday season only happens once a year. Why not enjoy it while it lasts?
*Acute pain refers to sore or achy muscles due to strain from exercise or normal household and work activities.
Originally published in December 2017, this post has been updated to provide tips that are more relevant.