Holiday Survival Guide

December 15, 2017
For many of us, the holidays are the best time of year. The holidays mean spending time with family, traditions, holiday cheer, and the season of giving. But for a healthy eating plan, it can be the worst time. It means a multitude of celebrations and endless food and sweets, not to mention the complication of busy holiday preparation lists that leave little time for planning and cooking meals. In other words: temptation after temptation. Between Halloween and New Year’s is often the time when we just decide to forget it – we put aside our goals and vow to restart on January 1st. This year, however, is going to be different. This year, you’re not going to throw in the towel for the next six weeks. With some strategies, some pre-planning, some small commitments, and some extra winter activity, you can maintain your healthy habits around the holidays without missing the parties and without having to forgo your favorite treats. You’ll still get to enjoy everything but won’t lose your momentum. Follow our holiday survival guide, and when January 1st arrives, you won’t be restarting; you’ll still be celebrating!
Eating Strategies
Have a Plan Before You Go
Before you head out to a party or gathering, plan what you’re going to eat and drink beforehand. Know what you will and won’t eat during dinner and decide how many drinks you’ll have. To stick to your commitment, eat mostly during the main meal and fill your plate with vegetables and lean proteins. Limit extra calories from alcohol by choosing low-calorie options (light beer, wine, infused vodkas without mixers or no-calorie mixers) or alternating your drinks with water or sparkling water. When it comes to appetizers and desserts, choose two or three appetizers and have a few small bites of each. Choose one dessert and have two small bites. Having a plan beforehand will allow you to get to enjoy the food without going overboard.
Contribute a Healthy Recipe 
If possible, offer to bring a dish to the party (they don’t have to know it’s healthy!). Think simple and fresh: a fresh vegetable tray with spicy hummus or lemon and olive oil, a fruit plate with a low-fat dip, seafood with cocktail sauce. Pick something you like and that fits into your eating plan. If you have the time, take a favorite recipe and find healthy substitutes for some of the ingredients. In baked goods, bananas or applesauce are great substitutes for eggs. For creamy dishes, you can use low-fat dairy products, and for recipes that call for lackluster vegetables like iceberg lettuce, substitute leafy greens. Use savory spices like basil, cumin, and herb blends or sweet spices like cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg instead of unhealthy ingredients to enhance flavor. Find healthy recipes for your favorite dishes or substitutes online.
Choose your days to eat clean
Some days will certainly be much more worthwhile to engage in some “cheating” habits. Choose them carefully and make sure to fit them between days when you can eat clean. One way to be successful in this is to think about meals rather than days. Choose a few times a week for a cheat meal and then stay within your healthy eating parameters the rest of the time. On the days you do have a cheat meal, make sure to get some exercise (see below), and on days you commit to eating clean, avoid extra snacks and treats. Remind yourself that it’s only one day, and whatever it is you want, you can have a very small portion or have some at your next cheat meal. This is a great time to teach yourself moderation that you can utilize even after the holidays.
Party Planning
Healthier Choices
Whether you are hosting or attending the party, make the healthiest choices you can. Focus on foods that are as close to their natural state as possible: vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, legumes, and nuts. These foods will better satisfy you and make it so you don’t have much room for the unhealthy stuff. To monitor your intake, visually divide your plate. Fill one-half with fruits and vegetables (fresh ones, not ones drenched in sauce), one-fourth with lean protein, and one-fourth with grains or rice. Choose dark over light when it comes to things like rice (brown instead of white), potatoes (yams over white), and vegetables (spinach over iceberg) and light when it comes to meat and dairy products (turkey, low-fat dairy products).
Skip Appetizers
Even just a few appetizers can add up to a lot of calories. Three mini quiches and a few chips with spinach artichoke dip? 500 calories! To get the most out of your meal, skip the appetizers and save your appreciation and splurges for the main meal. In addition to reducing your total calorie intake, it will be easier to track what you’ve eaten if you eat all your food in one place since it’s very easy to forget the morsels you had over a long period. If you’re at a restaurant, have broth soup or salad first to keep you from overeating, but skip the bread, chips, or fried appetizers.
This is the time of year when we get to eat special foods that we only see during this time. Taste everything you love, but eat small portions. It’s really important to not deprive yourself of your very favorites and fully enjoy the food, but limit how much you eat. Use small plates and visual cues to gauge portions: a tablespoon of olive oil is about the size of a die, a serving of fruit or vegetables is about the size of a baseball, a serving of pasta or rice is about the size of a hockey puck, and a serving of meat is about the size of a deck of cards. Practice eyeballing portions on your clean-eating days so you can do it more easily when you’re at a social gathering.
Winter Sports
Cold weather brings a plethora of opportunities for outdoor activities. Downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, ice skating, sledding, or fly fishing or all great ways to get some exercise. All of these activities can be done solo or with a group, so you can either enjoy some solitude or get motivated by some loved ones. Enjoy being in the fresh air, listening to your breath and seeing great sights.
Shovel Snow
A 165-pound person burns about 450 calories per hour when shoveling snow, so not only do you have to do it, but you’re getting a great workout at the same time! If you’re feeling energetic, you can show the holiday spirit by helping out your neighbor and shovel their snow as well. Grab your music player and get lost in the rhythm of it – you’ll be done in no time and will have the satisfaction of being active and productive.
Maintain your Exercise Routine
The holidays are a busy, crazy time, so stick to your normal routines as much as you can. Get to the gym and get your workouts in like you usually would. Make small adjustments to still fit it in when needed: split your workout in two (or even three), change the time of day to work around social engagements, hire a trainer for a few sessions so you can’t miss the appointment. If you always exercise at the gym alone, attend a group class or vice versa. Remember that every bit counts; 10 minutes here and there quickly add up. Exercise will boost your efforts and allow you more flexibility in your eating choices.
Stay Active
One of the challenges of exercise during the holidays is working around schedules and people. Stay as active as you can. It’s okay to let people know beforehand that getting some exercise is a high priority for you. Invite visiting relatives to come with you to the gym or take an outing together to the park or some other fun, active place. Get your walking in by going shopping. Even standing and helping in the kitchen is better than spending the whole day on the couch. Move as much as you can and stay committed to your daily exercise.

Let it Go 

The holidays are a special time and should be treated as such. Don’t let guilt ruin your holiday fun; make good choices consistently or, at least, make careful choices. When you slip up, reflect on it and then move on. Enjoy this time with family and friends and revel in every moment. Your health and happiness are a great gift, so commit to them and do right by them and you’ll have a fantastic holiday season.

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