5 Ways to Stay Healthy Over the Holidays
For many of us, the coming holiday season will be a welcome opportunity to reconnect with family and friends in communion and celebration. Inevitably, however, one thing will be at the center of the festivities: amazing food.
Whether your weakness is gingerbread and candy canes, or turkey and mashed potatoes, there will be no shortage of delicious treats tempting you throughout the holiday season.
You might not think a few indulgent meals can adversely impact your health or body composition. According to the research, however, a majority of people gain an average of two pounds during the holidays, and simply never burn it off .
Two pounds of fat doesn’t sound like much, but accumulated over the course of ten years, two pounds becomes 20, and both your waistline and metabolic health can rapidly move in the wrong direction.
This doesn’t mean you need to stoically deprive yourself of great food during the holiday season. You just need to be a bit more strategic than usual when it comes to your health habits during this period. If you employ the strategies below, you'll be able to enjoy the holidays without letting your wellness take a turn for the worse.
Redefine Success: Strive for Maintenance
If you’re already on a weight loss journey, I recommend pressing pause on your fat loss goals for the holiday season, and simply commit to maintenance. Trying to lose weight requires being in a calorie deficit, which is very hard to maintain throughout a period with so many big communal meals. Rather than focusing on taking steps forward, just don’t take any backward. Hold the line, and you’ll be in a great position to make headway in the new year, when you’re back in your routine and have more control over your environment.
Slow Down When You Eat
One of the biggest levers you can pull when it comes to weight loss is to eat more slowly, which enhances your sensitivity to appetite signals and prevents you from bingeing. You can still grab a big portion of stuffing, turkey, and all the fixings; just commit to spending 20 minutes finishing your plate. This gives your gut enough time to tell your brain that it’s full (and allows you to savor your meal). If, however, you inhale your food in five minutes and get up for more, your body won’t have the chance to recognize that it’s had enough and you’re much more likely to overeat. Read more about the benefits of eating slowly here.
Consider Intermittent Fasting
If you want to “pig out” during Christmas dinner, another option is to employ intermittent fasting as a means of restricting your calories throughout the rest of the day, giving you more leeway during big meals. For many people, time-restricted eating feels less restrictive than eliminating entire food groups or counting calories. A common protocol is to simply skip breakfast. If you’re curious about the other benefits of intermittent fasting, check out Dr. Heather Gessling’s article here to learn more.
It’s not only the big holiday meals that tempt us to indulge; it’s the constant snacking while visiting with family and friends. When we’re off work and out of our normal routine, many of us reflexively engage in mindless eating simply due to boredom, or because we don’t have anything structured to do. If eating slowly or intermittent fasting sound like difficult strategies to employ, just commit to avoiding the crackers, chips, and calorie-dense snacks, “saving yourself” for the main event.
Ramp up Activity
While the holidays are a great time to cozy up by the fire and get some well-deserved rest, it’s worth making an effort to keep moving, even just a little bit. Plan an activity like a family hike or an excursion to a Christmas market, for example. This accomplishes a few things. First, it burns calories through active movement, which can offset the excess calories you might take in if you overeat. Second, by being out and about, you’re not inside snacking on goodies, which can easily turn into a default, all-day activity. Third, and maybe most importantly, new research suggests that people who exercise may become more sensitive to appetite signals, meaning they can better regulate their food intake without even trying .
The Bottom Line
There’s no need to deprive yourself to the point of misery over the holidays to hit your health and fitness goals. If you employ even one of the simple strategies above, you can ensure you enjoy this coming holiday season without setting your wellness back for the rest of the year.
 Stevenson, J. L., Krishnan, S., Stoner, M. A., Goktas, Z. E. Y. N. P., & Cooper, J. A. (2013). Effects of exercise during the holiday season on changes in body weight, body composition and blood pressure. European journal of clinical nutrition, 67(9), 944-949.
 Hubner, S., Boron, J. B., & Koehler, K. (2021). The effects of exercise on appetite in older adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in nutrition, 8.