The holiday season is upon us, and while we love all things merry and bright, let’s face it — the upcoming months can come with a side of stress. Trying to stay on track with our goals and stick to a healthy eating and exercise routine can feel extra difficult this time of year. But here’s the thing — there are plenty of ways to indulge in some of your seasonal favorites and stay on track during the holidays, and I’m going to show you how.
As a certified nutrition coach, I get a lot of questions when it comes to food and staying on track during the holidays. I happen to personally love both of those topics (particularly when they’re combined). I’ve also been in the health industry for the better part of a decade, educating readers and clients on how to thrive through the development of healthy habits — so I’ve had these conversations many times. The biggest questions I hear concerning how to stay healthy during the holidays: how do you mix the two, and can you truly “have your cake and eat it, too” when the holiday season is upon us?
Can You Have Your Cake And Eat it Too During the Holidays?
Short answer, yes. Yes, you absolutely can! The basis of my practice — and my training — is to help individuals tune into their bodies, their needs, and their habits more mindfully and intentionally. The goal is not deprivation nor elimination of food groups, but rather how to mindfully incorporate foods you love (and connect to culturally, emotionally, and mentally) into a healthy, diverse, well-rounded diet and lifestyle.
And what better way to connect culturally to food than to experience the nostalgic, heartwarming joy of your favorite holiday treats? Across cultures and centuries, food has been a means of connection; to one another, to memories, to different places around the world.
This time of year, this could come in the form of digging into your beloved grandmother’s candied yams at Thanksgiving, annually making tamales with your family around the holidays, recreating a regional Christmas cookie recipe to honor old traditions and lineage, ordering matzah ball soup from your favorite deli, or simply sipping a cup of cocoa while listening to your favorite holiday tunes.
Some of you might already be there, enjoying food, not giving it a second thought, and moving right along into January, on track with your goals. And some of you might not be there. It’s important to honor the valid concerns and fears some have surrounding food and holiday indulgences— particularly if those things interfere with goals you’ve set and have been working toward. It’s okay to recognize your fear! Simultaneously, I want to assure you that it’s going to be just fine — there are so many ways that you can celebrate the holiday season without deprivation, all while honoring your unique wellness journey.
Ahead, ways to “stay healthy” during the holidays: mind, body, and soul!
Stay Healthy During the Holiday with These 7 Hacks
#1 Nothing Off Limits, But Everything In Moderation
One of the core principles of my particular school of nutritional thought (Precision Nutrition) is that nothing is truly off-limits (unless you’re allergic or sensitive to it, of course). Instead of looking at it in an all-or-nothing mindset, think of limiting those more indulgent foods that have less nutritional value and amplifying healthier choices. This brings the “everything in moderation” trope front and center. Clichéd, but true!
Just remember: it’s part of a bigger picture. What percent of your daily intake is allocated to sweets, rich foods, alcohol, and holiday decadence? Does it need adjusting? Are you getting enough nutrients in other areas? This leads me to the next important bit…
#2 Tune Into Your Body
Keeping a food journal is a great way to reflect not just on what you consumed but how you felt physically and emotionally when you had that food — this can be really telling! It also helps you begin a more mindful approach to eating. Always listen to your body.
#3 Be Mindful, Grateful, and Slow
Speaking of mindful eating, this is another important tip: slow down, think about what you’re eating, and practice gratitude while you eat. We’re all a bit more focused on what we’re thankful for at the tail end of the year, so apply this to your meals and treats, too.
Slowing down your eating while you reflect serves a few purposes. There’s the aforementioned mindful eating benefit, and on top of that, slowing down your ingestion of food has also been shown to help support weight loss efforts.
#4 Eat to 80 Percent Fullness
Another method for how to stay healthy during the holidays? Try to eat until you’re 80% full. This may take some attunement while you adjust to your bodily cues and see what that really feels like (again, tuning in to your body and practicing mindfulness), but when you get to that point, it’ll give your body and brain a chance to catch up. This just-satiated state will help prevent overeating, and it’s a great tool to use on big holiday meal days like Thanksgiving.
#5 Focus on Your Mental and Emotional Health
Sometimes we turn to certain foods (and libations) as a means of comfort when we’re stressed or lonely, and this can happen a lot in the wintertime, particularly during the holiday season.
Some of the previous steps will help you tune into when that might be happening (and react accordingly), but if you want to be proactive, it’s crucial to have some good mental health support during this time of year.
If you do notice your cravings kick in during more emotional moments, come up with a toolkit of your de-stressing activities that you can use more preventatively. Yoga, meditation, long walks, more sleep and therapy or counseling are all proven ways to mitigate stress; incorporating movement, mindfulness, and other healthy habits into your routine — holidays and beyond — will help in so many ways.
#6 Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Rule of thumb: drink more water. Many of us aren’t drinking enough water, and dehydration can be mistaken for hunger! Hydration helps you feel more full (which can prevent overeating), helps you digest more effectively, and can even help with sleep and mood. A list for staying healthy during the holiday season wouldn’t be complete without this essential step!
#7 Get More Sleep
Rounding out that whole picture of health, you’ve got to get some more shuteye. Seventy million Americans are chronically sleep-deprived, so make an effort to get in a good bedtime habit. If weight is truly a concern for you at this time of year, this is even more important; insufficient sleep can undermine your weight loss efforts (the inverse is true, too — good sleep, more weight loss).
How to Stay Healthy During the Holidays? Keep it in Context
At the end of the day, remember that this season is quick, and it’s temporary — just like any change to your routine. Weight gain isn’t everyone’s concern, but if it *is* something on your mind, remember this: holiday weight gain, on average, has been shown to be less than a pound.
I hope this helps you find ways to indulge mindfully and joyfully this year. With good rest and hydration, healthy eating habits, and a heart full of gratitude, this may just be a richer, brighter holiday season for you… and you’ll roll right into the new year with great habits in place and a smile on your face. Cheers to you, FitOn fam — I raise my glass (of cocoa) to you, virtually.