Check out this list of healthy holiday tips to learn how you can enjoy all the festivities without losing sight of your wellbeing!
January first is the biggest day for health and wellness sales. Gym memberships soar, personal trainers get booked up, supplements sell out, and every diet trend out there gets a temporary boost in attention.
If you’re like most people, this time right before the holidays marks a shift in your resolve. Sweets are no longer off-limits, your daily workout goes to the wayside, and you generally just give yourself a pass — it’s the holidays, after all.
Of course, come January, all of those “passes” come back to haunt you as you no longer fit into your favorite jeans, your head feels foggy, and you’re so out of your regular workout routine that it feels like starting over from scratch.
While this may be your go-to mode of operation during the holidays, there is a much better way to go about enjoying all the holiday festivities without losing sight of your health and wellbeing.
In this article, you’ll learn:
- How to stay on track with your health and wellness goals during the holidays
- The best ways to manage holiday stress
- Why finding the gray area in all things is key
- How planning ahead can make a significant difference in your resolve
Tips For Staying Healthy This Holiday Season – Inside and Out
The holidays are about a lot of things; connection, family, gifts, special movies and music, and of course — food. The number one thing that usually loses its power during the holidays is your resolve to eat healthily. You may be tempted to go the black and white route, defying the odds by sticking to a strict diet during the holiday season, but this is a rookie mistake. Just like a pendulum swings, if you try to hold back on your cravings and enjoyment too much, you’ll end up overdoing it once your resolve hits its threshold.
The holidays are also stressful times. Research shows that people tend to feel more stress around the holiday season – not to mention greater irritability and fatigue. (8) Whether it’s the financial strain, the nostalgia that brings you back to different times, or specific people that you manage to dodge all year except for this one season, one thing is certain- stress will arise.
And even though I work as a Naturopathic Doctor and detox expert…I am also human! I have fallen victim to the temptations of holiday treats and the burden of holiday stress just like anyone else!
The good news is that there are some simple things you can do to help you support your health and manage stress so that it doesn’t ruin your holiday.
I have put together this list of simple pointers that have helped me over the years. They will help you stay on track with your diet and manage stress as it arises in the coming weeks.
1. Give Yourself Some Leeway, While Staying Accountable
Yes, this time of year will likely present with more treats and comfort food than you’re used to having in your life. Living in the gray area means that you get to enjoy the foods that come your way in moderation.
Most people are surprised that when they look at the dessert table and really give it some thought, there are only a couple of things on there that are actually calling to them. Maybe have half a slice of pie and a chocolate chip cookie instead of sampling the entire table.
The key here is to avoid depriving yourself of what you want, because nine times out of ten, avoiding it will only make you crave it more.
2. Try Mindful Eating
Okay, choosing one or two treats sounds easy, but in reality, it can be hard to temper your appetite in the presence of your favorite foods. The solution? Mindful eating.
Mindful eating involves using all of your senses (sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound) while enjoying your food. When eating mindfully, you are present with the food you’re eating; this means really enjoying each bite and allowing your senses to take it all in.
For example, let’s say you want to eat a piece of chocolate cake mindfully. The first step would be to actually look at the cake, take in the frosting, and notice how dense or spongy the cake is, does it have any decorations on it?
Next, smell the cake. Do you notice any scents that you didn’t expect? Perhaps this chocolate cake has a little touch of vanilla extract or marzipan.
And now, take a bite of the cake; what does it taste like? Can you detect any specific flavors other than chocolate? How does the cake feel in your mouth? Does the frosting have a fudgy feeling, or is it light and whipped? Is there anything crunchy there? Any sounds you hear as you chew?
This may seem like a tedious process, but in practice, it really is all happening at once. This process of mindful attention allows your brain to take in every single thing about the cake. You fully get to experience it, which leaves you feeling satisfied on a deeper level.
Many people find that when eating mindfully, they only need a fraction of the food they would normally eat in order to feel satisfied.
Research also shows that eating mindfully can lead to weight loss.
3. Don’t Take Home The Leftovers
It may be tempting to take home the extra food lying around after a party, but if you want to be able to get back on track with your regular diet, this is a big no-no. If it’s around, you will eat it — end of story.
Leave the party at the party by going home empty-handed. Your future self will thank you.
4. Bring Your Own Dish
Whether going to a dinner party or a cocktail party, bringing your own dish is always a smart move. This is an excellent tactic for planning ahead, especially if you have some idea of the type of food that will be available at the party.
Going to a cocktail party? Bring a nice big plate of fresh veggies and dip for an appetizer. Dinner party? Bring a delicious side that’s light and healthy (others will thank you). And if the dessert table is your kryptonite, try making a healthier version of your favorites. There are endless recipes on the internet for desserts that are made with sugar and wheat alternatives.
5. Don’t Let Your Blood Sugar Get The Best Of You
When your blood sugar is low, it doesn’t matter how well trained you are at mindful eating and living in the gray area — your survival instincts will take over. There is truly no winning when it comes to low blood sugar and your resolve around food.
How to keep your blood sugar stable?
First of all, never show up hungry. If you’re going to a dinner, a party, or even just meeting a friend for drinks, make sure you have a small healthy snack before you go. This will keep the part of your brain that is looking for food satisfied. It’s exponentially easier to make healthy food choices when you’re not starving.
To keep your blood sugar stable throughout the day, make sure that each meal you eat contains a fair amount of protein. Protein is the most satiating macronutrient, and it will keep you steady for much longer than carbohydrates.
In addition, always have healthy snacks on hand. You never know where your day might take you, so keep some nuts, a healthy (low-sugar) nutrition bar, or a low-sugar trail mix in your car, purse, backpack, or desk.
6. Plan Ahead For The Week
The holidays are a busy time of year; on top of all of your regularly scheduled activities, you now have holiday events, shopping, and traveling on your plate. This is a crucial time of year to plan ahead with both food and exercise.
If you know you have a busy week coming up, take an hour or two on Sunday to meal prep for the week. This doesn’t have to be a big to-do; just prep some simple meals like salad or roasted vegetables with chicken. This is also an excellent time to get out of Instant Pot or Crock-Pot.
In terms of exercise, if you know you’ll be missing a couple of regularly scheduled workouts, be easy on yourself, but make it a priority to sneak in quick bouts of exercise here and there.
Even a 15-minute walk in the morning will make a difference in how you start your day.
You can also try at-home workouts (YouTube has thousands of free options), or for a really quick burst of exercise, try HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts that last about 15 to 20 minutes.
7. Watch Your Alcohol Intake
It’s very easy to say to yourself at the beginning of the night, “I’ll just have one drink.” The problem is, alcohol diminishes your resolve, and once you have one, your ability to stick to a plan can rapidly unwind.
This is where an accountability buddy can come in huge. Tell someone you know that will be at your holiday event that you will only be having one or two drinks that night. If you trust the person, ask them to hold you accountable and to remind you of why you are taking it easy with the alcohol.
It’s not that one night of drinking will ruin your health, but it will make you feel crappy the next day while increasing cravings for sugar and fatty foods. It’s also a lot harder to exercise and do other self-care practices when you’re hungover.
Many people are resistant to slowing down their alcohol intake, especially during the holidays, since it’s such a great stress reliever. If that’s you, I challenge you to try it once. After your experiment of cutting down on alcohol at one event, I’m convinced you will feel so proud of yourself and physically good that you’ll do it again and again.
8. Manage Stress with Mindful Meditation
Finding ways to mitigate stress is vital to health and wellness; that’s true any time of year. However, it becomes twice as important during the holidays as the sheer chaos of this time is enough to throw someone off course.
Getting ahead of stress is always the best tactic, but even when stress comes on in the moment, there are off-ramps that can help you feel calm and grounded.
And one of the best ways to manage stress is practicing mindful meditation ( I also recommend deep breathing, which we will discuss in just a moment).
Mindful meditation is similar to mindful eating, but instead of focusing and paying attention to food, you focus and pay attention to yourself. More specifically, mindfulness meditation involves paying attention, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.
The non-judgmental part here is crucial because when we can pay attention with a curious mind, it creates more objectivity in our awareness.
