How to Have a Healthy Holiday Season

By Shonda Spencer

While most of us are only celebrating two to three actual holidays between now and January, it seems the entire remainder of the year will be dedicated to stressing and overeating, as if the holiday shame cycle is a sport. Cocktail parties, holiday open houses, cookie exchanges, goody baskets, and of course the giant feasts, can really take a toll on your waistline. If you want to ring in the New Year in your current jeans with your wits about you, rather than a frazzled mess in your stretchy pants, read on.

Watch Your Stress Levels

The holidays present a dizzying array of demands in addition to the long list of things we are already juggling. Say NO to the extras you can in order to focus on what’s truly important to you, like time with family.

But about that family time...

The Hallmark Channel might make it look like everyone else in the world is having a magical holiday season, but most of us are dealing with some major crazy. Stress, disappointment and family drama are part of the experience for most people. Enter each family get together with the intention of being kind to others and to yourself. It doesn’t have to be perfect or just like last year. Families grow and change, and sometimes traditions have to change, too. The sooner you embrace the now and relinquish expectations and control, the better you will feel.

Make a Plan and Stick to It

If you haven’t had a healthy eating plan all year, now is the perfect time to get it together. It doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated.

First, you need to stick to real food - fruits, vegetables, lean protein, nuts, beans - anything that doesn’t have a list of ingredients. Stock up on these foods and skip the chips, cookies, and other junk. Use shortcuts like pre-washed and chopped veggies, packaged salads, and grocery-store rotisserie chicken for quick grab-and-go snacks and meals.
Next, when you know you have a party in the evening, have smaller portions early in the day to budget some extra calories for the party. Don’t skip meals and show up starving or you’ll end up going overboard, but if you had a protein smoothie for breakfast and a salad with grilled chicken for lunch, a few extra canapés at an evening cocktail party won’t derail you.

Decide When to Splurge

We all have favorite foods (or drinks) that we can’t imagine giving up. If your grandma’s cookies or your neighbor’s egg nog make you feel like the holidays are finally here, have some! Just decide in advance how much is okay. Have some protein and veggies first, then enjoy the treat. Don’t kick yourself, regret eating it, figure out how much cardio you need to burn it off, or give it another thought. If you’ve decided to indulge in two of your favorite cookies, have two and enjoy them. Period. Shaming yourself for every indulgence creates stress which is just as damaging as the extra sugar and calories.

It’s a Holiday MEAL, Not a Holi-DAY

One huge meal a few times a year does not make that big of an impact on the scale or your belt. What does make a difference is going bananas at every event you’re invited to, or eating from sun up to sun down. I’m not into calorie counting because the kinds of foods you eat makes a bigger difference than the number of calories, but it is a good idea to understand what you typically eat, what you typically burn, and how much extra you’re getting during the holidays.

The average Thanksgiving meal is about 4,500 calories. It takes roughly 3,500 excess calories to gain one pound. Knowing this, you should be cutting intake and increasing activity other days that week to compensate. Also, reminder: you don’t HAVE to eat everything. Make a salad you love or a veggie tray and fill up on that and the turkey before you hit the rolls and pie. If you’ve had veggies and protein first, you’ll be much less likely to go overboard. Get a workout in before the holiday meal or, instead of the usual nap fest, suggest a post-dinner walk (or indoor dance party if it’s too cold.) You’ll feel better and you’ll have an easier time digesting your food.

Sweat the Stress Away

Even if you’ve been working out regularly, the extra time commitments that come this time of year can make it difficult to spend an hour at the gym. But don’t let that stop you from getting your sweat on - the stress relief of a good workout is too important to skip. The good news is that with HIIT (high intensity interval training), you don’t need an hour. There are several great apps like Sworkit and 8fit that you can download to your smart-phone to coach you through these sessions, and you can be finished in 20 minutes or less. 8fit is my favorite, and the workouts travel well since they require no equipment besides a chair. You can select the type of music you want, there is a tutorial for each move with modifications, and they offer a meal plan with the pro version. If you’re an absolute beginner to fitness, Popsugar Fitness on YouTube is another great option. It’s a completely free resource, and they have workouts for every fitness level, body part, and schedule. You don’t have to invest in equipment and cute gym clothes, and you can skip the traffic by getting it done in your living room.

Don’t Slack on Sleep

Sleep is important for memory, mood, weight, cardiovascular health, stress, and so much more. If you know you’re going to have a few late nights, budget the extra sleep into your week before and after. Burning the candle at both ends will leave you depleted, edgy, and making poor food choices.

And no, coffee doesn’t count as sleep.

The holidays are a time to reflect on what truly matters - family, friends, gratitude, generosity, kindness, and hope for the future. Your health should also be on that list. As the saying goes, if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything. Fuel your body with nutritious foods, move your body in celebration of what you are capable of doing, rest when you need it, and take a deep breath. The busy season will soon be over and you deserve to begin the New Year at your best!

This article originally appeared in the November Issue of our monthly magazine alongside articles from other great guest contributors and Kelsey, such as How to Become An Idea Machine, plus behind the scenes details from each November episode. To get the magazine subscribe here, issues are FREE but they expire each month so sign up today and download as soon they're available or you'll miss out! Subscribe

Shonda Spencer is a Personal Trainer, Certified Health Coach, Zumba instructor, group exercise fanatic, and Senior Ruby Ambassador with Plexus Worldwide. (She is also Kelsey’s trainer.) She is passionate about real food, real lifestyle change, and real people. Screw being perfect, be perfectly YOU! Connect with her at ShondaSpencer.com or on Facebook! 

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