When you were a child, the holiday season might have felt magical—truly like “the most wonderful time of the year.”
But now, as an adult? Probably not so much.
Has your “most wonderful” season turned into the most stressful?
If it has, you’re in good company.
In addition to the strain of never-ending social obligations, add in all those tempting, not-so-healthy foods that are always right under our nose.
Is it any wonder most of us end the season fatter and totally exhausted?
But it doesn’t have to be this way! Taking good care of yourself doesn’t have to wait until after New Year’s.
Here are 20 suggestions to help you get through the season without regret or the need to spend all of January at the gym.
- Be Mindfully Merry
This starts with setting a new intention for the season. Instead of seeing this as the season to endlessly indulge, think of it as a chance to be extra mindful. Use this time to slow down and eat consciously. Truly taste and appreciate your food rather than eating out of stress or just because it’s there.
- It’s Not All About the Food
Think of social events as a way to really connect with people, not just to eat. Practice being present and genuinely listening to others you find yourself talking to. You’ll see how this leads to deeper connection, more enjoyment, and greater fulfillment.
- Healthyish is Better Than a Set Up to Fail
Most people can’t eat perfectly over the holidays, and trying for perfection can make it hard to socialize or relax. That’s why letting yourself indulge a bit is better than forbidding yourself to eat certain things and then breaking down and binging. So when you enter a social situation where there are going to be lots of temptations, don’t think, “I’m going to resist everything.” Instead, think of being “healthyish.” That means making the best choices you can overall while allowing yourself just enough indulgence so you neither harm your body nor come away still dreaming of all the things you craved but didn’t touch.
- Guidelines: Relaxed, But Still in Place
Even though you’re not going to try to be perfect, that doesn’t mean you develop amnesia about what is and isn’t healthy. Calories, carbs, salt, and sugar don’t take a break for the holidays! So, for the most part, continue to avoid dishes high in salt, processed sugar, or refined carbs. Continue eating plenty of protein, healthy fats, and fiber.
- Get Watered Up
Here’s an easy way to set yourself up to eat less. Drink water before a large meal and take many sips of water during the meal—maybe even a sip between each bite. This will keep you present as you eat and fill your stomach while decreasing the calories you consume.
- Ask Yourself Whether It’s Worth It
Only indulge in less-than-healthy foods when it’s something your really want. Don’t eat it just because it’s there and it’s sweet. Ask yourself, “If I don’t eat it, will I dream about it tonight?”
- Smaller is Better—and so is Slower
The truth is, if you’re eating something because you really want it, you don’t need much to satisfy you. So try eating smaller amounts of indulgent foods—maybe even just three bites.
And to make those three bites seem like more, chew slowly. If you’re using a fork, put it down between each bite. You’ll savor your food more, digest it better, and even feel fuller.
- Just Once a Day Can Keep the Pounds Away
Another way to avoid overdoing it is to limit yourself to just one indulgence a day. This isn’t the easiest thing to do at a buffet. But it will train you to really make that indulgence count.
- Keep Your Wits at the Buffet
Speaking of buffets, let’s face it, there’s no place easier to simply lose it and go crazy with food. It’s basically just one big dare to leave restraint at the door and gleefully stuff your face. But there are strategies for ensuring you don’t succumb. First, choose the smallest plate you can find. Second, load up on the healthiest things being offered, primarily fruits and vegetables. Then take just a taste of whatever decadent treats you’re allowing yourself.
- Avoid Packing On Pounds Over the Holidays
Before you head out to an event where you know there’ll be temptations you want to resist, make yourself a healthy treat to bring along. Then you can discreetly eat it in place of all those destructive goodies staring you down.
- Don’t Drink Away Your Health
For many people, drinking over the holidays is just as big an issue as eating. Limit your intake of alcohol. Choose drinks that are gluten free (these days, it’s not hard to get gluten free beers, hard cider, vodka, tequila, and rum). And avoid sweetened drinks that are full of sugar. Say no to soft drinks, and take only a sip of eggnog (if you love it).
- Wake With a Workout
Working out in the morning does a number of good things. It ensures you get your exercise in before the day derails your best intentions. It kick starts your metabolism for hours to come. And it makes you less likely to choose unhealthy foods later. These things are important any time and even more important this time of year.
- Don’t Show Up Hungry
All these food-centered events make it especially critical to eat regular, healthy meals. Don’t skip meals and plan to have a big blowout at the party—talk about a setup for disaster! Instead, make sure you eat lots of salad and healthy fats on your own time as you usually would. Then arrive at the party with a stomach that’s ready for reason. Don’t go anywhere hungry!
- Keep Watching Your Weight—Somewhat
One of the tricks to keeping things in control over the holiday season is to find a balance between ignoring your weight and obsessing over it. For most people, the best approach is to hop on a scale just a couple times a week. That’ll help you keep weight concerns in mind, but not constantly on your mind.
- Make Tasty Treats Without Too Much Tasting
For some people, one of the great holiday joys is preparing decadent delights for friends and family. If that’s true for you, have at it, and have a great time! But as you’re cooking, limit the amount of tastes you take. Otherwise, you could end up feeling full—and fat—before you even leave your kitchen.
- Let Leftovers Leave
If you entertain, don’t keep all those tempting, decadent leftovers in your home after the guests leave. Instead, have Tupperware containers ready, and encourage your guests to take leftovers. (On the flip side, if you’re the guest, don’t take leftovers that you know you won’t be able to resist and will regret eating later.)
- Know When to Go
When you’ve finished eating a scrumptious meal, it’s time to get up from the table. Instead of sitting around talking until you suddenly find yourself eating more, go take a walk. And invite your fellow diners to join you. You can continue socializing while burning off some of what you consumed. You’ll all feel better.
- Find Fullness Without Food
During this season, it’s especially helpful to take time to meditate, do yoga, or practice other stress reduction techniques. When it comes to social events, this will make you a better guest and a better host. And when it comes to eating, you’ll find it’s much easier to resist all those treats if you’re centered and not resorting to stress eating or relying solely on food to make you feel full.
- Engage Without Eating
Recognize that not every holiday activity has to center around food. Look for other ways to celebrate and connect. Schedule activities that involve singing together, decorating, or other creative endeavors you can enjoy sharing.
- Before You Take More, Take 20
Should I have seconds? That’s a question this season forces you to confront again and again. One voice in your head tells you you’ve had enough. But another says, “Mmmm…delicious…let’s keep going!” What do you do? A great strategy is to wait 20 minutes before deciding. That’s how long your brain needs to receive the message from your stomach that it’s full. Then you can at least make an informed decision rather than an impulsive one.
Remember that despite what advertisers have tried to make of this season, the point isn’t consumption. Behind all the pandemonium—and at the core of whatever holiday your background or beliefs lead you to observe—the purpose is to celebrate love.
I wish you the best, most love-filled holidays ever!
Keep thinking big and living bold!