By Corey Lewis, CPT, CSCS
There’s nothing like enjoying time with friends and family around the holidays. I love catching up with loved ones over a delicious Thanksgiving meal and celebrating the Christmas season by attending different holiday parties. But Thanksgiving turkey, Christmas sweets, and other holiday foods add up quickly (Did somebody say, Halloween snacks?). All of these treats can really catch up to you once you step on the scale at the start of the new year. The typical Westerner has an average weight gain over the holidays of one pound. You might not think this is very much, but most people never lose this extra weight. So the holidays can actually represent a large portion of your lifetime weight gain, if you’re not careful.
Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to make sure there’s not another holiday weight gain story at the start of next year. Instead of stressing over the latest Black Friday deals, think about how you can stay mindful of your health. Here are a few tips and strategies to help you craft a holiday fitness and exercise plan so you can enjoy the season without packing on the pounds. If you’re on the move during the season, check out this great article on avoiding vacation weight gain.
I’ve found great success by changing my mindset for the holiday season. Instead of heading to a party just to eat, I now find a lot of joy in focusing on the decorations, enjoying the atmosphere, and, of course, catching up with family and friends. Taking the focus off food is a sound way to make sure you’re eating in moderation during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season.
It’s really easy to pack on the pounds during the holidays by drinking popular beverages like hot chocolate or eggnog. Just one cup of eggnog has nearly 350 calories, while a 12-oz regular beer totals 150-200 calories. Swap out a sugary drink with water to stay hydrated, or opt for a club soda or mineral water with your meal.
Aim to enjoy a light snack about 30 minutes before you show up to a holiday party. The food in your stomach helps reduce your appetite so you don’t stuff yourself with party food. Hummus and chips, a few scoops of lowfat yogurt, and peanut butter sandwiches are some of my favorite pre-party snacks.
If you’re cooking for yourself or loved ones during the holidays, make your recipes healthier by simply swapping out some ingredients. For example, steaming or baking food instead of using the fryer is a smart way to cut down the calories from fat. Use more cinnamon or nutmeg instead of white sugar to enhance flavor, or choose skim and almond milk instead of whole milk for cooking.
A complete holiday fitness routine combines smart eating habits with regular movement. Round up your family to enjoy a post-meal walk around the neighborhood. Bundling up and heading outside will help energize you after eating, and the ensuing conversation can be a great way to bond with family whom you don’t see very often.
If the Christmas season coincides with a weight loss journey, don’t be afraid to make the most of your time browsing at the mall. I always try to make a few laps around a store to browse before buying Christmas gifts to squeeze in a little more time on my feet and burn some calories.
You shouldn’t feel like traveling to visit your loved ones means you have to place your fitness on hold. Maybe you’re a regular at your local CrossFit gym, but your parent’s town doesn’t have one. Think about taking advantage of holiday specials at local gyms, spin classes, or yoga studios. Doing so is a great way to limit your holiday weight gain and try something new. And switching up your exercise routine can greatly reduce injury risks and even give cognitive advantages.
The holidays are a busy time for everyone. If you’re not sure about your schedule or unsure about where you’re staying, plan for the worse-case scenario by coming up with short 5–10 minute workout plans. I often travel with a pair of resistance bands that make a great tool for a five-minute workout. Even doing squats and jumping jacks in one-minute intervals can burn a lot of calories and fat in just a short time.
Time buying gifts, entertaining guests, traveling, and cooking can quickly make the holiday season seem hectic and stressful. You’re not going to enjoy indulging in holiday treats or exercising if you’re stressed. Spending time on a few holiday mindfulness exercises clears your head so you can stay more present during time with family and friends.
Simply pausing for a few moments and noticing your breathing is a sound strategy to “check in.” Settling your mind and body helps reduce stress and grounds you back in the present moment, even amid a hectic schedule.
Maybe you’re stressed about that one family member you don’t get along with. Or you’re dreading going to a particular party. No matter the reason, choosing to stick with a holiday mantra can help you refocus during periods of stress. While preparing for an event, telling yourself to “slow down and breathe” helps melt some of the worry and anxiety away. If things are going well for you, just remind yourself to “enjoy the moment” during the holiday season.
Holiday activities and events might encourage relaxing and overeating, but that doesn’t mean you can’t emerge in the new year trim and healthy. Holiday weight gain is not inevitable if you are smart with your food choices and find the time to exercise. However, if you do find that you’ve gotten off track, then here’s how to get back on track after the holidays.
It might seem a bit daunting to keep your weight in check, but following these tips will go a long way toward keeping you happy and healthy as the year comes to a close. With a healthy eating and exercise plan, you may even lose weight during the Thanksgiving and Christmas.