Five years ago, I was working with a longtime client who was making phenomenal progress improving his health. At the end of a session in late October, as I was confirming our appointment for the following week, he said in a calm, matter-of-fact tone: “You know, the holidays are starting. Life is always crazy this time of year. I’m sure I will gain 10 pounds, so let’s meet in January to get back on the wagon. Sound like a plan?”
What? No! That doesn’t sound like a plan.
The holiday season is an extremely difficult time to stay focused on eating healthfully, exercising consistently and improving wellness. Trust me, I understand. There are delicious treats and sweets everywhere; the weather gets colder, making you want to cozy up on the couch rather than go for a run; there’s lots of travel and eating out; and there are tons of social events with indulgent foods and excessive alcohol.
The holidays can also be an emotionally taxing time. You might feel obligated to eat certain things with family and friends. Stress can make you want to eat more to make the day more pleasant. And when you’re taking care of so many guests, it can be hard to find a moment to take care of yourself. It is indeed a tricky time.
Although it is difficult, with some thought, strategy and determination, you can thrive during this season. Start 2017 with good health and momentum, rather than a long list of resolutions.
Some strategies for a successful holiday season:
Eat before you go. Many of you will think I am insane to suggest this, but it is probably the best piece of advice you can get. A common approach is to save your calories because you know dinner is going to be large, but when you walk into an event hungry, you are not setting yourself up for success. You will probably overeat, and your body will store the extra food as fat. Eat a mini balanced meal before you leave your house — some protein, vegetables, a little fat and a little starch — so you feel satiated and calm.
Eat your vegetables! We tend to focus on the turkey, mashed potatoes and pie and forget the veggies. If half of your plate is vegetables, you are good to go. They are low in calories and full of nutrients, fiber and flavor, and they balance your palate, making you less likely to crave sugar and fat. Enjoy your splurges, but find a way to make vegetables part of your holiday meals. Take your own vegetable dish to the party — even if the host didn’t ask .
Check out the scene. We often grab the first food we see when it wasn’t really a “gotta have it.” Take a moment to survey the scene and decide what you want. What are your options? Do you really want the corn bread? Nope — you want the mac and cheese! Walk into the host’s kitchen to see what is being prepared. Take a long look at the appetizers at the cocktail party so you get the ones you really crave. Take ownership of your plate.
Drink water. We often feel hungry and crave sweets when all we need is some water. Airplanes and hotel rooms are usually very dehydrating, so you may not even realize how much water you need. Bring a water bottle and drink up. A reasonable guide is that you should be urinating often and that the color should be fairly clear.
Remember that every step counts. Even 10 minutes of exercise makes a difference, especially when you are out of town and cannot rely on your typical routine. Can you go for a walk? Is there a park or track where you could get in a workout? Use an app or go online to find 10-minute workouts . Consider booking a hotel with a gym. Or explore the area near where you are staying and find a class you can take.
Savor the splurges. Of course there will be treats, sweets and splurges. That is part of the holiday fun! Notice them. Savor each bite. Instead of eating just to eat, take a moment to enjoy it.
Be mindful about alcohol. There are a lot of opportunities for alcohol, but mindless drinking can lead to suffering, weight gain or worse. Pay attention! Look at your calendar a week ahead and decide when you are going to drink and when you will pass. Enjoy the company you’re with. When you’re going to drink, consider drinking water between cocktails, and decide in advance how much you are going to drink so the night doesn’t get out of control.
Bring snacks. Have some go-to snacks in your bag at all times so you never get in too much trouble. Remember, being “hangry” never makes for fun holiday time. And if you wait too long between meals, your metabolism will work against you, causing you to overeat at your next meal. Pre-portioned packages of nuts, fresh fruit, cut-up veggies, whole-wheat crackers and jerky, as well as bars made of clean ingredients such as nuts, dried fruits and spices, are usually the best bets for nonperishable goodies. If you are not traveling far, a sandwich, salad, leftovers or some yogurt could be a good on-the-go snack.
Be kind. It’s easy to beat ourselves up when we don’t achieve perfection or meet our goals . The truth is that we often set our expectations so high that we inevitably feel we could have done more. Be kind to yourself and give yourself a break. Yes, you had a second piece of pie — but half of your plate was vegetables, and you avoided the fried foods. While your workout was not complete, you got a 30-minute walk in. Acknowledge the successes.
Know that everyone is on your side. Everyone wants to get healthy and have more energy. Even though you may think your friends and family will not be supportive, I have a hunch they would love to eat less, move a little more and not fall into a food coma. Be that role model and notice how many people thank you for it.
Enjoy and celebrate! Yes, this is a time to break bread with the ones you love, but it doesn’t have to be all about the bread! Catch up with people, talk, celebrate and eat only what you really want.