How do you stay healthy during the holidays, when you’re bouncing from one cookie bake, holiday party, night out with friends, or giant meal to the next? The struggle is indeed real. I have practical healthy holidays tips to get through to the new year without falling completely off the wagon.
This post is in partnership with Patient First. All opinions are my own. You can read my full Disclosure Policy here.
The most wonderful time of the year is also one of the most challenging times of the year to maintain your health. We’re often not eating well, sleeping well, or moving enough.
I worked with Dr. Elizabeth Jenkins, a physician at Patient First, to tackle five common areas where many of us struggle in these winter months, and share some practical tips for making healthier choices, while still enjoying a merry and bright holiday season.
Healthy Holidays Tips
I’m tackling five common areas where many of us struggle in these winter months, and sharing some practical tips for making healthier choices, while still enjoying a merry and bright holiday season.
Staying Active Over the Holidays
It’s cold, it gets dark early, and while you might just want to curl up on the couch and binge watch your favorite series, it’s better for your health to make the effort to move. Yes, even if it’s cold outside.
One of our family traditions is to leash up the dogs and go for a walk after our big holiday meals. We get to spend some quality time together without any of us rushing around a kitchen or staring at a football game on TV, and we get to work off a few calories. Win, win.
Find activities that keep you moving. Skiing, snow tubing, and other winter sports are the obvious choices.
Personally, I’m not a skier or ice skater, so I do lean toward the sedentary side over the winter. My fix for this is to seek out all those fun community activities happening this time of year.
Walk-through light displays, holiday festivals and markets, and volunteering at charity events are all great ways to get up and go.
Not sure where to start? Searching Facebook Events is a great way to find some interesting things happening in your neck of the woods. Local friends are sure to have some suggestions, too.
Finally, skip online shopping here and there and hit the mall or outlets to get some steps in. For the first time ever, I went shopping Thanksgiving evening just for the fun of it, and we walked a lot.
Dr. Elizabeth Jenkins recommends parking a little farther from the door and take the stairs for a little extra boost of activity.
Seriously can’t deal with the mall? Go ahead on shop online.
Dr. Jenkins says you might be onto something: “I actually recommend shopping online because it’s much more time-efficient than driving around town during the busy holidays. Then, use that extra 30 minutes you would’ve spent in the car doing a high-intensity, weight-bearing exercise… I recommend a short burst of vigorous exercise, as it’s better for your heart and your weight.”
Don’t Drink All of Your Calories
Eggnog, wine, spirits, and even hot chocolate are all parts of a happy holiday season but they can quickly pile on extra calories.
Of course, Dr. Jenkins notes that “it’s always smart to try to minimize the amount of alcohol consumption” if you can. So, enjoy, but in moderation.
Be mindful of your intake, and slip some water or herbal tea into the beverage rotation. Add some citrus, cinnamon, and cloves to it to make it feel festive.
If you are hosting, have some lighter drinks on hand for yourself and your guests so that they have a healthier option, since many cocktail mixers have lots of added sugar and calories. Dr. Jenkins recommends “using soda water or a diet seltzer as a mixer, or choosing light beers.”
Eat Before You Go
Arriving at a holiday party when you’re starving is like walking into a grocery store when you’re hungry. Danger zone! Plan ahead so you can enjoy the food without overindulging.
Before a holiday party or your big meals, drink water and eat food high in water content like fruits and veggies. Dr. Jenkins recommends eating a big salad before you head to your festivities. This will make you feel fuller so you don’t overdo it at the main event.
Once you’re there, Dr. Jenkins advises to “use a small plate and watch how many trips you take to the food table. You could even get your friends to agree on putting the food away after an hour so that you’re not munching all night.”
Another smart idea for being mindful about what you’re eating over the holidays includes keeping a food journal. It really is amazing what happens when you put pen to paper and see what you’re eating.
Get Better Sleep During the Holidays
Adequate sleep is the foundation on which so many things rely: your mood, your ability to make thoughtful choices, your stress level, and more.
According to Dr. Jenkins, “sleep is important for metabolism, stress management, keeping your immune system healthy, and overall health.” So, it is smart to make it a priority during the holiday season.
You know what time you need to get up in the morning, so work backwards and set a target for when you need to go to sleep at night to get adequate rest. Dr. Jenkins recommends trying to keep bedtimes consistent… for kids and adults.
I’m often kept awake at night by all the things I need to get done tomorrow. It helps to ‘brain dump’ each night, and write it all down in my planner or a piece of paper so I know I won’t forget anything in the morning so that I can put my thoughts to bed when I go to bed!
As a mom, I often feel like I’m ‘putting on Christmas’ for the rest of the family. It leaves me feeling exhausted and maybe just a tad resentful. Keepin’ it real. Luckily, Dr. Jenkins had some advice we might all need to hear: “Try to keep in mind the true reason for the holidays. Avoid putting excessive stress on yourself over trying to make things perfect.”
I’m working on that this year by delegating more and asking for help when I need it. The kids are capable of a lot more than we might think!
Remember what’s important. Don’t lose sleep making bows for every gift you’ve wrapped.
If you can’t get it together to send cards this year, let it go. Prioritize the things that mean the most to you: family, friends, making memories.
How to Beat Holiday Stress
The holidays are stressful enough, and added stress from obsessing over what you eat won’t help. Every healthy choice you make during the most wonderful (most stressful?!) time of the year is a small win, and they add up.
Don’t beat yourself up for having a few cookies, or sitting on the couch watching one too many Hallmark movies.
Your mood is an important part of your health. Allow yourself to enjoy the things you love about the season without the guilt, and always strive for moderation and balance.
Make time for self-care by scheduling it. Last year I scheduled a spa appointment for myself about four days before Christmas and I knew I’d either hate myself for taking time for that during holiday crunch time, or it would be total bliss. The verdict? Total bliss.
Have a lunch date with a friend. Go to the movies with your spouse. Close the bedroom door and read a book for an hour. Sign up for an exercise class.
Self-care is important, especially during a time of year when you are trying to make everything special for everyone else. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
Managing holiday stress takes a conscious effort. Be mindful about what you say yes to, and if you work in some of the healthy habits discussed above, you’ll come out of the holiday season with fond memories AND your health intact.