‘Tis the season. Of good eats! All the holiday festivities are just around the corner. Many of them centered around eating lots and lots of delicious, decadent, comes-around-once-a-year FOOD.
From family gatherings, to your neighborhood potluck, Friendsgiving, or the annual office party – there’s a whole lotta all-you-can-eat style meals happening. And amidst the fun and merriment and general joy of togetherness, some of you may be a little anxious about navigating all those days spent eating and travelling away from home.
It seems so much easier and less-stressful maintaining your healthy lifestyle when you’re at home, doesn’t it? With your own kitchen, groceries, gym access, and familiar daily routine – you’re totally set to succeed. But when you throw in long-distance travel, hotel rooms, big family gatherings, unfamiliar cities, sweet treats, and rich dishes and it seems sort of impossible to stay on track. Why not just throw in the towel, kick back, and let it all go?
We’ve all been there. And we’ve all felt the sting of regret the day(s) after. The dreaded holiday food hangover – bloated belly, fatigue, headaches, grumpiness, and the worst of them all…that heavy burden of guilt weighing you down. Returning back home and trying to get back into the swing of things somehow feels harder, you’re a little less motivated, and have less energy to get back to your usual eating habits & exercise routine.
So when you hop on a plane/ train/ bus or make the long drive home for the holidays, how on EARTH are you supposed to balance your healthy lifestyle without missing out on all the holiday fun?
The good news is that there is a happy medium to be found. That sweet spot between not restricting yourself from enjoying your favorite foods -and- not descending into an all-out food binge that leaves you feeling super awful the next day. You CAN have the best of both worlds. With a little mindfulness and a few tips and tricks, you can sail through the holiday season without feeling deprived.
I hope this little Healthy Holiday Survival Guide helps you out this weekend and through to NYE. If you’ve got any extra tips or tricks to share, be sure to put them in the comments below!
- EAT BEFORE YOU EAT
As in, don’t skip breakfast or lunch just to “save room” for a big meal later on. It may be tempting to hoard all your daily food intake and save your calories for that one big, glorious family feast. But you may just be setting yourself up to eat MORE calories later.
When you deprive your body of food for long periods of time it releases stress hormones, specifically cortisol and adrenaline. Leading to things like increased fat storage, mood swings & irritability, and food cravings. Especially cravings for fatty, salty, sugary, and starchy foods. When our bodies are stressed, we seek out those foods because they trigger pleasure responses in the brain and soothe our stress-levels. This makes exercising self-control even more difficult.
You can avoid feeling ravenous come dinner-time by eating breakfast and small snacks earlier in the day. Choose foods that are rich in protein, healthy fats, and complex-carbohydrates. Some of my favorites are lean chicken sausage, egg whites, non-fat Greek Yogurt, rolled oats, avocado, sprouted whole wheat bread, low-fat cheese sticks, and high volume foods like non-starchy vegetables and dark leafy greens.
Yep. You got me. This is the all too familiar DRINK MORE WATER, overly concerned parent pitch. But it is super important to stay hydrated, even while travelling. Your body needs water to perform almost all of its important functions.
Did you know that it’s easy to mix up or misinterpret your body’s “I’m thirsty” signal for an “I’m hungry” signal? This Livestrong article talks a little bit about this funny phenomenon. If you’ve recently eaten but still feel hungry, and can’t remember the last time you drank a glass of water, chances are that your body is really craving hydration and not more calories. There’s so much happening while you’re travelling or enjoying good company during the holidays that it’s easy to forget to drink as much water as you would normally do at home. So try reaching for a big glass of H2O first and see how that makes you feel. It could be just the thing your body wanted and you didn’t even know it!
- CHANGE UP YOUR WORKOUT ROUTINE
Make a little time to stay active. You can take a “vacation” from your usual workout routine by switching it up with something new instead of opting to skip it altogether. Keep it simple and go easy on yourself. If it makes you unhappy, don’t do it. Vacations are meant to be an escape from the usual, just do something else instead. Anything! Remember that any movement is better than none at all, so make the most of whatever time you do have (whether that’s 10 minutes or 45 minutes).
