The Holidays are here! ‘Tis the season of overspending and overeating, right? I’m not going to try and tell you otherwise – the fact is, the Holidays have a reputation of being stressful for a reason. There are presents to buy, festive gatherings to attend, family members to see. Talk about expectations! Add to that the copious amounts of cookies, wine, and fancy hors d’oeuvres, and it’s no wonder many people start the new year with loosened belt buckles.
I’m no expert, but I have read my fair share of health/fitness magazines and healthy-living blogs over the years, and I think I do a pretty good job of maintaining my weight (and sanity) throughout the stressful Holiday season. So I thought it might be helpful to share some tips for how I stay “healthy” without sacrificing enjoyment during the Holidays. Keep in mind, these tips are just some of what works for me – to each his/her own!
Top Five Tips for Staying Sane and Healthy During the Holiday Season
1. Be picky: The Holidays are full of tempting occasions: office potlucks, cookie exchanges, cocktail parties, family dinners – the list goes on. Each of those occasions is bound to be filled with an assortment of tempting food and drink – cheese plates, fancy appetizers, kiss cookies (a personal favorite), popcorn tins, red wine. When you’re feeling spirited and jovial as we tend to around the Holidays, it’s easy to want to “live it up” and eat and drink everything. But if we do that, we’re bound to consume things we don’t even like that much, or aren’t even special.
So before eating something, I like to ask myself: do I really like xyz? Is it something special for the Holidays? You’d be surprised the number of times the answer to those questions is “no”. Cheese plates are a good example – yes, they are tempting, but do I really want a boring cheddar cheese cube and cracker? Instead, I prefer to save my calories for foods that I know really are unique to the Holidays, like my work husband’s (yes, that’s a thing) peanut butter buckeye balls. He brings them in every year and every year they are to-die-for. #worthit.
2. Be mindful: This is a tough one for me, and one that I’ve worked on over the years. My eight-year-old self wants to eat all. the. cookies. Why stop at three when I can eat 25 and be no worse for the wear? Except the problem is, I’m not eight anymore. I’m 30, and I can’t eat 25 cookies and not pop out of my pants, or at the very least feel gross. It’s more important to me to feel good and fit in my clothes than it is to eat 25 cookies. But of course, knowing that and actually putting it into practice are two different things.
That’s where mindfulness comes in. Instead of eating all 25 without even registering the action, I savor each cookie. I take small bites, I eat slowly, and I take mental note of what I’m eating and how it tastes. If, after two or three cookies, I really really want another, then I have it. But I am consciously making that choice rather than mindlessly consuming just because it’s there. This, when combined with tip #1, makes for a much more satisfying experience – I’m eating something I really want and really paying attention to how much I’m enjoying it. After all, isn’t that the key to life?
3. Start healthy: Throughout the month of December, cookies and treats line the spare tables in my office more than discarded sheets of paper. It’s nearly impossible not to be tempted by them. I love cookies, and I would hate to think of a December without enjoying some (or many) of them. But one thing I never do is have a sweet before lunch. I’m always amazed at the number of my co-workers who mindlessly (see #2) grab a cookie before they’ve even checked their email. To me, that just sets the stage for a day of over-eating and sugar crashes. Instead, I eat a healthy breakfast (future post!) and lunch before indulging in any sweets. That way, I’ve saved my sweets for a time when I actually crave them – after lunch, not before.
4. Make time to exercise: This is a big one! All the time I hear of people, even regular exercisers, who just throw in the towel during the month of December. I’ve even read interviews with celebrities who claim to not exercise the entire month (yea, right). I, on the other hand, believe in the exact opposite, and not for the reason you might think. Yes, exercise might help you maintain (not lose) weight over the Holidays. But more importantly, it helps you feel so. much. better. I feel the same way when I travel for work – even if I eat a ton, getting in a workout helps me feel like normal.
You might be saying, “but I’m too busy to workout!” Yes, you might have to skip a workout to attend your work Holiday Happy Hour, but you don’t have to skip all of them. Schedule exercise into your day the same way you schedule showering, and I guarantee you’ll find room most days. As I tell my Spin class, “if there is one thing you do during December, make it coming to Spinning on Monday nights”. Workout in the morning, arrive at the party an hour late (no one will care that much), squeeze in a quick two miles at lunch. Make it work for you. If you can find a way to exercise throughout the Holiday season, I promise you that at the very least, you’ll feel less stressed and more in control – and who doesn’t want that?
5. Go easy on yourself: Last, but definitely not least, go easy on yourself. There is nothing that drives me crazier than all these health magazines and their recipes for “lightening up the Holidays” or suggestions to have “just one drink”. Come on, people – the Holidays are meant to be enjoyed! Of course, that doesn’t mean you should eat and drink everything in sight (see #1 and #2), but it does mean that if you have a few too many cookies or glasses of wine, the world won’t come to an end. I try to view the next day, or even the next meal, as a fresh start. There really is no point in obsessing about something you already consumed. So yes, be picky and be mindful, but after that, just enjoy! After all, isn’t this the most wonderful time of the year?!
What are your tips for staying healthy while enjoying the Holidays?