We understand that after working so hard all year to achieve fitness and weight goals, that the holidays — and tempting comfort foods — can feel intimidating and scary instead of joyful. Ahead, some tips on navigating the holiday season (and all the treats that come with it) without feeling like you’re sabotaging your progress. And a quick PSA: even if you do gain some weight over the holidays, science has shown that statistically… it’s quite minimal (we’re talking one pound on average). But we know this is important to many of you, so let’s get into a game plan with five deprivation-free holiday weight maintenance tips.
5 Holiday Weight Maintenance Hacks Without Restriction
#1 First Up, Don’t Stress!
Studies have shown that stress may be just as unhealthy as junk food, and many Dietitians and mental health professionals agree that the stress over food may be more harmful than cookies and cocoa. After all, these are well-deserved indulgences that feed your soul — not toxins. You know what is a veritable toxin? Unchecked stress.
Stress releases hormones in the body that can contribute to a slew of health problems, including unwanted weight gain and retention. Our negative thoughts about food (read: “That pecan pie probably has so many calories!” or “I can’t eat those mashed potatoes, they’re full of fat!”) can cause this stressful hormone cascade — without even eating the food. That’s right: your negative thoughts around food can trigger a stress response, (which could, in turn, impact your weight goals — obviously not ideal if your personal goal is weight loss).
So, moral of the story: stress is worse than food could ever be, and these negative emotions around food (and general stress, for that matter!) are more of an adversary than the calories are. Make sense? So prioritize stress-reduction and management (suggestion: meditation), and work on improving your relationship with food — and enjoy it!
#2 Balance, Balance, Balance
Listen: unless you’re an anomaly, we’re guessing you’re not eating turkey and eggnog weekly from January through October (where do you even get eggnog after January?). This face-first dive into rich, traditional foods is truly a once-a-year kind of thing. And yes — it goes on for about six weeks — but if you find your balance, eat mindfully, and let yourself savor and enjoy, chances are, you’re not going to undo your progress toward your personal goals.
Here’s the thing, though — don’t make peppermint bark, gingerbread fudge, and macaroni and cheese your daily meal (thrice daily). We know you probably know this, but it bears repeating: balance is key! If you’re sipping a chestnut praline latte at breakfast, opt for a veggie scramble or some fresh fruit to ensure you’re eating a nutrient-dense, health-centric meal. You don’t need to ‘healthify’ your favorite sweets (unless you want to!) if you’re eating your greens, proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats throughout the day.
A lot of people like the 80/20 rule, as it’s flexible — and a little less intimidating than a restrictive diet. Eat your healthy meals and snacks 80 percent of the time, and the other 20 percent… feel free to dig into some homemade pumpkin pie.
#3 Move More
Exercise during the winter months is so important, especially with the lack of daylight (and its bearing on our mental health). A regular sweat session throughout the week can improve your mood, bolster your immune system — and ensure that you’re revving that metabolism. Think about training your metabolism for the Super Bowl, but in this case, the sporting event is just a barrage of candied yams and holiday hams.
Consistency is of the utmost importance here. If you can only get a 15-minute workout in each day, that’s OK! Sneak in movement wherever and whenever you can (walk more, take the stairs, stretch, ride your bike). Take a stroll after each dinner, do a 10-minute dance class in the morning and a quick yoga session in the evening — whatever it is, find ways to keep after it, day after day. We know you’re busy, so that’s why we have the Quick Hits section on the app.
Another one of our favorites? Start a new tradition with your family. One we like to do is a morning workout with friends or family (or both) the morning of a big holiday (chiefly Thanksgiving). Whether you get out for a sunny or snowy hike, go for a short run around the neighborhood, or a bootcamp class in the living room — finding ways to sweat and smile together can not only create a stronger bond but create a happier experience for everyone. Holiday moments aren’t just limited to the dinner table!
#4 Don’t Restrict Yourself
Don’t get it twisted: we’re all about portion control when it comes to those seasonal indulgences. But don’t starve or deprive yourself as a way to manage your intake and weight. This is especially important before any holiday gatherings. Not eating all day before Thanksgiving dinner is a recipe (pun intended) for absolute disaster in the form of an over-the-top, my-stomach-hurts binge-fest. The overeating can cause negative feelings (looping back to the point about stress) which can set you more off course.
This also goes back to the balancing tip — plan delicious healthy foods for the first part of the day, and head into your family gathering with a normal hunger level so you can truly enjoy and savor your food.
And a fun fact: by not restricting yourself from your favorite holiday dish, you may be setting yourself up for more healthy eating success. It turns out that “goal-deviation behaviors” (aka, eating something calorie-dense or sweet while you’re trying to lose or maintain weight) can contribute to your overall satisfaction and staying the course with your goals.
#5 Eat Mindfully
On that note, savoring your food is a big deal when it comes to holiday weight maintenance, and even past the holiday season! Chew more slowly, eat more slowly, inhale the aromas, contemplate the complexities of a dish — turn yourself into a foodie. It turns out this has real benefits in terms of portion control and feeling more satiated. It’s called mindful eating, and research has even associated it with the potential to support weight loss efforts. So, set yourself up for success this holiday season by eating more mindfully and bring this healthy habit into the new year too.
Enjoying The Holiday Season Without That Side of Guilt
We hope you go into the holiday season embracing all of the progress you have made this year — whether that’s crushing your fitness or weight goals or supporting your mental health with things like regular meditation and self-care. Continue to brings these things into this busy time of year, but also find space to enjoy what the holiday season brings (and yes, that may include your favorite holiday dessert!)
Use these five deprivation-free holiday weight maintenance hacks to stay on track with all of your progress, but also loosen up a bit and drop the stress that often comes with the holiday season, so you can actually enjoy it, guilt-free. We bet you might feel even more joyful when January 1 rolls around and you’re ready to kick butt on healthy resolutions. Happy holidays!