The busy weeks of December can undo some of the healthy strides you took throughout 2017. Late-night parties, holiday dinners and nights sitting on the couch by a warm fire may lead to a lack of sleep, weight gain and falling out of your exercise routine.
Jennifer Brazen, a personal trainer certified by the American College of Exercise, shares a few tips for keeping your goals on track while still enjoying the celebrations of the season.
Budget your fun. Give yourself a “bank” of five indulgences each week. You can have five alcoholic beverages or five desserts or five fried foods or a combination of these or other treats. Save them all for one party or spread them out through the week. The important thing is that when you reach No. 5, you’re done indulging.
Survey the buffet. Resist the urge to grab a plate and pile on the food as you go down the line. Your favorite dish might be tucked away at the end, and that’s what you should spend your calories on. The best approach to a buffet is to look at everything that’s on it. Then grab your plate and only take your favorite dishes. If you still need to narrow it down, choose the favorites you only have during the holidays and then fill in the rest of your plate with healthier options.
Share the health. Bring a low-calorie dish to add to the meal. You could bring a big salad with a low-calorie vinaigrette, or try some of these ideas. But keep in mind that unless you have a medical condition that requires special foods, you should check with your host before you bring your own dish.
Do what you can. The reality for most people is they won’t be able to stick to all their healthy habits during the holiday season. But try to find what you can do. For example, if you don’t have time to go to an hour-long fitness class, take a 20-minute walk instead. That’s still giving your body a workout so you don’t lose your fitness level, but it’s not so much that it adds one more thing to your to-do list. Go back to your regular exercise routine as soon as you can find the time.
Make exercise your stress reliever. With holiday fun can come holiday stress. The shopping, traveling, cooking and spending can take their toll. There are also the emotions that come with family visits. When you feel overwhelmed, get outside if you can. Take a walk around the block or to a local park. Unless it’s a blizzard or dangerously cold, you can walk in any weather. If you want something tougher, go to the gym and use strength training or a fast-paced class to work out your frustrations. At the very least, it’s time spent thinking about something other than the holidays.
Make fitness fun. Dancing around and being silly isn’t just for kids! Play one of the many dance competition videogames. Set up a round of musical chairs. Go outside (weather permitting) and play tag or shoot some hoops. You’ll have a lot of fun and get your activity in. If you don’t have many kids in the family, challenge your friends and relatives to a step competition or suggest going for a walk after dinner to check out the holiday lights. Avoid the impulse to clean up as soon as dinner is done. Go have a little fun first.
Prepare. Look at the calendar in advance and map out the days you have special events. Use the days you don’t have anything special to build up your reserves. Follow your typical routine and add in a little extra rest. Marking the party days on your calendar also shows you how many “regular” days you have, which could help ease feelings of being overwhelmed. There are 31 days in December, so even if you have 10 special events, that still leaves over 20 days you can treat the same way you would any other day.
Make time for YOU. Stress produces cortisol, which can make you feel bloated, interfere with sleep and cause headaches and other symptoms. Decide before the holiday season how you will short-circuit stress. For some people, a hard run or lifting weights will do it. Others may find relaxation in a warm bath, reading a book or taking a nap. Everybody needs to take a step back and relax sometimes, so give yourself permission to do so without any guilt.
Respect sleep. Many people, especially moms of young children, sacrifice sleep so they can cram in one more holiday chore. Stop. Sleep is as important to good health as food and water. Consistent lack of sleep adds up fast and could leave you sick when the holiday celebration rolls around. It also takes a toll on you mentally, leaving your nerves frayed and your temper short. Read Six Ways to Get Some Shut-Eye for strategies to keep you snoozing.
If you’re feeling pressured and stressed this season, you’re not alone. But you don’t have to spend the holidays feeling anxious or overwhelmed. You can learn strategies to successfully handle your holiday challenges with less stress.
Sources: How Many Calories the Average American Eats on Christmas, abcnews.com, Dec. 24, 2014; High Sodium Foods List, Livestrong, 2017; Current Physical Activity Guidelines, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2016; Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior, Mayo Clinic, 2016; How much sleep do I need? CDC, 2017