Stay Healthy This Holiday Season

Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and all the ugly sweater parties you’re likely invited to this year can be tons of fun but can also derail a healthy lifestyle. Did you know that half of annual weight gain in the US occurs during the holidays? We wish the holidays could be here all year round, but maybe this little piece of information will make you happy the holiday season is only a mere two months out of the year.

The holidays are an excellent opportunity to spend time with distant family members and friends from afar and enjoy fun traditions and lots of good food. I don’t want you to walk away from this article thinking you can’t enjoy yourself this holiday season. I want you to walk away with tips on avoiding digging yourself into a hole that you’ll spend the first few months of the year (or more) trying to dig yourself out of.

Tips for a healthier holiday season:

Stay Active

  • Workout – If you are crunched for time to exercise, some movement is always better than no movement. Efficiency is key when it comes to working out during the holidays. Instead of using a treadmill or elliptical for an hour, do a short-circuit workout that gets your heart rate elevated, and you will be done with your workout in a fraction of the time. TABATA workouts are a great option. Typically, TABATA workouts consist of 20 seconds of all-out effort followed by a 10-second rest period for 8 rounds (4 minutes total). Pick 4 exercises (jump squats, burpees, jump rope, mountain climbers, jumping jacks, bear crawls, push-ups, etc.) and perform each for 1 TABATA. You will have only done 16 minutes of work, but I promise you’ll feel accomplished as long as you go all out for every 20 seconds interval. You could also choose 2-4 exercises to perform within a single TABATA to make your workout more enjoyable.
  • Walk – This simple form of exercise is more beneficial than you may realize, especially when done after a large meal. Walking can help lower blood sugar levels, aid digestion, lower blood pressure, lower LDL-cholesterol, and increase HDL-cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol). Even better if you can find a walking path or trail with a hill or incline! Try to bring your family along on a post-feast walk.
  • If you are on vacation and find yourself somewhere it’s snowy and cold, bring the family outside for a snowball fight or find a hill nearby for some sledding.

Manage stress

  • If you tend to stress eat, this could be an issue on top of all the fun holiday party eating. Try to manage stress this holiday season by setting time aside for yourself daily. Relaxation looks different for everyone. Try reading a book, practicing meditation or yoga, journaling, listening to music, playing an instrument, or taking a hot bath.

Be mindful of dietary choices

  • Limit your alcohol intake – Choose your calories wisely. Try to limit yourself to 1-2 alcoholic beverages (usually full of sugar, carbohydrates, and empty calories). Studies suggest that drinking several alcoholic beverages in one sitting can lead to overeating by lowering inhibitions and stimulating appetite.
  • Eat slowly – Physiologically, it takes your body 15-20 minutes to begin feeling full after eating. Eating slowly will allow your body to start feeling those satiety cues before you scarf down your entire meal and leave feeling overstuffed.
  • Eat your vegetables first – This ensures that you actually eat them before overfeeding on stuffing and mashed potatoes. Additionally, vegetables contain fiber and take longer to digest. They will make you feel fuller longer, so when it is time for dessert, you will have less room to overindulge.
  • Control your portions – If you are someone who wants to get a taste of every dish at the buffet table, take a small serving of each to start. Once finished, if there is something you’re dying to have more of, go back for another small serving.
  • Do not eat something simply because it is there – There may be certain holiday foods that you eat just because this is the one time of year that particular food is around. Before indulging in such foods, ask yourself if you genuinely enjoy it or are simply eating it because you always do.

Lose the guilt

  • The holidays are to be enjoyed! I suggest you enjoy them mindfully and continue with as many healthy practices as possible. You WILL eat things you usually do not, and you may not make as much time for exercise, but don’t beat yourself up over it. If you overindulge at a holiday party, don’t overthink it. Shake it off and return to your usual way of life the next day without trying to overcompensate for the extra calories.

Often the holidays turn into a downward spiral for many people’s healthy habits, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Hopefully, these tips will help you stay on track and enjoy the holiday season.

Revised by Alex Gawel: October 28, 2022

Original Article by Grace Majchrowicz: November 27, 2020

About the Author:

Grace received her undergraduate degree in Exercise Science from Grove City College and her Master’s Degree in Exercise Science with a concentration in strength and conditioning from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She has designed and helped conduct research studies on supplementation and performance, exercise and mood, and rest periods as they relate to gains in strength and power. Grace presented two of these research studies at the 2016 and 2017 Mid-Atlantic Regional Chapter meetings of the American College of Sports Medicine and is a published co-author in the Journal of Exercise and Nutrition. As a graduate assistant at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, she provided personal training to local volunteer firefighters and performed fitness-based exercise testing for Pennsylvania Police Academy candidates. She enjoys hiking and spending time with her family in her free time.


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