The things that make the holidays wonderful — yummy good, fun celebrations and time with family and friends — are the same things that make it a challenge to stick with a health and fitness routine. That’s why so many of us gain weight during this time.
Studies show that people gain an average of two pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s (and those who are overweight may gain even more). A few pounds may not seem like a big deal, but research also shows that many of us don’t lose them all, meaning those holiday pounds can add up over time.
But the holidays don’t have to be synonymous with weight gain. It is possible to enjoy yourself and loosen the reigns a bit while still maintaining your weight. And the easiest way to do it is to form healthy habits now, before the season is in full swing.
I encourage my weight-loss clients (and myself!) to start sooner rather than later when it comes to preparing for the holiday season, especially since habits take a lot of repetition to successfully form. I’ve been coaching people for over a decade and these are a few of the habits that have proven successful in getting them through the holidays with their health and fitness goals intact.
Replace long workouts with quick HIITS
Longer workouts are feasible during the summer when we tend to have more free time. But come fall, our days start to fill up. By the time we reach the holidays, additional obligations make it even more difficult to set aside large chunks of time for exercise. The truth is, you’re going to have lots of excuses to skip that hour-long workout and a quick workout is better than no workout at all. Squeezing in some movement every day (even if it’s only a few minutes) will keep your health a priority and help you maintain your weight. Prepare a few go-to workouts that you can knock out when you’re strapped for time, whether it be a 20-minute cardio routine or a 15-minute strength-training session.
Master 3 easy meals
When there is no spare time to cook, the first thing we do is reach for the phone and order delivery. But caloric takeout coupled with an increase in sweets and alcohol during the holidays can wreak havoc on your waistline. Luckily, a home-cooked meal doesn’t have to be time consuming. I recommend that my clients have three easy meals on hand for hectic days. My favorites are: a go-to protein smoothie, a frozen meal (leftovers from dinner or a batch of veggie soup), and something that can be whipped up in under five minutes (like scrambled eggs and veggies — I love breakfast for dinner!).
Combat stress with yoga, meditation or breathing
Holiday stress is common and it not only affects our mental health, but can lead to coping strategies like eating comfort foods that can hurt your physical health as well. It’s so important to make mindfulness a part of your routine now, so that you have it as a tool in your arsenal to combat stress when it hits. Yoga and meditation are great ways to practice mindfulness and relax. If these feel too difficult for you, start with simply breathing. Sit comfortably, close your eyes and breathe deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try downloading a meditation app or journaling for 5 minutes every morning or evening. During the holidays these habits will help keep you grounded.
Practice saying “no”
How many times do you find yourself at social events or holiday functions that you wish you’d been able to skip? The holiday season is busy enough, but if you’re a people pleaser, it’s even worse! Being able to say no to some invitations will ensure you don’t overstuff your schedule and still have important down time. Many of my clients find it challenging to say no without giving a reason. That’s why it’s important to come up with your explanation to decline and rehearse saying it! Something like, “Unfortunately I am maxed out, I hope you understand!” or “I’m really trying to prioritize self-care and my health and need to take a night off. Thank you for thinking of me!”
Set a daily water goal
When things get hectic, our healthy habits start to go out the window. Drinking enough water is essential to feeling energized and not overeating. It’s also one of the easiest habits to implement, and usually making one healthy choice has a snowball effect and leads to others! I recommend setting a daily water goal you can practice hitting now, and then carry it with you into the holidays. Water goals are often based on weight: for every one pound you weigh, you should aim to drink between 0.5 and 1 ounce of water. So, if you weigh 150 pounds, set your goal between 75 and 150 ounces.
Set a daily vegetable goal
I like to have my clients set vegetable goals, too. Making the effort to incorporate healthy foods into your diet can be hard any time of year, but gets especially challenging during the holiday season when there are so many delicious options in front of you. Setting a goal to “eat more vegetables” isn’t measurable, so it’s harder to achieve. Instead, pick a concrete number. If you’re not a veggie lover, maybe one a day is where you start. After a week, up it to two. Over time it will become easier to incorporate vegetables into every meal, and as you enter the holiday season, it will be a habit to fill part of your plate with produce.
Establish a peaceful bedtime routine
Having a nightly routine to help you wind down from the day is essential for your mental health. Giving your body that much-needed break can help you sleep better and feel more energized in the morning. Take the time now to create a routine you love, whether that be reading a book, practicing yoga or watching an episode of your favorite show before falling sleeping. Having that time to de-stress and practice a little self-care at the end of every day will keep your mental health a priority — and put you in the right headspace to make healthy choices in other areas of your life.