As we approach the holiday season, many people will derail their diets for the sake of holiday feasts and sweets. But an additional few pounds on your waistline isn’t the only consequence of holiday binging. Eating unhealthy food and overeating can impact your health in surprising ways. For example, eating overly large portions can impact your sleep, and eating too many sugary treats can drain your energy and increase your risk of depression.
If you pause your exercise routine over the holiday season, you’ll be losing all the great health benefits of exercise, including better sleep, more energy, better mood and lower risk for many illnesses and diseases.
You should be able to enjoy the holidays with friends and family, and indulging in a few treats and celebratory meals will not negatively impact your overall health. We’ll share some ideas for keeping healthy habits during the holiday season, including tips to eat healthy over the holidays, holiday foods to avoid, how to stick to your exercise routine and healthy holiday cooking tips.
10 Healthy Holiday Strategies to Try
1. Exercise in the Morning
If you find it difficult to stick to an exercise regimen during the busy holiday months, try moving your workout to the morning. This will leave your evenings open for fun holiday parties and activities, and there are actually health benefits associated with morning exercise. First of all, people who exercise in the morning are more likely to stick to the habit. It’s easy to skip a workout for an unanticipated invitation to happy hour, and if you start your day with exercise, it’ll never be in the way of other plans. Studies have also shown that people who exercise in the morning are less likely to consume unnecessary calories throughout the day, so your morning workout can actually help you eat healthy during the holidays!
If the weather is too cold to exercise outside, look for an indoor alternative. Join a gym in November or December, before the big New Years’ rush. Find a local yoga class or another indoor activity that interests you, perhaps cycling, kickboxing, Zumba, swimming or climbing.
2. Choose One Large Meal Per Day
During the holiday season, you may have multiple parties on the same day. It is easy to attend back-to-back feasts and then later regret eating what seems like a week’s worth of food in a single day. If you have multiple gatherings on one day, decide beforehand which will be your main meal. At the other party, keep track of portion sizes and try to fill up on vegetables and other healthier options.
3. Keep an Eye on Portion Sizes
Eating healthy during the holidays doesn’t have to be painful or complicated, and you can still enjoy your favorite holiday treats. Just don’t overindulge. As mentioned above, keep an eye on your portion sizes. You’ve probably heard this advice before: try eating off of smaller plates. This can help you monitor portion sizes, and it can also help slow you down enough to stop eating when you’re actually full. One study showed participants eating pasta from large bowls consumed 77% more than individuals using medium-sized bowls!
4. Try a New Healthy Holiday Recipe for Parties
There will always be plenty of rich foods at every holiday potluck. Why not mix things up and try a new, healthy recipe to share with your friends and family? Or switch up a holiday classic so it’s healthier. You may feel like there’s a long list of holiday foods to avoid, but you can make small changes in order to enjoy your holiday favorites in a new, healthy way. Some healthy holiday cooking tips include:
- Serve some baked or roasted vegetables that aren’t slathered in butter or oil, or snack on a tray of fresh, raw vegetables.
- Bake your turkey instead of frying it.
- Opt for homemade instead of store-bought food whenever possible. Homemade options will be less processed, and it will be easier to control the amount of unhealthy ingredients going into them.
When it comes to healthy holiday baking, there are options for making baked items healthier without sacrificing flavor! Start by using whole-grain flour, adding a fruit or vegetable, and reducing sugar. And for full-fat, full-sugar items, just eat less of them (refer to tip #3).
5. Drink Lots of Water
Even though you’ll want to indulge in holiday drinks like cider, eggnog and punch, don’t let your water intake drop. Drinking water helps you feel more energized, and it can help prevent common ailments like headaches. Drinking water also helps you feel fuller, so it’s a natural, healthy appetite suppressant. People often eat more food simply because they mistake their thirst for hunger, so staying hydrated could be your key to eating healthy during the holidays.
6. Eat Healthy Foods First
This tip is one of the easiest tips to eat healthy over the holidays. Each time you sit down to eat a holiday meal, eat the healthiest thing on your plate first. If you start with the healthiest items and work your way to the less healthy foods, you’re more likely to get full before overindulging in food that’s really bad for you. Among the foods you should save for last are the treats you would naturally save for last: Desserts. Sweet treats may top your list of holiday foods to avoid, but if you fill up on vegetables and protein, you won’t have as much room for desserts!
7. Keep Raw Vegetables and Fruit Handy
It can be difficult to continue eating healthy during the holidays when you always have leftover pie, cookies and mashed potatoes available as snacks. Instead of eating unhealthy leftovers between meals, keep raw vegetables and fruits around to snack on. You can even cut things up and store them in containers in your fridge so they’re always ready to go!
8. Find a Healthy Holiday Partner
Making healthy choices during the holiday season can feel impossible, especially if you’re going it alone. Some people may even tease you for not indulging every Christmas craving, so it’s helpful to have a friend or family member on your side or even joining you in your healthy holiday goals. The two of you (or a whole group) can keep each other accountable when it comes to eating healthy during the holidays and keeping up with an exercise routine. You could even swap healthy recipes and share healthy holiday cooking tips!
9. Boost Your Immune System
Holiday season is also cold and flu season, and holiday parties often spread germs and illnesses among family members and friends. Eating a colorful diet of nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables and nuts can boost your immune system and prevent you from getting sick. Instead of instantly reaching for vitamin pills and manufactured supplements, try getting more nutrients from whole foods. For example, broccoli, cauliflower and cantaloupe are rich in Vitamin C.
10. Get Plenty of Sleep
The holidays are hectic, and it sometimes feels like you need another vacation after your vacation. Finding time to rest is crucial, and relaxing and unwinding should be built in to your holiday schedule, if possible. Be sure to get plenty of sleep each night because sleep has a huge impact on your overall health. Studies have shown that those who slept at least 8 hours per night were about 3 times less likely to catch a cold than those who slept for less than 7 hours per night.
Beyond the Holidays: Build Healthy Habits Year-Round
As you consider these tips to eat healthy over the holidays, think about the impact of making healthy changes during the rest of the year. Check out more of our resources for living a healthy, active lifestyle: