Thanksgiving officially marks the start of the holiday season, which I generally refer to as the “eating season.” If you’re trying to eat well and stay healthy, it’s also a season of angst. With all the rich foods and sweet indulgences that surround us during holiday parties, gatherings and events there’s no doubt that the threat of unwanted weight gain and related issues constantly lurks. All the lazy days spent indoors doesn’t help either. So, is it even possible to stay healthy during the holidays? Well, of course it is!
I know it’s tempting to just give in, overindulge, and then make a New Year’s resolution to get healthy and lose weight, but I encourage you not to let the holiday season become a free-for-all. This might seem easier said than done, but trust me, it’s doable. To keep you on top of your game, I’ve put together a list of quick and easy tips – in no particular order – that’ll help you stay in good health and great shape throughout the holidays and even beyond!
1. Get Your Sleep Schedule on Track
Lack of sleep impairs metabolic health and elevates cortisol levels. Cortisol itself is a potent stress hormone that’s linked to increased belly fat. Over time, a lack of sleep can even increase appetite by influencing hunger hormone levels. All these effects are a sure recipe for unwanted holiday weight gain. To stay healthy during the holidays, use your breaks and vacation time to catch up on some Z’s. While most adults need 7-8 hours of good quality sleep each night, at a minimum you should shoot for six.
2. Engage in More Spontaneous Activity
Americans spend an average of 84 hours on holiday shopping and partying making this the perfect season for more spontaneous activity. This can include anything from using stairs instead of elevators and escalators when shopping to parking far away from each of your destinations to get in more walking. By regularly engaging in different types of spontaneous activity this way, you can burn hundreds of extra calories during the day.
3. Snack Smarter When Out and About
Since on-the-go snacking is so common during the holiday season, I always recommend having a good stash of “convenience foods” within arm’s reach. An apple, baby carrots, nuts, seeds, edamame, popcorn and whole grain crackers are just some of the many wholesome snack options you can choose from. For added protein and fat, bring along a serving of your favorite Greek yogurt, nut butter or even hummus for dipping.
4. Eat at Least One Big Salad Every Day
The demanding, intense and unpredictable nature of the holiday season can make it especially difficult to consistently plan and prep meals. That’s where you’ll find a friend in salads. Now, as That Salad Lady, I may be a little biased about this one, but for good reason. Whether you eat at a restaurant or build your own bowls at home, salads are one of the quickest, easiest and most effortless ways to get a ton of veggies, quality protein, and other whole foods into a single meal (check out our Five Bowl Basics for some great ideas).
5. Engage in Random Fit Sessions
You can greatly ward off holiday weight gain and maximize your overall health by putting yourself through random “fit sessions” that encourage less couch time. This doesn’t require a single piece of equipment and as little as 20-30 minutes a day goes a long way! Rope jumping, jogging in place, hula hooping and even simple calisthenics like jumping jacks, push-ups and squats are just a few exercises you can add to the list.
6. Don’t Forget the Healthy Holiday Eats
Holiday eating doesn’t always have to be “unhealthy,” especially when parties and social gatherings aren’t on the schedule. During these downtimes, try preparing nutritious meals at home. This can be as simple as putting a healthy spin on winter favorites like chili, stews and soups, or using natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup, seasonal fruits and spices to create healthier desserts like puddings, crisps and ambrosia salads.
Try our “Rubbed Kale and Butternut Squash Salad with Quinoa,” which is jam-packed with fresh winter flavors and nutrition.
7. Lift Weights at Least Twice a Week
Weightlifting not only curbs unwanted weight gain, but it also provides an effective outlet by which you can reduce holiday stress. Believe it or not, just one solid weightlifting session can boost your mood and even elevate your metabolic rate for hours and hours after. This means you’ll burn more calories during any given activity, even resting or feasting. As little as two days a week of whole-body training with free weights, machines, rubber tubing or your own bodyweight is all it takes.
8. Practice Portion Control with Desserts
With all the freshly baked cookies, cakes and pies that surround us during the holidays I suspect you’re going to indulge a bit. In fact, I encourage it! Treating yourself is an act of self-care. Most important is that you don’t go overboard, as excessive and continuous indulging can trigger unhealthy spikes in blood sugar levels. Instead of overindulging, enjoy small portions of 1-3 of your favorites. A ‘small portion’ means 1-2 mini cookies, a thin slice of cake or a small brownie.
9. Lace Up the Skates and Hit the Ice
Ice skating is one of the most popular winter activities around, in both cold and warm weather climates alike. Since it requires a lot of exertion over an extended period of time, ice skating is also a wonderful, way to stay active and healthy over the holidays. Whether performed outdoors or in an indoor arena, the act of ice skating can burn as much as 450 calories an hour – even if you’re like me and spend most of the time falling.
10. Crank Up the In-House Chores
A lot of folks underestimate the calorie-burning power of household chores, especially during holiday breaks. Believe it or not, you can burn up to 180 calories with just an hour of cleaning and knock off another 150 with an hour of cooking. If you’re like me, you might spend in excess of 6-8 hours performing these tasks on any given weekend. This equates to as much as 1,800 calories burned without even leaving the house!
11. Incorporate Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is a great way to reduce weight gain and stay healthy during the holidays as it gives you a little more freedom to eat what you want. In a nutshell, fasting intermittently involves drinking only water, coffee, tea and other calorie-free beverages within a set window of 16-19 hours and then eating or “feasting” for the remaining 5-8 hours. Might sound kind of unorthodox but it actually works. I’ve personally been eating this way pretty much every day for over ten years.
12. Setting Aside a Minute to Breathe
Staying healthy during the holidays requires having a little breathing space for yourself each day. With balancing holiday chores, budgets and family demands, taking just a minute out of every waking hour to breathe can do wonders for your wellbeing. That simple 60 seconds of stillness can help calm your mind, clear your head, reduce tension, relieve stress, and even help you fall asleep. Simply focus on taking slow, deep, even breaths and, almost immediately, you’ll experience the difference in your mood.
So, there you have it: 12 highly effective ways to stay healthy during the holidays. Though all these tips might not apply to you, hopefully I’ve provided some valuable insights to get you through these tempting times. What’s most important is that your holiday season is filled with joy, love and laughter – that’s healthy in and of itself.