With Thanksgiving right around the corner, that marks the beginning for the next 2 months of food, fun and celebration. Along with the celebrations will come headlines highlighting the holiday weight gain that thousand of us experience every year. But good news, you can ignore that! Don’t think about weight gain this holiday season. Rather focus on celebrating with friends and family, while knowing your healthy body won’t be undone with one day of feasting.
Part of living a healthy lifestyle is all about balance. In this FitBliss blog, you’ll find a guide to help you navigate not just the actual holiday but the weeks and days leading up to the big event. Below are tips you can use to make this the healthiest, yet still delicious holiday season.
Prepping for the Holidays
1. It’s not about the actual holidays. Now what you do on Thanksgiving or Christmas day isn’t your top concern. It’s all the other days in between. Leading up to that big day you may encounter holiday treats at work, multiple family gatherings or even kind neighbors bringing over baked goods. These situations are way more frequent than a binge on a holiday. Even though many people overeat on Thanksgiving Day that isn’t going to get you out of shape. Just like doing things right one day isn’t going to make you in instant shape! It’s all about those daily little habits that determine if you are moving towards your health goals.
2. Use a calendar to visualize and plan out the months ahead. At the beginning of holiday season start filling out a calendar with dinner parties, potlucks and work events but also write down when you’ll have time to workout or even meal prep. Make this calendar as detailed as possible with types of workouts (full body, cardio or group classes), food prep days and even add in self-care times. That way you’ll be more likely to stick with a plan when it’s written down and organized.
3. Let go of that idea of being PERFECT! We don’t expect to be perfect in all areas of life but for some reason when it comes to health and fitness we all want to feel perfect. You may miss a workout or forget to meal prep or miss lunch due to work. Everyone will at some point and it’s not the end of the world. Just make sure not to make that a daily habit and refocus on your priorities.
4. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t. Each year you’ll hear yourself or friends mention how busy the holidays are, so workouts and cooking can’t fit in. This year, try to focus on what you CAN do instead of what you can’t. Look for solutions instead of dwelling on the same problems. Maybe when you are short on time, it’s as simple as forgetting the full workout routine and opting for 10 minutes of body weight exercises instead. Just challenge yourself and do what works best for you! To much stress can lead to weight gain as well.
5. Grab a partner. Enlist a buddy system at work or even at home to stay accountable. You may skip the gym yourself but you won’t let someone else down and not show up. Research also suggests you get more out of a workout when you have someone else pushing you and cheering you on! Now when it comes to food it can be as simple as alternating lunch days with a coworker. One day you bring something healthy to share and the next day it’s their turn.
6. Plan around interruptions. We all have our normal routines, but the hardest part of the holidays is losing control of your environment and that routine. Most people travel for the holidays, so it is extra hard to stay on track. Lets say for example, you visit family for a week, so you don’t have your kitchen to meal prep or the gym. But there are solutions to these problems! Instead, buy a day pass, class pass or even a week-long trial membership to the gym, queue up workout videos on your laptop for that home gym or just get outside with the family. Now for food, get in your family’s kitchen to be involved with meal prep. Start by tagging along at the grocery store or meal prep by contributing a side dish or protein that you’re comfortable eating. You never know the family may like your dishes too!
7. Don’t try to lose weight! Trying to shed pounds during these crazy months of eating and drinking can be mentally exhausting. Instead shift your focus on maintenance, which is much more feasible. Keep a healthy lifestyle and avoid the constant thought of weight gain by keeping balance.
8. Bring something! Share food that you love. When you bring something to the event you’ll have at least one healthy option to choose from. Bring a nutritious appetizer, main dish or even a healthy dessert. You could make a veggie platter with crackers, dips and fresh fruit to nibble on before dinner or if you have a sweet tooth bring chocolate covered fruit to offer for dessert. This way if you have any dietary restrictions you won’t feel left out either. You may even convert some people with a new recipe option.
8. Get that beauty sleep. It’s hard to get a restful night sleep during the holiday season. But if you don’t get enough sleep it can affect your food choices the next day. The more tired you are the more likely to overindulge in fatty and sugary foods. So make sleep a priority, even if it’s just one hour extra a night. Try to aim for at least 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep.
Day of Event
1. Don’t skip meals. If you thought skipping breakfast, lunch and snack time would make dinner more enjoyable, think again. This will only backfire on you. Skipping breakfast can lower your metabolism for the day and make you over eat all day long. When you go into a meal super hungry, you will eat more quickly and that normally leads to consuming more calories than you need. Eat your normal meals at their regular times and you will find that you eat less during the event.
2. Come hungry, but not starving. My number one advice during the holidays is to never go to a party hungry. It may seem like a good idea to save that appetite for the main event, but when you are that hungry all will power goes out the window. You’re more likely to eat anything in sight. Once you start eating, it’s very hard to stop. Before starting the festivities enjoy a satisfying snack. Nuts, yogurt, eggs or a small salad with healthy fats are good options for quick snacks. If you’re in a rush make a smoothie with almond milk, berries, protein powder, almond butter and maybe throw in some greens!
3. Keep appetizers light and refreshing. Instead of filing up on heavy appetizers, go for lighter options, such as fresh fruit, veggies, hummus, salads, whole grain crackers, veggie-based soups or even chips and salsa.
4. Explore fun ways to get moving with the family. Family gathering usually involve lots of fun and way too much food, while sitting around catching up. After dinner or even during meal prep get everyone outside any way you can. Start playing a game of football out front or have everyone share what they are thankful for on a walk. Now if it’s too cold – bundle up and once you start moving you’ll warm up!
