The holiday season can throw a big fat curve ball our way when we’re focused on staying healthy. As a nutritionist and health coach, December has always been my slowest month with January being my busiest. It’s no wonder why!
It’s important to aim for balance during this time. Going ham on your health goals during the holidays can leave you feeling depleted, restricted, and unhappy. Nourish yourself with healthy food and lifestyle habits and enjoy the treats the holidays bring about as well, and you won’t find yourself having to start over again on January 1.
1. Stay hydrated
Staying hydrated is essential year round, but it can be a particularly good hack when you’ve indulged a little too much in the treats. Water helps move waste through the body, in addition to many other benefits.
Not only will the liquids keep you healthy and hydrated during the drier seasons (and is great for dry skin!), it will also help flush out toxins that can accumulate during the holidays as we’re eating more sweets, staying inside more, and experiencing more stagnation.
You all know I love tea. Try some holiday herbal blends like chai and cinnamon teas. They can be a lovely way to treat yourself while also getting in extra hydration during the holidays.
How do you know how much to drink? There are two ways – drink half your weight in ounces, or until you pee clear or light yellow. If you’re enjoying alcoholic beverages, the infamous pumpkin spice lattes, or caffeine, be aware that these beverages can lead to dehydration faster, so it becomes even more important to hydrate.
2. Map out your “why”
Many of us make goals for the New Year and it’s not uncommon for us to make goals around our health, weight, and bodies. Why? Because the holidays can sometimes be such a sh*t show for our health that we need to reset in the New Year and renew our focus. It doesn’t have to be this way – we can be healthy throughout the holidays so that we feel good about moving into the New Year without having to join a new gym or overall our pantries (buh bye candy canes!).
Part of staying on track is understanding the deeper meaning of your health goals. Try to understand why you want to “lose X pounds” or “run a 5K.” What are the longer-term benefits for you? Will you have less pain in your joints? Be able to go dancing with your friends again? Be able to get down on the ground with your kids and play without worrying about maneuvering your body? Or simply being around longer to watch your family grow? Find your deep “why” – your reason for being healthy, and put that at the forefront of your mind. Next time you’re faced with the decision to eat more than your fair share of holiday cookies, remind yourself that the cravings are temporary, but the results of eating a lot of sugar during the holidays could create longer-term issues getting in the way of your ultimate “why.”
If you need to create a vision board or write affirmations or mantras for yourself, go for it!
3. Move your body
Moving your body is a great way to stay healthy in mind and body during the holidays. It promotes circulation, lubricates the joints, and can also be a great stress-reliever for many. In addition, it’s a great way to support healthy blood sugar balance. If you have a treat during the holidays, go on a walk after or do some marching in the living room as you watch your favorite holiday movie. Doing so will actually help your body process and utilize the sugar more efficiently. One of my favorite ways to workout is high intensity interval training, or HIIT, which can be really helpful for balancing hormones and blood sugar. Plus, is a fast way to warm up in the cold weather.
In addition, because of the changing weather and the fact that it gets dark sooner, many of us go into hibernation, and that can definitely affect our physical health. Make it a point to keep up some form of regular movement. This might be a great time of year to join a hot yoga class, try some home workouts, grab a friend to power walk at the mall, or even join a new gym – no need to wait for January 1!
4. Find other ways to celebrate the holidays besides food
Food is culture, food is love, food is joy, food is celebration. In America, we have a candy holiday, followed by a pie holiday, followed by a candy cane holiday, followed by a booze holiday. Hmmm……maybe it’s time we rethink how we celebrate holidays, especially considering the skyrocketing rates of obesity and diabetes in our country.
What are your favorite non-food ways to celebrate the holidays besides eating pie and sipping nog? Here are some ideas:
- Watch your favorite holiday movies
- Play board games with family
- Go to holiday fairs and craft shows
- Go out to the movies
- Drive (or walk!) your neighborhood and look at lights and décor
- Read a new novel
- Do a holiday 5K
- Find an organization to donate to or volunteer your time at – many places are in need of extra help during the holidays
- Start a family book club or scavenger hunt
5. Set a holiday challenge for yourself and involve friends/family/coworkers
Having others join in on your healthy holiday fun can motivating and a great way to build accountability. Gather round your most competitive friends and family, and while you’re at it, consider throwing in a prize! Who can meet their health goal first or by a certain date? Who can walk the most steps in the month of December? Make it fun, it doesn’t have to feel like a chore.
Part of my work as a nutritionist is to coach clients through making changes and providing accountability. If you haven’t considered a health/accountability coach, now might be the time to challenge yourself to setting and achieving new goals!
6. Try a healthy twist on an old favorite
I’ve been gluten-free and dairy-free for about 15 years now, and my favorite holiday treats are plant-based and grain-free stuffing for thanksgiving and dairy-free nut-based cheesecake for dessert. Try your hand at a healthier twist on your favorites. How about grandma’s famous fudge? Can you make it with dark chocolate and coconut cream? Apple pies are really easy to upgrade – try a nut-based crust to give it a fiber and healthy fat boost, and use spices like cinnamon and nutmeg to bring out the sweetness of organic apples. You could even test plant-based sweeteners that don’t spike your blood sugar like monk fruit or stevia.
7. Prioritize sleep and stress management
This is a great time of year to get extra sleep – the nights are longer, it’s colder, and this is more conducive to good sleep. In addition, the holidays can be stressful! Décor to put up, presents to buy, family to host, big meals to cook – make sure you’re finding downtime to rest and unwind without getting swept away in the chaos and commercialism the holidays tend to bring about.
Need some help on the sleep front? I’ve got you.
8. Enjoy some treats too
Enjoy your holiday favorites – don’t restrict yourself or you’ll end up going overboard on the nog. Here are some of my favorite holiday recipes, with a healthy twist of course, but there’s no reason you can’t enjoy grandma’s homemade fudge here and there as well:
Remember, the holidays don’t mean you have to ditch your health goals until January 1st, but they also don’t mean you can indulge and enjoy. Find balance and moderation. As always, if you need support or even help planning your holiday menu, please reach out!
Photo by Tim Douglas.