The holidays are about family, fun — and food! This time of year, it’s easy to put off exercise and reach for a plate of cookies instead.
While one rich holiday meal or a few snickerdoodles won’t wreck anyone, the problem is that the holiday season actually begins with Halloween and other fall festivities, and doesn’t end until after New Year’s Day. That can mean up to three months of overindulging. And then, many of us enter January resolving to get back on track with healthier habits.
But what if you were able to to maintain your weight, fit in some exercise, and still enjoy yourself during the holidays? Is it possible, without willpower of steel? The answer is yes!
Get ahead of your most common holiday fitness and wellness hurdles with these tips.
INSTEAD OF: Putting off workouts
TRY THIS: Fit in short bouts of exercise
If you’re currently exercising regularly, do your best to stick to your workout schedule rather than give it up for the holidays. It’s so much easier not to have to start over.
But if you’re having trouble finding the time or ambition to work out, try “exercise snacking,” a term that means fitting in short amounts of exercise during your day.
Not into working out? Try to make it a routine, such as walking your dog before and after work. Or walk during your lunch hour, for a refreshing break and some rejuvenating sunshine.
Exercise is easier when it’s fun. Like to dance? Crank up the tunes and shake your stuff in the kitchen while you’re waiting on the microwave.
You can even fit in a few exercises while you’re watching TV!
INSTEAD OF: Cookies for comfort
TRY THIS: Bust stress the healthy way
The holidays can be one of the most stressful times of the year, with much to do and many demands on your time and energy. Especially this year, when we’re also dealing with the stress and uncertainty of COVID-19. It’s no surprise that emotional eating can factor in.
Exercise can be a big help in dealing with stress and can help you feel better. In fact, exercise is a natural antidepressant. While fitness is good for our physical health, science clearly says that exercise benefits our brain and our mental health, too. (1)
Exercise causes changes in the brain chemicals that affect mood. Exercise increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain, triggering the release of endorphins and serotonin, the “feel good” hormones. In addition, exercise helps reduce depression and anxiety by enhancing the body’s ability to respond to stress.
Getting enough rest also helps. Everything always seems harder when we’re tired. Sleep is restorative, so try to get a good night’s shut-eye if you can.
Think of other ways to relax and de-stress as well. Taking a long bubble bath, practicing yoga, using a meditation app, reading a good book, calling a friend, or focusing on a hobby are other ways to help turn down the knob on stress.
INSTEAD OF: Going on a holiday diet
TRY THIS: Think moderation, not deprivation
It’s probably not a good idea to try to launch a restrictive diet during the holidays. It can be miserable to deprive yourself of what you want to enjoy at a celebration. Aim instead to be more mindful and aware of what you’re eating and how much of it.
Limit portion sizes of high-calorie foods. Enjoy treats in moderation. Have one slice of pie at your holiday dinner, rather than two. You do not have to necessarily avoid eating your favorite holiday foods. Just put a limit on the portion size, and ensure you’re consuming it only at your special meal and not throughout the day and night.
INSTEAD OF: Tempting treats on the counter
TRY THIS: Out of sight, out of mind
With holiday goodies abound, you may feel helpless in the face of temptation. A key to dealing with this is to limit the opportunities for you to be tempted. While that can be a challenge during the holidays, there are certain things you can do to make it a whole lot easier on yourself.
Maybe you can’t control whether your coworker brings doughnuts to work, or the endless cookie options at grandma’s house. But this year, many of us are staying home for the holidays due to COVID-19, and you can control what’s in your own home. If you focus on that, you’ll be ahead of the game.
Our eyes are powerful contributors to urges. Things you see can be a huge trigger for cravings that lead to overeating.
If you bring that box of delicious desserts into your house, chances are probably 100% that you’re going to eat it, or at least you’ll desperately want to. It’s best to leave it on the grocery store shelf and not even bring it home.
But what about the holiday candy you need for the kids or that special celebration? Two strategies can help with that. First, wait until last minute to get it, rather than shopping ahead of time. Secondly, lock up treats somewhere that you won’t easily see or access. Even hiding it in the back of the freezer or the trunk of your car can work.
Don’t leave tempting treats out on the kitchen counter or table where you can see them. You’re only human, after all!
It’s about finding balance
Look, no one’s saying you need to forgo all the yummy stuff during the holidays in order to be healthy. Rather, it’s about the choices you make and finding what works best for you.
Living a heathy lifestyle is about more than what you weigh or how many miles you can run. It’s about feeling happy and healthy on the inside, too. That’s how you can feel when you make healthier choices a part of your daily life, year-round. You’re taking care of the only body you’ll ever have. And you’re worth it!