5. Prioritize your plate with colors. A good rule for filling up your plate at any event is to go heavy (fill half your plate) with veggies. Choose an assortment of roasted, steamed, grilled or fresh veggies like beets, carrots, Brussel sprouts, green beans or cauliflower. Start by filling up on veggies first, so you are less likely to over indulge on the mash potatoes and garlic bread. Leave the other half for lean protein and carbs. Turkey can also be part of a healthy meal, especially if you remove the skin!
6. Follow the SPOON RULE. Now you may want to try everything, so use this technique by taking a spoonful of each dish. That way you can try everything and not feel deprived and actually see if you like it. You don’t want added pressure to eat that ½ cup of ambrosia salad if you don’t even like it. That way, if you do like something then you can decide if you want seconds.
7. Try to keep sugar off the veggies. When roasting veggies use spices and herbs to build flavor instead of added sugar. Try to limit sugar on veggies, especially when there will be enough sugar in your favorite dessert. Start by choosing fresh herbs like, parsley, dill, thyme, sage or basil to build flavor and get those extra health benefits. Spices such as, cinnamon, allspice or nutmeg adds sweetness, so you don’t have to add any sugar!
8. Ditch that “All or Nothing” attitude. Forget about food being black and white. Eating is not that simple. During the holidays people either go all in and try to resist all the “naughty foods” or forfeit altogether. To stay balanced try to eat in your normal routine as much as possible. Don’t purposely skip meals so you’re starving one day and then binge eating the next. You want to make sure you are fueling your body with enough food each day.
9. Try not to drink your calories. I know this is a lot to ask! The goal is to keep your buzz and calories under control. However, you can choose better options like wine or beer rather than sugary cocktails or creamy alcoholic beverages. You will be amazed at the number of calories in those holiday drinks. For example, a packet of hot chocolate contains about 120 calories. And that’s before you add the best part, whip cream and marshmallows! That holiday traditional drink, Eggnog, can pack up to 340 calories in an 8oz serving! So, try drinking lots of water to stay hydrated and even between those drinks.
10. Indulge on the actual holiday. On the actual holiday throw that rule book right out the window. It’s the one day where you get to spend time with family, eat your favorite foods and celebrate another great year. The tips above are that, just tips! You should have zero guilt over food that was prepared with love. Remember that one day of unhealthy eating will not derail your hard work all year long.
11. But still pace yourself. By allowing yourself to enjoy your favorite dishes without overfilling your plate, you’ll be satisfied and guilt free after dinner. It can be very easy to find yourself loading up on seconds or even thirds. Eat until you are 80% full and then STOP! Remember it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to tell your stomach it’s full. Start by getting up from the table and allow your food to digest. If you are hungry later, then eat again.
12. Savor those sweets. It is all about balance! The dessert is often the best part of the meal, so have your dessert, you deserve it! Now when you are eating it, enjoy and savor eat bite. Try to be more mindful noticing the texture, taste and smell by eating more slowly. If you just can't choose one dessert try sharing with a friend or relative and only have 2 to 3 bites of each. That way you get to taste test everything but without any guilt!
13. All else fails, bring an EMERGENCY PACK! For any event if you are unsure of the food choices, then come prepared. Having a food pack handy is a great back up option. Over time you will learn what to bring. But for now stock that pack with a small bag of raw almonds, walnuts or pistachios. Even bring a small container of hummus with fresh veggies or fruit on the side. A healthy protein bar and a bottle of water are the perfect on the go snacks too. You can leave this pack in the car just in case you need that option. So you’ll never stress out about food options again!
Surviving the Aftermath
Whether you indulged with four heaping scoops of garlic mash potatoes or ate two slices of pecan pie, moving forward in a healthy way is vital to survive the holiday festivities. First thing, if you are experiencing feelings of guilt or shame shake those off! Giving into those inner thoughts can lead down a spiral of emotional eating, which is not good for your physical or mental health.
1. Get back into that normal routine. The next day after the holidays is the perfect time to get back into those daily habits. Don’t wait until Monday morning to hop back on the healthy train. Instead, start the following day by tackling a morning workout or eating a healthy breakfast. It can be that simple to reset your mindset. My favorite breakfast is a veggie loaded smoothie to fuel my body with healthy fats, protein, fiber and all those antioxidants.
2. Freeze leftovers or give them away. There is a good chance you’re left with heaps of leftovers. Instead of picking at them for a few days have the family bring tupperware so leftovers can be spread around. Better yet fill up baggies with portioned leftovers to be stored in the freezer for an easy dinner when you’re hungry and out of time. For example, portion out a couple slices of turkey, a small scoop of sweet potatoes and a couple heaping scoops of roasted veggies.
3. Catch up with colleagues. When you get back to work after the holidays make an effort to speak with everyone and ask how their holiday plans went. If you have friends at work go visit them at their desk or take a long lunch to enjoy good company and a brisk walk. It feels great to talk about the holiday fun and even share some of those delicious food recipes
4. Set goals and prioritize. After the holidays it’s important to re-evaluate those health goals. Maybe you stopped cooking or haven't gone to the gym in a few weeks. Don’t worry, just start slow with a morning workout or cooking for the week. But getting back into a daily habit of healthy living will set you up for a better new year. Whether you are going right back to work after the holidays or taking some time off, it’s always important to set new goals and priorities.
Danielle Stadelman, RDN
Danielle currently works as a Corporate Wellness Dietitian for Guckenheimer, a food service provider in many corporate companies in the Greater Los Angeles Area. Danielle also works as a wellness and nutrition content writer for several online platforms. She holds a bachelor degree in Dietetics and Food Administration with an emphasis on Food and Nutrition from Cal State Long Beach. Danielle is currently pursuing her certification in Integrative and Functional Nutrition. She is passionate about educating clients and corporate companies on the importance of eating real whole foods for better health and performance.
Follow @wellnesswithdanielle on Instagram for more tips on nutrition and wellness.
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