Holiday festivities are fun, but they drain your energy when you overeat, drink too much, and skimp on sleep. I speak from experience, of course. As December wears on, I am less motivated to take care of myself in favor of baking, entertaining, cleaning, and shopping for gifts. Most of us, including me, could use some support to make this month better. I asked my nutrition expert friends for inspiration to make it to New Year’s Day with no regrets about my behavior, and here’s what they told me.
What to do when your eating is out control
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, blogger at Real Mom Nutrition:
Make your home a safe haven. You can’t control what will be at parties, at your in-law’s house, or at the office. You know there will be dishes of candies and plates of cookies and buffets of rich foods and generally loads of goodies elsewhere. At home, make tempting healthy foods, like washed whole fruit, readily available–the fruit bowl on the counter is truly effective!
Joan Salge Blake, EdD, RDN, Clinical Associate Professor, Boston University and author of Nutrition & You.
Move up the holiday dinners to earlier in the day. Having your bigger meal during the earlier part of the day can help you avoid becoming so ravenous at the end of the day that you end up eating anything that isn’t moving. Eating earlier means you can also go for a walk after the meal, and before the sun sets.
Quick tip: If you’re hosting a buffet dinner, guide your guests to healthier eating by placing the lowest-calorie foods first in line. People tend to pile their plates with the first foods they encounter.
Elisa Zied, MS, RDN, CDN, author of Younger Next Week:
How I survive and thrive during the holidays is by trying to stick to my regular eating and fitness routine as often as possible. When I treat myself, I keep the portion of indulgences such as cookies, cake and chocolate small. I also keep guilt out of the equation, because it’s a useless emotion. I also make sure to exercise during the holidays—and try to engage family and friends in physical activities so we can stay fit together. I walk outside often, even if it’s chilly, and try to fit in things like stair climbing, jumping jacks, lunges, squats and crunches whenever I can. Staying active aids digestion, keeps me feeling energized and strong and keeps stress at bay. It also helps me feel more productive and stokes my creativity so I can write better.
What to do when you want to drink less alcohol
Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, Director of Nutrition, WebMD:
Nobody has to know what you’re drinking. Alternate every alcoholic drink with a mocktail, such as sparkling water with sliced lime. When a drink looks like a cocktail, no one notices, and at the end of the night you will have reduced your alcohol and calorie intake by half. The best part is that you wake up in the morning feeling terrific because you didn’t ‘tie one on,’ and looking good because you’re well-hydrated. It’s a win-win!
Quick tip: To drink less, don’t serve yourself more than a half glass of wine at a time. Sip alcoholic beverages from tall, thin glasses because they appear fuller and you’re less likely to over-pour.
What to do when you’ve gone overboard
Forgive yourself! Just like every other human, you sometimes make mistakes. We tend to feel guilty over things we would tell our friends is no big deal. Let all the comfort, joy, and happiness in during the holidays; savor the moment and leave your calorie counters at home. Count hugs and special memories instead!
What to do when you need a break from the seasonal chaos
Hillary Wright, MEd, RD, LDN, Director of Nutrition, The Domar Center for Mind Body Health:
Don’t be afraid to say no. It’s not necessary to attend every holiday event you’re invited to, nor is it your responsibility to host a party if it’s too much for you. Saying no allows you more time to relax, sleep, exercise, and cook healthy foods, and to get other holiday tasks accomplished. Plus, when you avoid some seasonal parties, you’ll probably eat fewer higher-calorie foods during December.
Bonnie Taub-Dix, MS, RD, owner, BetterThanDieting.com, and author of Read It Before You Eat It:
To beat stress I highly recommend taking a bath with a side of candles and music. When was the last time you took to the tub? We all lead such hectic lives that often include a quick dip in and out of the shower in the morning before moving on to a busy day. By taking the time to submerge in warm water, you’ll sooth sore muscles and relax your mind. You’re worth this indulgent break!
MealMakeoverMoms Janice Bissex, MS, RD and Liz Weiss, MS, RD:
To reduce stress, we recommend getting out every day during the holidays for a brisk walk. Bundle up if you need to and get moving! We also suggest yoga, whether it’s power yoga or more of a meditative class.
What to do when you struggle with the urge to splurge
Lindsay Livingston, RD, blogger at www.theleangreenbean.com:
Don’t put holiday foods off limits. In my experience it only serves to make you want them more. Instead, focus on moderation, and when you do choose to indulge, make sure you’re not doing it mindlessly. Sit down, focus on what you’re eating, chew slowly and enjoy the treat! You may find you’ll be completely satisfied with just a small amount!
Quick tip: Use a smaller plate to eat less. Researchers found that adults eat about 92% of food that they serve themselves. Smaller plates mean less food.
The holidays are filled with all kinds of delicious food. Instead of going to any extreme– whether it’s avoiding everything or indulging in it all — choose two or three high-calorie dishes that you really love and serve yourself two heaping tablespoons of each. This way you can enjoy the amazing holiday food without feeling guilty for going overboard.
Katie Morford, MS, RD, blogger at Mom’s Kitchen Handbook:
For me, overdoing it leads to less enjoyment, not more, since it inevitably ends with a belly ache or a hangover. Yuck. I definitely indulge in holiday treats, but I’m choosy about which ones, and I keep the portions moderate. I also keep tabs on the cocktails, because it’s easy to lose track. I sometimes try to kill two birds with one stone and combine my exercise with holiday socializing, such as taking a walk with family after a holiday brunch, going ice skating with the kids, or taking the sled out for a spin.
I still enjoy my favorite holiday desserts on actual holidays, but for all the days in-between, I satisfy my sweet tooth with dessert flavored teas. They have no calories and come in all sorts of delish seasonal flavors. Right now I’m loving: Chocolate mint, apple cinnamon and gingerbread. Do they really taste like dessert? No. Do they help control my sweet tooth? Yes. Plus, dessert teas make a great host/hostess gift!
Ellie Krieger, MS RDN, TV personality and award-winning cookbook author:
At a holiday buffet, before you dig in, scan and plan. Check out everything that is being served and decide which options look best to you and which to pass up. Grab a plate and fill it mostly with healthy options (vegetables like crudite and salads, and healthy proteins like shrimp cocktail or chicken skewers) plus small portions of one or two must-have indulgent dishes. This way you will leave the party satisfied, not overstuffed.