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It’s possible: You can embrace the holidays while prioritizing your health. First though, let’s talk about what I mean by health. As an RD, people often think I'm referring to exercise, high-nutrient foods, and disease management/prevention when I talk about health. As much as I am referring to these things, I’m not just talking about physical health. I’m talking about physical, emotional, social, physiological, psychological, AND spiritual health.
Ensuring that we enjoy the holidays with our family and friends is in fact an important part of staying healthy. Holidays bring us together, keep traditions alive, and often foster feelings of nostalgia, joy, and community. Keep these tips in mind as a way to prioritize both your health and your holiday.
1.) Maintain Your Regular Meals & Snacks: We have been trained to believe that we should skip some of our regular meals and snacks on a holiday to “save room” for the main event. However, hurts us more than helps. This gives an “edge” to our hunger by the time we are around food. We eat whatever we see first while forgetting to check in with ourselves. Not only do we end the meal uncomfortably full, but we forget to savor our meal and the holiday. We are just too caught up in “breaking a fast” to enjoy the experience of it all.
By maintaining our regular routine, we are able to enter the meal more relaxed, less on “edge”, and more mindful about what choices really look good to us and the holiday experience. We have the patience to eat more intuitively and take it all in.
If the holidays change your typical schedule, don’t be afraid to think about your meal schedule differently. Are you going to a party or house with appetizers? Consider this as your mid-afternoon snack. Is dinner being served early? Eat dessert so you stay satisfied up until you go to bed
2.) Consider the Gaps: What food groups will be at the holiday table? Which do you know will be missing? At meals/snacks leading up to the event, get in the food options that will be harder to find at the holiday table. This doesn’t mean that you should avoid a balanced plate (3 food groups with a source of protein, fiber, and/or healthy fats) at these meals, but it does mean that you should include less common holiday ingredients, like dairy, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats, as part of it.
3.) Continue Your Exercise Routine. Maintenance is key. However, this means following your usual routine just as much as it means doing no more than your usual routine. You do not need to “earn” your holiday food choices through exercise or any other behaviors. I’ll say this one more time for those in the back: We do not need to earn our holiday plate. Your typical exercise routine is ENOUGH.
Do the holidays have you busier than usual? Consider your “bare minimum.” I’ll often instruct my clients to come up with a bare minimum exercise routine that they can commit to even during their busiest weeks. I typically like this goal to be at least 2-3x/week for at least 15-20 minutes, but more importantly, the goal has to actually be practical for you during these crazier weeks.
Does even that seem daunting to you during the holidays? Then, put your sneakers in the closet, get your sweats out, and just relax. The holidays are for spending time with family, relaxing, and taking it all in, not exercise. I can guarantee you that putting your exercise aside for the week is healthier for you than stressing about when and where to fit it in.
4.) Embrace Your Favorites. Are there holiday selections and treats that you look forward to every year? Just the smell of them reminds you of the holiday or brings you back to when you were a kid eagerly awaiting gifts. This year, embrace your favorites and eat with intention.
This time of year, we tend to eat things that aren’t always available to us year round whether we really enjoy them or not. Instead, be sure to embrace your favorites as part of your first plate or trip around the appetizer table. Make them part of a balanced plate that includes a protein, some starch, and a form of produce. Next, consider the options that aren’t your favorites but that you enjoy. Are you hungry for them? Do you want just a taste or a full serving?
What about the options that are your least favorites? Do you have any interest? Remind yourself that just because these foods are more available during the holidays doesn’t mean they limited to holidays. If you don’t have much interest now or it’s not a high on your food priority scale and you are full, you can always have buy it another time or make it yourself no matter what the time of year. Christmas cookies in July anyone?!
5.) Be Mindful. Take it slow, take it easy, and take it all in. Savor delicious food, time with family, and the wonder of the holiday. Breathe in the cold air, the holiday smells, and don’t forget to just enjoy what is all around you.
Fueled. Fit. Balanced.
I'm Lexi, a Certified Sports Dietitian and Yoga Instructor. I work with individuals to help them reach optimum health and performance through balanced nutrition.