The holidays are just around the corner, and with that comes health challenges galore. Whether it’s the temptation of grandma’s iconic pumpkin pie or your aunt’s fattening hit appetizers, the food temptations never cease. Get-togethers are rampant, and we eat...and eat...and eat again. Sweets are in no short supply, and we can’t seem to help but over-indulge.
For those of us who do have a regular exercise routine in place, it all just seems harder to do. Shorter days and challenging weather conditions on top of these tempting foods just make it tough.
So how can the health-conscious individual survive the holidays with their health intact? Can you be healthy during the holidays and avoid gaining those extra holiday pounds, or is it just a fact of life we have to accept?
I think it’s possible. In fact, I know it’s possible. It demands discipline, but it can be done.
6 Steps to Staying Healthy During the Holidays
1) Bundle up.
Nothing takes the spring out of your step like getting sick during the holiday season. Whether you wind up with the flu, get saddled with a cold, or just end up feeling generally unwell, getting sick will stop you from maintaining your fitness goals. If you aren’t careful, you may wind up reaching for comfort food more and more, too...and that can be dangerous!
As the season gets colder, it’s important to bundle up. Wear layers, kick the heat on, and ensure that your feet stay warm and dry—particularly at the gym. It’s not just about keeping moisture from snow or rain out. Sweat, too, can cause a chill when exposed to cool temperatures. While the cold won’t make you sick, it will make you more susceptible to viruses.
2) Keep it clean.
Germs are everywhere during the holidays. With so much travel going on, crowds of people at department stores, get-togethers, and office parties, it’s no wonder more of us don’t catch something. Take precautions to avoid picking up germs and illness from others—carry hand sanitizer, take care to wash your hands after using the restroom, handling money, or interacting with groups of people. Get your flu shot. Take vitamin C or a multivitamin. Do what you can to protect your immune system!
3) Make your calories count.
During the holidays, I think we all have this temptation to stack our plates as full as we absolutely can—whether it’s Thanksgiving or not. If it’s a significant meal or not, we’re going to get a little bit of everything. Here’s a principle to start following, no matter what time of year it is: make your calories count. What this means is: are these calories worth it to you? We only have so many calories we can have in a day without gaining weight, in simple terms.
Are the things you’re eating worth it to you? Do you love what you’re eating, or are you getting it just because it’s there, just because it’s a seasonal or “holiday” food, or just because you don’t want to hurt grandma’s feelings? Eat what you love. Not what you like. Don’t waste calories on food that is less than a favorite. There’s plenty to eat, so eat only what brings you joy. You aren’t missing out if you don’t get a little bit of everything.
4) Don’t “save up” for big meals.
Whenever we expect a big holiday meal, we start to strategize a little. A common tactic is to “save up” for later. That is, not eat until the moment of truth. This is a bad move if you want to actually maintain your health. The thought behind it is, because you know you’re going to binge, you won’t eat so that you can blow your calorie count in one sitting.
That’s not actually how it ends up working in practice. When you starve yourself waiting for a big meal, your blood sugar drops, and cortisol levels spike. This causes you to crave all the tasty things that are bad for you...salt, sugar, and fat. This craving means you will most definitely overdo it when the dinner bell rings.
Instead of fasting, opt for small healthy snacks throughout the day to curb your hunger. You’ll have plenty of room for dinner without sending these craving signals to your body.
5) Avoid second helpings.
One of the biggest obstacles to staying healthy during the holidays is simply portion control. Whether it’s heaping our plates high in round one or going back for seconds...or thirds...this inability to stop eating is a big problem during the holidays. We have a cookie here, and a cookie there, and set no hard limits on our snacking habits.
Stay healthy by controlling your portions and eating mindfully. Stop when you’re full. Wait before going back for seconds and decide whether or not you’re hungry. We often go back simply because we enjoy eating and enjoy the taste—and while food is a delight and a joy, this is not good for us in the long run.
6) Hit the gym.
Winter weather can make running and other outdoor exercises seem like a slog. There’s no shame in retreating indoors for a season and turning to the treadmill or elliptical to get your cardio in. Focus on cross training while the weather is poor. Enjoy a temperature controlled and well-heated gym for a little while. Besides, stepping out into the brisk winter air after getting hot and sweaty is one of life’s little joys.
While keeping a routine can be tough when the weather makes you feel sleepy and sluggish, it’s worth staying on top of things. If daylight savings is getting you down, get up earlier. Enjoy the earlier mornings. You might be surprised what you can accomplish.
While staying fit and trim during the holiday season is challenging, it can be done. It demands intentionality and discipline. So start planning now by knowing how you will respond to temptation and sabotage that will inevitably come your way.
How do you overcome temptations in your health and fitness journey? Share your secrets to overcoming in the comments.