No doubt, you should do everything you can to enjoy yourself during the holidays. After all, the season is about spending time with friends and family, giving thanks, and spreading joy. However, if you have health and fitness goals that you’re worried might be compromised by other aspects of the season, like large meals, decadent desserts and lots of leftovers, you might be feeling stressed or worried more than anything else.
Here’s the good news, though: in terms of gaining weight over the holidays, you probably have nothing to worry about. As we’ve pointed out before, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, most people only gain about one pound of weight, if any at all. I'ts totally possible to keep your goals on track while still allowing room to enjoy all the holidays have to offer.
For those who really want to kick their health and fitness goals into high gear before Thanksgiving gets here, though, Burr Leonard, founder of The Bar Method and Bar Online suggests that you resolve to keep up with your regular exercise routine and healthy eating habits as closely as possible, both now and through the entire season. Of course, she recognizes that such a task is much easier said than done.
“With all the candy, cookies and pie around, sticking to this plan can be challenging,” she said.
So, in order to make your goals a little bit easier to achieve, she and several other experts are offering the following advice; things you should do before Thanksgiving that will help you stay on track for the whole season.
November 25, the day before Thanksgiving, has been declared “Workout Wednesday” by the American Council on Exercise. “Americans tend to gain one or two pounds around the holidays and often don’t return to their previous weight, resulting in the extra pounds adding up over the years,” Burr warned. "To avoid weight gain from the high calorie meals of Thanksgiving, Americans can reserve the day before as a time to be as active and healthy as possible.”
“Sweet foods go straight to your fat cells and make you hungry for more,” says Burr. “Remind yourself that sugar wasn’t even a big part of the first Thanksgiving in the 1860s. People back then consumed less than one tenth of the sugar we do now. So don’t be obligated to load up on sugar cookies and pumpkin pie to honor a tradition of the season. In any case, the less sugary foods you can get away with not putting into your body, the more energy and high spirits you’ll have to dedicate to celebrating.” See: Kill Your Sugar Addiction With These 5 Simple Steps
“There’s no end to parties leading up to the actual holiday, and we’re expected to go to work however late we stayed up the night before,” says Burr. “Research shows that lack of sleep can cause weight gain by compelling our bodies to compensate for our low energy with more and more food. So, ‘settle your brains for a long winter’s nap’ every night, or sleep in after a late one.”
“The holiday season can keep you on the go with little time to prepare meals,” explained Dr. Caroline Cederquist M.D., creator of bistroMD and author of The MD Factor Diet. “Fast food may be handy, but often is high in fat and calories. Prepare and freeze quick, healthy meals ahead of time to stay out of the fast-food trap.” See: Dietitian-Approved Tips for Healthy Meal Planning Made Easy
It’s easy to think, “I’m just not going to indulge at all,” and many of us instinctively decide to take on this type of mindset during the holidays. However, more often than not, this seemingly fool-proof plan tends to backfire. “Depriving one’s self of certain foods often leads to binge eating,” Cederquist said. “So if you want something eat it, just eat smaller portions and make the healthiest choice.”
Whether you’re working towards a specific fitness goal or you’re just adamant about keeping your healthy habits on track this holiday season, set yourself up for success by surrounding yourself with people who will support your efforts. This can be a group of friends in real life or an online support community, like the Fit Approach #HolidaySweat Challenge.
If you’re most concerned about keeping your exercise routine on track during this time of year, it may be worth committing to group exercise classes or a few personal training sessions. “Choose something that requires an appointment, like a group fitness class, and treat it like you would any other commitment,” said Lisa Corsello, an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and the founder of Burn, a San Francisco-based group fitness studio that incorporates Pilates, cardio and weights. “The simple act of putting your name on the list as a participant will help you stay accountable.”
This is another great way to keep yourself committed to a workout routine. “Register for an upcoming fitness event, like a walk or race, and ask friends to join you,” Corsello suggested. “Having something to train for will help you stay focused on a long-term goal.”
Between shopping, cooking, hosting guests and attending various parties, everyone knows this time of year can sometimes involve more stress than we’re ready to handle, which certainly doesn’t benefit our overall health. So before your schedule starts becoming more and more hectic, make a point to make time for yourself each day—whether that be through a short yoga session at-home or a few minutes of meditation in the morning. “Spend at least ten minutes every day by yourself doing something that relaxes you. Switch off from email and social media at some point each day,” said Jessica Sepel, an international nutritionist and wellness expert. She also recommended taking up yoga. “The stressful holiday season is a good time to practice meditation and yoga,” she added.
If you don’t already, now might be a good time to try building a morning workout habit, this way as your schedule starts become busier, you can fit exercise in first thing in the morning without having to worry about it later on. “It will help you feel focused in spite of craziness,” Sepel said. “And staying in a routine will mean it’s not as hard to get back on track after the holidays—no need to make it a New Year’s resolution.”