By Elena Sessa
Do you find that the scale moves up a few pounds during this time of the year? During summer time, we’re focused on our bodies, given we know we’ll be wearing the revealing clothing that goes with that season, but when fall and winter come around, that mindset falls away like autumn leaves. Maybe it’s our primitive instinct to bulk up when the weather gets colder; it probably also has a lot to do with our busy holiday shopping and social schedules interfering with our regular workouts, and with all the tasty holiday treats lying in wait to tempt us everywhere we turn, regardless. But don’t let the layers of clothing become layers of fat. Follow these tips to stay healthier and fitter this holiday season.
- Travel smart. Many people find themselves traveling during the holiday season, but that’s not an excuse to eat unhealthily and avoid exercise. Plan your meals in advance, and pack snacks when you are either on the road or in the air. Good travel snacks can include nuts or dried fruit. To help you be a happier traveler, get a good night sleep before you leave to increase your mood and alertness. Eating a heavy meal before traveling can make you sleepy, so eat a small, low-fat meal before you head out the door.
- ZZZZZZZ. Try to keep a regular sleep schedule and get a full night’s rest as often as you can. If you fail to get a good night sleep, it can affect your immune system and make you grumpy the next day. No one wants to travel with a grouchy person, so do everyone a favor and get some shut eye. Sleeping well can also help you reduce your calorie consumption, because it inhibits the release of the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin while promoting the release of leptin, another hormone that limits hunger. And keeping that hunger in check is a good idea when you find yourself surrounded by holiday goodies.
- Hydration station. Staying hydrated is important in our daily life and becomes even more important when you’re stressed, as can so often happen during the busy holiday season. Stress can have a negative effect on your immune systems. Drinking plenty of water can help by flushing toxins out of your body. For that very reason, choosing water instead of holiday beverages like eggnog and hot spiced cider is especially important, even though it can be challenging.
- Caution with cocktails. With the holidays comes the drinking of alcohol, so make sure you have at least one glass of water in between each drink. Remember that one gram of alcohol has seven calories, and yet it yields virtually no energy or health benefits. Calories from alcohol can add up quickly, so be mindful of how much you are drinking. If you do indulge in eggnog, which is super-high in calories in its traditional form, try making it with fat-free half-and-half substitute mixed with fat-free milk, and ditch the egg yolks for egg whites. Also, drinking may reduce inhibitions under the mistletoe, which is good, but it also reduces inhibition at the dessert buffet, which is bad.
- Fighting temptation. The holidays are filled with temptation, and it’s your job to stop it in its tracks. Holiday parties can be troublesome with the surplus of fatty foods and beverages. You might be unaware of how much you are consuming and might eat because it is there, rather than eating because you are actually hungry. Eat a healthy meal before you go out, so you’re less tempted to munch on empty calories. Be aware of what you are putting into your body whether it’s cocktails or shrimp cocktails. The office can also be a place where temptation lurks. Try to avoid going into the break room and grabbing those cakes, cookies, and other holiday dishes and treats people leave lying around at this time of year. Be the first in your office to bring in a fruit or veggie platter or other healthy choice to share. And if you are having a chocolate craving that just won’t go away, throw a banana in the blender with some Chocolate Shakeology, nonfat milk and ice, and you’ll be back on track.
- ‘Tis the season for lots of television. Holiday movies, shows, and sporting events are in abundance during this time of the year. While you’re watching TV, make time during commercials to do some exercises that do not require any equipment. Remember some of the exercises you do from P90X, Insanity, or any other Beachbody workout program you’d like? Good, well apply those techniques and do some of those routines during the commercial breaks. Other options can range from standing up during some of the program to sitting on a stability ball (which uses more muscles than just sitting down on the couch) to doing jumping jacks, lunges, or ab work and beyond. Be creative and fight the flab that can come with being a couch potato.
- Make recipes healthier. Most recipes can be made healthier without compromising the recipe. Think more whole grains—and less sugar, fats, and salt— while cooking and make sure that there are mostly healthy dishes to outweigh the naughty ones. Use the half plate rule—half of your plate should be filled with veggies or fruit. Healthy food that’s good to incorporate into your meals includes: white meat turkey (limit the gravy), sweet potatoes, cranberries, pomegranates, pumpkin, pecans, collard greens (limit the fat), nutmeg, cinnamon, and red wine. These items can spice up any meal while making it healthier and more delicious. Please don’t fall into the mentality trap of thinking that if you exercise, that allows you to eat whatever you want. Try nutritious new recipes and be both creative and healthy with your culinary experiences. An example, you ask? How about two? Scroll down to see two holiday treats: Gingerbread Man and Apple-Raisin Coffee Cake.
- Out of sight, out of mind. When food is placed on the dining table, it’s much easier to grab a second helping. So make it harder: Keep the extra food away from the dining room. If you leave it in the kitchen, out of sight, it forces everyone to think about getting up to grab another helping. Here’s a tip: If you still feel hungry after your first plate, wait for 15 minutes and drink a full glass of water, then decide whether you want more food.
- Eat smaller amounts more often. Instead of starving yourself all day so you can overindulge in that one, giant meal, have smaller meals throughout the day. I know that at family holiday gatherings in particular, it’s asking too much to resist the lavish aromas of the kitchen, so limiting your portion sizes is important. Have a little bit of everything while preparing the meal throughout the day, then eat a sensibly sized portion when dinner rolls around. If you’re still hungry after that, then eat more vegetables and fruit.
- Stay active. Regular exercise can help with so many of the challenges you face during the holiday season. It helps you cope with the stress of traveling, because exercising releases endorphins that help boost your mood and energy. At the airport, if you have time, walk beside those moving sidewalks instead of standing and letting them carry you to your terminal. During your flight, walk up the aisles as much as possible without making the other passengers crazy, or do shoulder, abdominal, calf, ankle, or foot exercises while you’re seated. If you’re traveling by car, take frequent breaks, get out of the car, walk around, and get some fresh air. If you’re staying home for the holidays, get the family involved! Depending on the climate, go ice skating, hiking, sledding, skiing, biking, surfing, or walking the dog. And go for a walk together after your big meal—it’ll help you all digest better.
Now, I love the holidays as much as anyone, so I’m not asking you to deprive yourself of any holiday cheer. I’m just asking you to be aware of your body and the temptations and pitfalls it faces this season. Because the holidays have a way of testing your self-control, it’s a good idea to have a plan in place well in advance for dealing with them. That way, you’ll have a better chance of remaining on your regular regimen of exercise and dieting. You can even make it your New Year’s resolution to keep a healthy lifestyle and continue working toward your goals.