The Hectic Holiday Guide to Keeping Your Health Goals

Fitting fitness in is difficult at any time of the year. I’m a personal trainer, I teach group fitness classes, and I love working out. But still, I literally have to add my fitness plans to my weekly calendar, make certain that someone is around to watch the kids, and be ready to adjust if a work emergency pops up (and let’s be honest: those emergencies seem to manifest once a day).

Add in holiday parties, end-of-year work deadlines, family visits, and travel, and it feels nearly impossible to make it all happen. Plus, the pressure mounts as the new year approaches and everyone starts asking: “What are your resolutions?”

Not to use an already over-used phrase, but it really is crucial to put on your oxygen mask first. Take care of yourself, and you can take care of everything and everyone around you.

So, let’s talk about a few hectic healthy holiday strategies that can help you stay on track.

Food and Diet

There’s something that’s just so nostalgic about holiday treats. Pumpkin spice invades the store shelves, everyone starts bringing cookies and homemade treats to the office, and you dig out the old family cookbook to create some of the most delicious and special meals from your childhood holidays.

It’s so easy to think, “It’s okay to overindulge, because I almost never get to eat these things,” or “I’ll make up for it after the holidays are over and go back to a more balanced diet.” But that quickly leads to not just one cookie, but three – or seconds and thirds when you’re already full.

One popular approach to holiday health is the 80/20 rule, where 80 percent of choices are healthy and smart, and 20 percent are fun and indulgent. It’s a way to feel fulfilled and enjoy some special treats without totally derailing your lifestyle. You can also apply it to your plate: 80 percent of what you pile on is healthy (roasted vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains), and 20 percent is whatever you want!

I find that that 20 percent guideline is incredibly helpful because it really reminds me to pick the things that are special and that I really want, and not just take some of everything.

Holiday Health Toolkit - Hectic Holiday Guide to Keeping Your Health Goals

Here are a few other tips and tools:

  • Rest up! Research shows that a bad night’s sleep can lead to poor eating choices the next day – maybe even an extra 300 calories, which add up quickly over a week.
  • Take a lap before filling your plate. You’ll likely eat the most of whatever you serve first, so if you can make it a salad with fresh vegetables, some hummus, or even soup, it can prevent you from overdoing it on the indulgent meats, sides, and desserts.
  • Use smaller plates. We tend to fill up the space we have, so if you use a salad or appetizer plate, it can make a big difference. Plus, you can go back for more servings, but use the break to ask yourself: “Am I really still hungry?”

Work and social engagements are a great way to celebrate the season, but it’s easy to fall into the trap of mindless snacking, extra treats, and too much alcohol (especially if you’re nervous about talking to everyone). Because these events often fall on nights and weekends, when you might also be ditching your workout, making a few intentional decisions before you arrive can help parties from being a pitfall.

Avoid Holiday Fitness Traps - Hectic Holiday Guide to Keeping Your Health Goals

  • Eat a small but filling meal or large snack before you go to a party.
  • Stand more than an arm's length away from tempting treats and snack foods.
  • If you’re going to have an alcoholic drink, start with something soft first (club soda, water, etc.) and then alternate between the two.
  • “Thanks but no thanks.” Don’t feel pressured to eat or drink something just because someone offers it or encourages you to indulge. A simple ”No thank you” is very powerful, and you can always go back on your own and eat it later – when it’s your choice, not just a reflexive action.

For more great tips on handling holiday eating, check out this roundup of advice from registered dietitians and nutritionists. See how they handle the holidays!

Let’s all admit together that working out during the holiday season is hard. That just means that we need to choose to overcome that obstacle. Yes, you’re tired. Yes, you’re juggling visitors or packing for your own travel. Yes, just the gift shopping feels like a workout. And actually, it is! If you wear an activity tracker you know that you can get up to 10,000 steps just walking through a mall or shopping center.

I think the three keys to sticking with a routine are the following: find something fun, go with what you already know, and stay to play. Let’s break that down.

Find Something Fun

Honestly, my favorite thing to do is to put on a great playlist of music, gather my family around me, and DANCE. I add some sneaky bodyweight-bearing exercises like burpees, high knee runs, jumping jacks, and more – the kids love to keep up and don’t think of it as a workout at all! – and after 20–30 minutes, we’re all dripping with sweat.

Holiday-Inspired Workouts - Hectic Holiday Guide to Keeping Your Health Goals

Here are a few other holiday-themed workouts for you to try:

Go with What You Already Know

I love trying new classes and workouts and committing to monthly challenges. But this is not the time to jump into something new that you may not end up loving or that may take more of your time than you can give!

If you’re already taking weekly yoga classes at the studio near work, stick with it – bonus points if you pre-pay for classes so you have an extra incentive to make it to the mat. Drag out that well-loved workout DVD and load it up at night so all you have to do in the morning is press play. Keep your current running club dates or personal training sessions, since they’re already part of your routine.

And if you’re not currently working out but want to, keep it simple. In the big picture of fitness, of course you want to mix things up to make sure you’re getting a good balance of strength training, cardio, and flexibility. But for this short period, it’s just about moving and making smart choices.

Stay to Play

The thing I hear most often when it comes to the hectic holiday period is that people just don’t have the time to go somewhere. Driving to the gym takes up time that could be spent on wrapping gifts or finishing work. When family is in town, it feels wrong to leave them and spend 90 minutes on a run or in a yoga class.

So, stay home – and invite everyone to join you! Thirty minutes a day can make a huge difference, and you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment. HIIT workouts (high-intensity interval training) are quick, sweaty, and very effective. You can knock one off while waiting for the Christmas cupcakes to bake!

Wellness and Self-Care

Finally, don’t forget to find some quiet time in the craziness. Yes, we focus on diet and exercise because it’s so easy to pack on extra pounds during the holidays. But meditation, self-reflection, and de-stressing techniques are a very important part of the package.

It can feel wasteful or selfish to take a hot bath while out-of-town visitors are downstairs catching up on stories. You might cringe at the idea of passing on a trip to the mall for last-minute shopping with your best friend, even though you’ve completed your list already.

Make time and space for yourself. It’s okay to say no. Remember that oxygen mask!

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