It’s hard to think of this festive season without some holiday cheer (read: food and booze). There’s no denying holidays are synonymous with a seemingly endless flow of libations and feasts complete with the usual suspects: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and sugar cookies. But I’ve found for me; busy schedules, holiday parties, and lots and lots of sugar are not necessarily a recipe for health. Maybe you want to avoid the guilt and anxiety about over-indulging over the holidays, or maybe you feel sick, lethargic, and all-around gross in your body because your normally healthy habits go out the window with the Thanksgiving leftovers. So what do we do?
Because I think the holidays should be merry and bright (not guilt-ridden or lethargic), here are some health hacks that will help you feel your very best through every holiday dinner and cup of hot chocolate.
Hacks this healthy girl uses to stay healthy during the holidays:
PS: the following list is not intended to be used to “earn” indulgences, “make up for” extra Christmas cookies, or prevent “holiday weight gain.” I don’t believe in any of that stuff. What I do believe is that the holidays should be enjoyed to the absolute fullest, and that includes the special foods and traditions you love. You don’t need to earn or make up for eating a cookie; instead, just enjoy the damn cookie. I’m much more likely to make healthy choices if I just incorporate them in addition to savoring all the fun traditions that come this time of year. Instead of resisting, stopping, restricting, or shaming, the goal is for us to feel our very best so we can enjoy the most wonderful time of year with the people we love most. So here we go:
Keep the water coming
I don’t mess around, especially with my water intake. So my first order of business when I arrive at the holiday party? I grab a large glass of water and lemon before I start eating to fill my stomach and prevent over-indulging. Drinking water I’ve found to be the cure-all for everything, and with good reason. Staying hydrated can improve energy levels, relieve digestive discomfort like constipation (yep gotta poo people), and overall just helps your body feel better. Especially if you’re feeling hungover (whether it’s a turkey hangover or a real hangover), drink lots of water to ensure your body is hydrated at all times. I bought a cute water bottle to help motivate me to drink more water (it’s super cute and holiday themed).
Peer (or family) pressure during the holidays is real. We all have that well-intentioned Grandma who nudges us to have “just one more piece of pie” with her at the Christmas family function. Or as soon as you arrive at the neighborhood cookie swap, your friend asks, “Can I get you a drink?” Be prepared with a response in mind, like “No, thank you. I’m done for the night,” or “I’m opting out tonight, but I appreciate the offer.” I think that knowing when to draw the line and say “no” based on your goals for the season is important. Being open and honest with your loved ones about your health goals can help you stay on track and take any “vagueness” out of the situation. And if you’re invited to an event you know will be overflowing with too many tempting treats, it’s OK to skip it.
Set intentions based on what makes you feel good
It never fails. A crazy holiday season full of work parties, dinners, cookie parties, Christmas concerts, and gift exchanges normally tends to throw me off my routine and I tend to forego my regular healthy habits. I think its absolutely OK to pause some of your wellness rituals, workouts, or routines as your daily schedule changes and you’re trying to find time to enjoy the holidays. But I’ve found, to feel as good as possible, it helps me to plan ahead by identifying the key things that make me feel my very best (my non-negotiables). For me that means 30 minutes of activity every day, gratitude journaling, and doing my skincare routine but for you it could look like getting in a meditation every morning, not missing your Pilates class, or going for a jog three times a week. The takeaway is–identify your 1-3 pillars of health and then prioritize them, no matter what. I think keeping up with only a couple of crucial wellness rituals and routines is much more manageable than hoping to keep every habit. More importantly, those few things will ultimately help me feel better throughout the season.
Also, set intentions based on how you feel, not what you think you’re supposed to do. For example, saying “no dessert” during the holidays can throw me into a deprivation mentality, binge eating, and put me on a path back to a negative relationship with food. But I know that my stomach starts to hurt around the second Christmas cookie (dang gluten), or that eating the entire left side of the cheese board generally makes me feel groggy, then set intentions by enjoying one or two cookies and only as much Gouda as you’re actually enjoying. Know your limits based on how your food choices will make your body feel, and set intentions to keep up healthy habits that are important to you.
Get up and move in the morning
Remember how I said that 30 minutes of movement a day is a non-negotiable for me? During the holiday season I know it’s all too easy to lay around in pajamas, sip on hot chocolate, and binge Hallmark movies every day from now until January 1. While that does sound like a perfectly ideal day, getting in a little bit of movement can boost energy, motivation, and mental health. Prioritizing it first thing in the morning means you will get that energy boost early plus won’t have to interrupt your Christmas movie binge to go on a jog later in the day (and let’s be honest: once I’m in my jammies and after a few movies in, the chance of me getting up to do a workout goes way down). This movement is not punishment for the cookies you ate the day before or the second helping of turkey you had for a midnight snack–the goal is to prioritize movement to make you feel like your best, happiest self, not as a means for calorie burn.
Stick to your regular sleep schedule
I don’t know about you, but sleep is a core value for our family on any holiday break. I don’t have to wake up at 6:30 a.m. for work and we aren’t dashing out the door to get to school–the odds of good sleep during winter break are very much in our favor. Luckily for my health goals, that extra sleep is not just a perk of a national holiday; it can also help me stay healthy. Getting enough quality sleep is fundamental for many reasons, like improving mood and energy. But I have noticed in the past that my normal bedtime of 10PM can start edging towards midnight if I’m not careful. Getting enough quality sleep and sticking to a normal sleep schedule super important for staying healthy during the holiday season. Going to bed and waking up around the same time will improve sleep quality, both now and after the holidays. The holidays are a time of laughter and family, but find ways to also use them as a time to rest and restore.
Know that health is more than diet and exercise
If you’re still under the impression that one meal (or a few holidays) can drastically affect your body long-term, you should also know that health is not a two-part formula of diet and exercise. Our health (especially our mental health) is comprised of the content we consume–podcasts we listen to, books we read, shows we watch, people we interact with, and the therapy we do. If you’re not cognizant of the ways you are nourishing your body and mind outside of food then you could be missing key pieces of the health puzzle. 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 the relationships in your life nourish your soul, the grace you’re giving yourself, and how you’re spending your free time to truly become your healthiest self this season.