Don’t be afraid to get creative and try something new & different. You can plan a morning hike with friends, explore a new city on-foot for the day, grab a $10-20 day pass to a nearby gym, squeeze in a quick 15-minute HIIT style workout outside. Check Groupon / TravelZoo / Living Social for local deals on barre, spin, kickboxing, pilates, or yoga classes. Or even pack some resistance bands in your carry-on and scout out a free banded workout online to do in your hotel room. If there’s a will, there’s a way. And lucky YOU – if you want to get your heart rate up on your holiday there’s a thousand and one different ways to fit in a solid sweat or two during your long-weekend away.
If you head out in the morning just after enjoying breakfast & coffee with your loved ones, you can be back in time to shower and join them for lunch. Meaning you don’t have to miss out on that quality bonding time! The easiest & cheapest way I’ve found to do it is to scout out a free, no equipment needed body weight circuit and head to a neighborhood park. All you need are a few plyometric exercises and some open space. You can find a TON of free circuit workouts online, or on social media (like Instagram or YouTube)
OR these Instagram accounts with free videos ->
- FILL UP YOUR PLATE (with…)
Protein and veggies! Sometimes these guys end up taking a backseat to other side dishes, but that turkey is the main event for a reason. Try to take up a lot of prime real estate (aka space) on your thanksgiving plate with some protein before adding on the other goodies (like cornbread, stuffing, bread rolls, mashed potatoes, or sweets). This will help you naturally prioritize some feel-good foods without having to miss out on the yummy stuff. Turkey is a FAN-FREAKING-TASTIC source of lean protein, and even ham is pretty darn packed with it.
And don’t forget those tasty, spruced up veggie dishes either! Sweet potatoes, green beans, creamed spinach, and side salads are all fantastic nutrient-rich foods so don’t forget to save them a place on your plate. They tend to be filled with fiber, which when paired with protein helps keep you fuller longer. An easy way to remember this is to make sure you have a colorful plate. If you notice that it’s starting to look a little monochromatic (as in all one color, lots of yellow/white/brown foods), pretty up that color palette and add something green, orange, red, etc. to mix it up a bit. Your body and taste-buds will thank you!
- WAIT 20 MIN
Your stomach can be full long before your brain actually registers that it is indeed full. There are a number of chemicals that get released to signal that feeling of satiety to your brain after eating. But it takes an average of 20 minutes for those chemical signals to be relayed along and processed. I know, weird right?? But hey. It doesn’t do us any good to fight science, but it can do us a lot of good to work WITH it.
So if you’re still feeling hungry after cleaning your plate, give yourself a little time to chat with friends and family around the table so that full feeling of “ahhhh, yes. That was GOOD.” to hit your brain. Enjoy a glass of water or two in the meantime and then check in with your body and see if it’s really, truly up for seconds.
- TAKE LEFTOVERS HOME
Ever had something SO good that you just want to eat it all at one time until there’s nothing left? I DO. Especially around the holidays when certain dishes have that special status of only being made one time a year. It makes it seem rare and like it is in limited supply. Like when something is on sale so you buy five of it, one in every color and now you have spent WAY more than you would have if you just bought one? Yes. That.
Everyone takes a lot of pride in homecooking this time of year and wants to offer up their made-with-love dishes for you to experience. But it’s okay to say “no, thank you” to eating it now while saying “yes, please!” to eating it later. So if you’re feeling super full at the end of the day and don’t have any comfortable room to scarf down that piece of pecan pie, just take it home and enjoy it another day. Rob it of its no-day-but-today status and give yourself the opportunity to savor it later on. Let your friends / relatives know how much you are looking forward to enjoying it tomorrow, and everybody wins with no hard feelings.
- and finally, TREAT YOURSELF
Now this might seem counterintuitive but if you are craving something, something you don’t get to eat or cook or enjoy the rest of the year. My sincere advice to you is – eat the damn thing already.
Enjoy it, savor it, relish in it. And don’t beat yourself up about it or baste yourself in feelings of guilt or remorse afterwards. Eat things you love and skip what you don’t. Just because there IS pumpkin pie doesn’t mean you have to eat it if you don’t love it. Find those few things that are your favorite to treat yourself to on a holiday, and have them!
This is a time for making memories with loved ones, not a time to deny yourself a cookie. Besides, if you give in and allow yourself to have something rich or sweet instead of just trying to avoid it altogether, you will be more likely to stick to your long-term goals. You won’t feel deprived and you won’t put yourself in a position to binge on EVERYTHING later when you do cave in to a craving.