During a time of year that’s about giving thanks, spreading joy and enjoying time with loved ones, no one wants to deal with the extra worry of weight gain. Ultimately, you want to relax and enjoy it all while still keeping your health and fitness goals on track. So, to help identify some sneaky seasonal habits that you should avoid, we called on the help of a few experts. They weighed in to share their advice about maintaining healthy habits during the holidays. Here’s what they had to say.
“Avoid having sweets around that you pick up and eat all throughout the day,” says Terra Wellington, a TV Lifestyle and Wellness contributor and the author of The Mom’s Guide to Growing Your Family Green: Saving the Earth Begins at Home. She says that constantly keeping candy and other treats stocked up in your house or at your desk makes it difficult to keep track of how much you’re really eating. “Put it all away and if you feel like a sweet at the end of a healthy meal, that’s when to do it. Keep it in check,” she said.
Don’t stop tracking your progress or keeping tabs of your body composition just because the holidays are here. Wellington says that if you have a habit of hiding the scale away until after New Year’s you may need to reevaluate your goals and recommit yourself to a year-round health and fitness routine. There’s no need to obsess over the exact number of your weight, but Wellington points out that the scale can be a helpful tool to help you gauge whether or not you’ve gone too far off track.
Don’t allow a busy holiday schedule to diminish the importance of your workout routine. Wellington warns that you shouldn’t use parties, shopping or even bad weather as an excuse not to exercise. Whether you have the time to make it to the gym or you fit a 15-minute bodyweight workout in at home, doing something is always better than nothing. “It’s all about staying true to your top priorities,” says Wellington. “Which includes taking care of yourself.”
From shopping and wrapping gifts to dealing with difficult family members (we all have them, right?) sometimes the holidays can be a source of stress. Of course, exercising is one great way to reduce the negative effects of feeling over-stressed; another reason to make sure you stay on top of your workout routine. Plus, Natalie Galyon, a Wellness Fitness Coach and author of The Superpower Practice, says that stress could also make your more susceptible to illness. To boost your immune system and keep your overall health in check she suggests drinking lots of water and adding Vitamin C and D supplements to your diet.
Speaking of busy schedules and stress, these are two things that are associated with poor sleep habits, and missing out on quality sleep is linked with negative side effects like an increased risk for infection, inflammation in the body and naturally, a decreased desire to exercise due to low energy levels. Plus, poor sleep habits can also affect your appetite as a lack of sleep leads to increased production of a hormone called ghrelin, which tells the brain we want to keep eating even after we’re full.
“Shorter daylight naturally brings less activity and also a change of habits and routine,” says Galyon. To ensure that you’ll maintain adequate activity levels she suggests picking up a seasonal sport (ice skating, snowshoeing, hot yoga, etc.) and preparing back-up workout plans in case of inclement weather. Even though you might not be able to make it outside, make sure you’re moving consistently throughout the day on a regular basis.
Everyone loves licking the spoon after mixing batter for baked goods, but psychotherapist, eating coach and an expert on the psychology of eating Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, M.Ed. warns against taking too many taste tests while you’re preparing food. One or two bites to make sure your dish tastes just right (or a lick just because) is fine, but don’t let a quick taste turn into an entire meal's worth of extra calories.
Mindless eating is a habit that can present itself any time of the year, but it seems to be especially problematic during the holiday season because there are so many treats and desserts around. Koenig says it’s also sometimes a result of feeling stressed. “Your thoughts are elsewhere, so that you’re eating when you’re not hungry,” she explained.
“For example, maybe you generally stop for a cup of coffee mid-afternoon when out shopping or doing errands,” says Koenig “But during the holidays you have a high-sugar, high-fat drink with an accompanying piece of holiday chocolate or pie.” Of course it’s OK to indulge in a decadent seasonal drink or holiday baked goods every once in a while, but you should be careful to avoid making it an everyday habit.
“Festive foods are everywhere during the holidays and it's easy to get into the habit of always eating them when they're offered because it seems like a special occasion,” says Sarah Moran, RDN, owner of Sarah Moran Nutrition. “The thing is, they aren't so special when you eat them all the time. Instead, make the choice to be picky and only eat the items that are your absolute favorites and of the highest quality. Skip the squished sugar cookies a co-worker picked up on their way to the office. They aren't that good anyway.”