Written by Emily Mailloux
Certified Strength and Precision Nutrition Coach
One of the questions that recently came up was: “What are some tips for staying on track with my fitness and nutrition over the holidays?” You’ve been working hard all year, getting those tough workouts in, eating healthy foods, and drinking your water, and the last thing you want is to undo all of your progress this year. But the holidays are just around the corner, and with them come lots of parties and festivities, a change from your regular schedule, and a whole lotta food (and sweets). I’ve got some tips for you below to help you stay healthy, stick to your goals, and still have fun and enjoy the holiday season.
When you’re loading up your plate for that holiday dinner, go for the protein first. Look for turkey, chicken, beef, seafood, eggs, or beans, and get that on your plate first. For women, shoot for at least one palm-sized portion of protein with your meal, and for men, two palm sized portions of protein. (Emily’s tip: During the grazing time before the big meal, I always plant myself by the shrimp cocktail and try to fill up on that, and some cheese, instead of loading up on chips, dips, and sweets. Shrimp is an excellent source of protein!)
After you’ve got your protein on your plate, try to load up at least half your plate with vegetables. Look for Brussels sprouts, green beans, squash, potatoes, carrots, or a salad. (Emily’s tip: Be wary of the “vegetables” that are smothered in sauces or loaded with sugar – marshmallow sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, canned cranberry sauce, cheesy vegetable dips, etc.)
Volunteer to bring the healthy dish
Concerned that there won’t be enough healthy options at your holiday dinner or party? Volunteer to bring a healthy dish to share! That way you have control over what you put in the dish, and you’ll be guaranteed to have at least something delicious and nutritious to enjoy at the party. (Emily’s tip: I don’t know about you, but in my family everyone usually contributes one dish at Christmas and New Year’s. I usually sign up to bring a vegetable – roasted squash or Brussels sprouts are some of my favorites – my famous kale chips, or a box of seltzer. That way I know I’ll have at least one good veggie option for dinner and something calorie-free and delicious to sip on instead of alcohol or high-calorie cider or eggnog.)
Keep an eye on alcohol intake
Speaking of alcohol, keep an eye on your intake during your holiday parties this season. Yes, the holidays are a time for celebration and festivities, but you can easily rake in hundreds of extra calories from wine, beer, cider, and spiked eggnog, and that’s in addition to the giant meal you’ve just eaten. Try to limit yourself to 1-2 drinks per celebration, drink slowly, and alternate drinks with water.
This brings me to tip #5 – make sure you stay hydrated! Adequate water is necessary for digestion, so sipping on water before, during, and after your meal will help all that food digest more easily, so you’re not sitting there with a big food baby unable to move after dinner. Drinking water can also help you feel fuller, so you’re less likely to overeat. (Emily’s tip: Fancify your water. I like to take a glass of plain seltzer and add lemon and lime wedges and some fresh mint leaves to feel like I’m drinking a fancy cocktail. It’s calorie free and because it’s so delicious, I find myself drinking way more water – and less alcohol – throughout the evening.)
The holidays are a time to enjoy the company of your family and friends. I know all of that delicious food on your plate looks tempting, but there’s no need to shovel it down at lightning speed. Slow down, take breaks between bites to wash your food down with water, and engage in conversation with the people around you at the table. Eat mindfully, taking time to notice how each food item tastes and smells, appreciate the preparation that went into each dish, and recall your favorite or earliest family memories of eating these certain foods over the holidays. (Emily’s tip: It takes your stomach 20 minutes to send a signal to your brain that it’s full and time to stop eating. By that time, most of us have already overeaten, which is why we tend to feel stuffed after a holiday meal. Use that 20 minutes wisely. Finish the food on your plate, then talk to your family and friends around the table. Finish your glass of water. When the 20 minutes are up, if you’re still hungry, you can always go back for more. If you’re not still hungry, then you saved yourself an extra 20 minutes of overindulging yourself.)
Get some activity
I know all that tryptophan from that turkey and the wine you drank are probably making you sleepy after your big meal, but try to get up and move around. A post-Thanksgiving dinner family walk is a great idea, and it’s cold out so you’ll want to walk vigorously! Take advantage of having enough people around to form a team and start a game of touch football in the backyard. Or if you’re feeling really motivated, run a 5K, take in an early morning spin class before the festivities start, or go for a hike. (Emily’s tip: I like to hang out with my little cousins or friends’ kids during holiday gatherings. They’ve always got a lot of energy and love to be chased around, so it’s a great way to get some exercise on an otherwise lazy day!)
Remember that Christmas and New Year’s are only one day
Treat them that way. The holidays have a way of spilling over so they end up lasting from December 24th to January 2nd. That’s 42 days! Unfortunately we all too often allow ourselves to indulge on several thousand calorie holiday dinners, cookies, candy, pie, and sweets for the entire length of the holiday season, so before we know it, it’s January and we feel like crap. Give yourself a day (or two) to indulge and celebrate, but try to stick to your regular healthy and balanced diet on all those other days. (Emily’s tip: I like to stick to the 80/20 rule – 80% of the time I eat healthy, balanced meals with lots of veggies and protein, avoid alcohol, and hydrate fully, and 20% of the time I have fun and eat the foods that make me happy and satisfy my sweet tooth. Apply this rule to this holiday season. 20% of those 42 days is 8 days, which means you get to let loose and enjoy 8 days between Thanksgiving and the day after New Years, but reign it in those other 34 days. Balance is key!)
Have the dessert
Finally, have that slice of pie or cake if you know it will make you happy. Do your best to avoid labeling foods as “good” and “bad” foods. Ultimately, you should be able to enjoy the holiday season without feeling guilty about eating one too many of your mom’s homemade chocolate chip cookies. If you’ve been eying those double decker chocolate mint brownies all night, have a brownie (just don’t eat the whole tray!) Listen to your body, celebrate, and enjoy some delicious treats this holiday season.
Happy Holidays and Cheers to a Happy and Healthy New Year!