Most of our stress comes from what Buddhists would call the “monkey mind.” This is the part of our thinking that is constant, non-stop chatter. It creates stories, goes on journeys, overanalyzes, and basically lives in a world of its own. There is no objectivity in the monkey mind, it just keeps chatting away about anything and everything, and it loves to stress you out.
When you sit in mindfulness, you get to watch this monkey mind and its elaborate storytelling without latching on to any of it as if it’s a fact. The more adept you get at this process, the more you will be able to see that your thoughts often control your emotions and that most of your thoughts are actually just nonsense.
You can find guided mindfulness meditations on apps like Headspace or Insight Timer or just by searching YouTube.
The best part of mindfulness meditation is that even just five to ten minutes a day can start to create changes in your brain that help you better manage stress.
9. Balance Your Nerves and Digestion with Deep Breathing
Deep breathing is an excellent way to calm your nervous system in the moment. While meditation can train your brain to get ahead of stress loops in your brain, deep breathing is a tool that will help you regain control of your body in a stress response.
To practice deep breathing, sit comfortably in an upright position. Make sure your back is straight and shoulders are relaxed. Begin by taking a slow inhale through your nose, focusing on filling up your belly (not your chest) with air. Next, release the breath out of your nose slowly and gently until your belly is empty of air. Take a pause at the bottom of the breath, and repeat.
After a few moments of this, your thoughts will calm down, and you will feel more centered and grounded.
When you breathe deeply into your belly (as opposed to shallow, chest breathing), you signal to your brain and body that you are safe.
Oftentimes in a stress response, our body responds from an ancient mammalian part of our brain that thinks we are in immediate danger. This results in increased heart rate, shallow breathing, and blood flow to our limbs. Although these physiological changes would have likely saved your ancestors’ lives allowing them to fight or flee, today, it really just feeds the monkey brain giving it “evidence” that something is terribly wrong.
By slowing down your breath, you take control back from your fight or flight nervous system, and your brain gets the message, “all is well, we can breathe deeply, the threat is gone.”
Additionally, deep breathing offers a simple yet very powerful way to enhance vagal tone. While there are hundreds of breathing techniques out there, deep belly breathing is particularly helpful for stimulating a sense of calm.
Exercise is not only a fantastic way to keep the pounds from creeping on during the holidays, but it is an excellent stress reliever. In fact, just five minutes of aerobic exercise can stimulate a relaxation response in your body.
When you exercise, your feel-good hormones (known as endorphins) get a boost, and it produces a stress-relieving effect in your body. You can think of exercise as a way to burn off excess agitation and stress and allow you a renewed outlook on life.
Many people find that exercise is one of the best ways to carve out some “me time” as well, which can be hard to do during the holidays.
This is just one more reason to make sure that even if your schedule gets busy, be sure to prioritize movement in your day — even just a few minutes should bring some relief.
Before we go, I have one more bonus tip: if you are feeling overwhelmed by the stressors of the holiday season, write it out.
Journaling can be incredibly therapeutic, especially when your mind is abuzz and refuses to quiet down. Research shows that journaling can help to get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper. When your thoughts are stuck rattling around in your brain, they can take over and tend to have a life of their own. Therefore, taking time to journal it out can provide both relief and insights as you make space for more productive ways of thinking.
If you’re not a big journaler, you can also use writing as a way to bring relief by simply making lists. Once again, the same concept applies — get it out of your head and onto paper. Once your “to do” list is written, you no longer have to mull it over in your head ad nauseum.
The holidays may come with a healthy dose of chaos, but it doesn’t mean that your life needs to be turned upside-down. These simple tips are both accessible and effective. Of course, you don’t need to follow every suggestion in this article; pick and choose the tactics that will work best for you.
And remember, it’s not all black and white. There is no need to be perfect. Live in the gray area and do what works for you. Happy Holidays!
Click Here for References+
Smyth, Joshua M., et al. “Online positive affect journaling in the improvement of mental distress and well-being in general medical patients with elevated anxiety symptoms: A preliminary randomized controlled trial.” JMIR mental health 5.4 (2018): e11290.
Chen, S., et al. “Effects of heart rate variability biofeedback on cardiovascular responses and autonomic sympathovagal modulation following stressor tasks in prehypertensives.” Journal of human hypertension 30.2 (2016): 105-111.