The holidays are often filled with celebration, and with that comes indulgence. But indulgence doesn’t have to mean unhealthy habits and weight gain. With a bit of mindfulness and strategy, you can enjoy the holiday season without compromising your health and wellness. Keep reading to learn some tips and tricks to help you make healthier choices during the holiday season.
Data and health consequences
The 6 weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years is one of the busiest and most indulgent times of year for many Americans, often accompanied with mental stress and weight gain. The average American gains nearly 1 lb (up to 5 lbs) during the holiday season each year.
Party planning, traveling, and increases in spending can all mean increased stress, lowered immune systems, and indulgent habits you may not have the rest of the year. The unique circumstances and celebrations of the holidays can impact both physical and mental health, but the good news is, there are things you can do to support yourself through this season!
1. Stay active
Amidst the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it's crucial to maintain an active lifestyle. By incorporating physical activity into your routine, you can help use any extra calories you may be consuming. A brisk walk after meals also helps with digestion. You can make working out fun and try a holiday-themed fitness class or make it a family affair by involving everyone in a family bike ride, game of tag, or scavenger hunt through the park. Physical activity not only helps burn calories but also boosts your mood and energy levels, addressing both the physical and mental impacts of the season.
2. Mindful eating
When you savor each bite of food, truly tasting all the flavors and experiencing all the textures, you are more likely to pay attention to your hunger cues and sense of fullness. Avoid eating mindlessly in front of the television or while scrolling on your phone as this can inadvertently cause you to eat more than you normally would. It also helps to chew slowly and thoroughly to ease digestion, prevent indigestion, and help support mindful eating efforts. Mindful and present eating allows your body to register that it's satisfied, which can prevent overeating.
Sometimes, our bodies mistake thirst for hunger, so we eat when, in fact, we are thirsty. If you think you’re hungry, try drinking a full glass of water and waiting 15 minutes before eating. Not only does this help with digestion, but it can also prevent overindulgence by keeping you feeling full. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day, especially if you’re drinking caffeine or sweating while exercising.
3. Portion control
Instead of loading up your plate with every dish on the table, opt for smaller portions of your favorites first. Sampling a variety of foods to satiate your cravings while keeping the portion sizes small is a great way to enjoy variety while not overeating. You can also try using smaller plates to help manage portions as well. And remember — you don’t have to clean your plate! It’s best to stop eating when you feel satisfied.
4. Healthy substitutes
Modifying traditional recipes by incorporating healthier ingredients is a great way to improve the nutritional profile of some of your favorite dishes. Here are some helpful substitutions you can try this holiday season:
- Whole-grain flour instead of bleached white flour.
- Local honey or organic maple syrup instead of bleached white sugar.
- Avocado oil or olive oil instead of margarine or butter.
- Instead of salt or salt-based flavorings, opt for fresh herbs and spices to add depth and flavor.
Trying these substitutions can increase the vitamin, mineral, fiber, and healthy fat content of your favorite holiday meals.
5. Strategic indulgence
Allow yourself to indulge in your favorite holiday treats, just eat them in moderation. This can mean smaller portions or a smaller feeding window in the form of intermittent fasting. Instead of eating a few full-sized desserts, try a small scoop or a piece of a few different options. This way, you fulfill your cravings and just have a bite or two of each rather than a full serving.
You can also opt to do intermittent fasting, which is limiting the window in which you eat by elongating a fasting window. For instance, going 16–18 hours without eating and then having an eating window of 6–8 hours. The Journal of Nutrition Science found that “intermittent energy restriction intervention might support weight management efforts and help promote metabolic health during the winter holiday season.”
6. Prioritize protein and fiber
Protein and fiber help keep you feeling fuller for longer. By focusing on foods high in fiber and protein, you’re supporting proper digestion, and you’re less likely to overeat high-fat and high-sugar foods often associated with the holidays. Choose poultry, seafood, beans, legumes, tofu, fresh fruits, and diverse vegetables to ensure a well-balanced plate focused on protein and fiber. It’s also worth noting that protein contains amino acids, which are the biological precursors to important neurotransmitters that can help your mood, sleep, appetite, and overall mental health during the stressful holiday season.
7. Mind the alcohol
Alcohol often adds empty excess calories and, because it is a nervous system depressant, it can negatively impact mental health and energy levels for many. It can also help to drink a glass of water between each alcoholic beverage to keep you hydrated and prevent hangovers. Instead of drinking your calories, save them for your favorite tasty holiday dishes.
8. Rest and relaxation
Quality sleep is paramount to balancing hunger hormones and helping support a stable mood and mental state. Lack of sleep can disrupt your body's hunger hormones, potentially leading to increased cravings and overeating. Even just 1 night of sleep deprivation has been shown to increase hunger hormones. To ensure a great mood and stable appetite, get 7–8 hours of quality sleep, especially during the holidays.
The final word
By applying these tips and tricks, you can navigate the holiday season without sacrificing your health. You deserve to enjoy your festivities guilt-free while also prioritizing your well-being. A healthy holiday is a happy holiday!
The holidays are often filled with celebratory indulgences you may not normally partake in during the rest of the year.
The average American can gain between nearly 1–5 lbs in the 6 weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years.
With this increased indulgence, break from normal routines, and increased stress, both mental and physical health can take a toll.
If you have any questions or concerns about utilizing any of these tips and tricks to stay healthy during your holiday, please seek professional guidance from a qualified healthcare professional.
- Journal of Obesity. Effect of the Holiday Season on Weight Gain: A Narrative Review.
- PLos One. Watching TV and Food Intake: The Role of Content.
- Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Holiday Weight Management by Successful Weight Losers and Normal Weight Individuals.
- Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Thirst-drinking, hunger-eating; tight coupling?
- Journal of Nutrition Science. Avoiding holiday seasonal weight gain with nutrient-supported intermittent energy restriction: a pilot study.
- Obesity Science & Practice. Strategies to manage weight during the holiday season among US adults: A descriptive study from the National Weight Control Registry.
- Indian Journal of Psychiatry. Understanding nutrition, depression and mental illnesses.
- Journal of Sleep Research. A single night of sleep deprivation increases ghrelin levels and feelings of hunger in normal-weight healthy men.