Christmas time is hands down my favorite time of year. From spending time with friends and family to having decorations, parties, and holiday traditions all paired with an excessive amount of eggnog + hot chocolate bombs – I just can’t get enough. While others, dread the holidays. Busy days, heavy holiday meals, and lots and lots of sugar are not necessarily a recipe for health. Maybe you get food guilt from over-indulging, or maybe you feel all-around worse with your body because the healthy habits you’ve worked so hard for go out the window as soon as you start with the Halloween Candy, then there’s Thanksgiving.
I am a firm believer that the holidays should be Merry & Bright. Here are my 10 healthy hacks to have the merriest of holidays, while also feeling your best.
**Disclaimer: my list is not intended to make you feel like you need to “earn” holiday treats, or “make up” for that extra candy cane you ate, and 100% not to “prevent” a few extra holiday lbs. This is to help you enjoy the holidays to the fullest, which includes indulging in the foods and traditions you love. Just enjoy them. Instead of resisting, stopping, or shaming you, my goal here is to help you feel your best self to fully enjoy the most wonderful time of the year.**
1. Set intentions based on what makes you feel good
This crazy and busy season oftentimes makes us change our routine that includes our healthy habits. Which is 100% okay!! However, to feel as good as you possibly can – plan ahead. Identify a few things that make you feel your best. Maybe that’s going for a walk/jog in the morning, starting your day in the right mindset with yoga, mediation, or journaling. Once you identify these, make them non-negotiables a few times a week. If you keep up with a few parts of your routine, it becomes more manageable than keeping up with every habit. And more importantly, it will keep you feeling better and grounded throughout this season.
Don’t forget to set limits based on how you feel, not what you think you’re supposed to do. Limiting yourself to “no sweets” often times will lead to a negative relationship with food and binge eating. But if you know your belly starts to hurt after your 3rd or 4th Christmas cookie, or eating the entire brie wheel on your famed cheese board and how you feel sluggish after (Yes, I’ve been there), make a mental note to enjoy 1 or 2 cookies or only as much brie as your body can enjoy, before you start mindlessly devouring the whole board (Yes, I’ve been there too). Knowing your body and your limits based on how you feel is a lot more manageable than stopping to enjoy and deprive yourself all together.
2. Focus on veggies first
Ever notice how prefixed meals always start with a salad or veggies first? Yes, it’s a lighter course but it’s also where you’re getting the most nutrients. Who’s to say that’s the restaurant’s reasoning or not – who knows! Even those big holiday meals, keep with this mindset, the veggies first, to get those key nutrients that you need to feel good.
Another hack – don’t show up to a big holiday meal hungry with your stretchy pants on. When we’re starving we eat quicker, enjoy food less mindfully, and will overeat. Eat those veggies as your pre-dinner snack! This way you can still enjoy all the yummy and delicious foods but eat less of it (not from a deprivation standpoint but more so of it doesn’t make you feel good standpoint).
3. Get up and move in the morning
This time of year it’s so easy to lay around in PJ’s, sip on hot chocolate or mulled wine, and bing the Hallmark channel from now until the new year. While yes, count me in, getting a little movement can boost energy, motivation, and most importantly, improve your mental health. Plus doing some movement in the morning means you don’t have to interrupt your movie marathon to move.
**Disclaimer: I’m not saying push yourself to do an extreme HIIT class as a means to make up for what you ate the night before or plan to indulge in that day. I’m saying do something you would normally do – a walk/run, yoga, pilates, whatever it is that is in your normal routine. The goal is to prioritize movement to make you feel like your best, happiest self, not as a means for calorie burn to be able to eat what you want.**
4. Take a spin on a healthier version of your favorite foods
Loud speaker here (PSA!!!) there’s no reason you have to stick to the exact same mashed potato recipe or the same mac n cheese tray from Costco that your family wants. Opt for homemade over-processed foods, or if you’re a non-chef opt for a local bakery. When making your food, you can see where you can make those recipes a little healthier. Like pumpkin pie or green bean casserole. Or if you’re not ready or confident to try a whole new recipe, try swapping out something small like conventional butter with organic butter to reduce the added chemicals and toxins your body will absorb, or add a handful of spinach to pasta salad.
Saying this louder for people in the back **Healthy cooking doesn’t have to sacrifice taste, and eating healthier does not have to mean you forego your favorite foods.**
5. Drink water, then drink some more
Drinking water cures everything, don’t you know? When you have hydrated your energy levels go up, you help relieve digestive discomfort, and overall you will feel better. If you’re like me, when it’s cooler outside it’s harder to drink water – we’d rather sip on something warm like coffee or hot chocolate. Which don’t help your body operate properly. Especially if you’re feeling hungover (from food or alcohol, because both are consumed more this time of year), drink even more water than you typically would. If you have a problem with drinking enough water, try to drink one cup in the morning before your coffee or sip on hot lemon water throughout the day to help keep hydrated (+ warm)!
6. Make sure you get your normal amount of zzzz’s
I don’t know about you, but I need my sleep. Any time off I have from work, I am in my coziest jammies, no alarm clock, and the blinds closed as tight as they can. Why I do that is most times to feel my best, but luckily for me, it’s actually helping my overall health. Getting a good night’s sleep helps improve mood and energy, make better food decisions (curb cravings), so if you’re not getting your full nights rest (7-9 hours for most, 10+ for me) then that pumpkin pie or gingerbread house could sound a lot more appetizing.
I really look at the holiday season as not only a time of laughter and family, but also as a time to rest and restore.
8. Make new (healthier) traditions
Last year we were foregoing traditions like holiday parties or maybe even in-person shopping, but maybe that forced us to do something that is not only good for the soul but good for the body too. As it gets colder out, if you’re like me, you may be less inclined to spend your time outside, but think about all the holiday classics that mention “snow” – (Let it Snow, Baby It’s Cold Outside, White Christmas… need I say more?) Taking advantage of the winter weather can not only bring fun new traditions but can be good for your health. For example, bundle up and take a walk with friends or family, go ice skating at your local rink, or grab snow boots and go up to see the snow. You’ll get your body moving without even thinking about it (and isn’t that the best kind of hack!?).
9. Listen to your body during meals
Focus on trying not to mindlessly eat, check in with yourself during meals to see what your body wants or needs. Maybe you’re on the verge of being disgustingly full but you think you need to keep plowing through that pumpkin pie because it’s your favorite. Notice the feelings when you start to be satisfied and when to stop until you are uncomfortable. Try to mix in those holiday favorites along with something healthy to make your body feel its best, you’ll also enjoy every bite rather than just mindlessly cleaning your plate.
10. Realize that health is more than diet and exercise
If you still believe that one meal (or a few holidays) can drastically affect your body long-term, you should know that it’s completely false. Health is not a two-part formula of diet plus exercise. What we listen to, who we spend our time with, the shows we binge on Netflix, who we follow on IG, the way we speak to ourselves, what we feed ourselves day to day, plus so much more attributes so much more to our health than a meal or two.
Bottom line: you could eat whatever you wanted and not work out once, and still have lots of opportunities to nourish yourself. Focus on how your relationships nourish you, the compassion you’re giving yourself, and how you’re spending your free time to truly become your healthiest self.
What are some other ways to focus on your overall health during the holidays? I am always looking for more. Comment below!