The holidays are full of family, friends, great food, and great memories. But they aren’t always compatible with a healthy lifestyle. When the holiday season rolls around, it’s easy to get a little lax on the healthy eating and exercise that we typically maintain.
Coupled together, all those festive parties and the stress the holidays can bring, can mean a hit to our overall well-being from November to New Year’s. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Fortunately, with a few tricks, it’s possible to maintain a healthy lifestyle year-round.
It’s no secret that holiday living doesn’t always go hand-in-hand with healthy living. The indulgent, decadent recipes that adorn Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas tables may not follow the diets we stick to the rest of the year. But with these 10 tips, you’ll be able to stay mentally and physically healthy throughout the holiday season.
Find healthy alternatives to your favorite dishes
Healthy eating doesn’t mean you have to give up your holiday favorites — all they need are a few modifications. You can use less butter and bacon in green bean casseroles, yogurt instead of mayonnaise in the devilled eggs, and bake the turkey instead of deep frying it. With these simple tricks, you can keep all your favorites on your plate without all the excess calories.
It’s all about moderation
Moderation will be your saving grace during the holiday season. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying an indulgent, festive dinner — but you’ll want to make sure that your meals surrounding it are healthy and nutrient-dense. Have a light lunch like salad with olive oil dressing, and opt for a healthy breakfast the next morning like avocado on whole wheat toast. By eating healthy during the holiday season, you can afford to go all out for a few big events.
Opt for homemade instead of processed foods
Homemade everything can be difficult when you have a lot going on, but it can also ensure that you’re eating much healthier. Canned, processed, and premade foods are full of excess salt and sugar that you can avoid by making the dishes yourself. Reduce your sodium intake by making your own cream of mushroom soup, and reduce your sugar by making cranberry sauce from scratch. Both take only moments to stir in a pot before letting them simmer.
Making the food from scratch will also make you much more aware of what you’re eating and when, giving you more control and awareness in the long run.
Add more vegetables
It’s easy to go all-out with our favorite recipes, but sometimes eating better is as simple as keeping more healthy choices on hand. Increase the number of vegetable dishes on the dinner table, finding small twists to dress them up without making them unhealthy. Roasted asparagus can be beautiful on its own, and roasted carrots or sweet potatoes are rich in taste and a bright pop of color.
When in doubt, serve vegetables first — like a salad before dinner or a vegetable-based appetizer earlier in the afternoon. This will help everyone make sure they get the vegetables they need instead of filling up on buttery mashed potatoes.
Slow down during meals
While the decadent food might make us eager to eat, a key tip to staying healthy over the holidays is to slow down during mealtime. Multiple studies have shown that eating slowly can give our stomachs enough time to send the hormonal signal to our brain telling us that we’re full, which will stop us from accidentally overeating. This can help us maintain better portion control as a result.
Remember portion control
Speaking of portion control — portion control will be your best friend throughout the holiday season. Eat small snacks during the day, and have three medium meals instead of three extra-large ones. This will improve your digestion and reduce the amount you’re eating, both during meal times and overall. If you’re worried about portion control, you can use smaller plates or reduce the number of dishes you serve at each meal.
Take a walk after dinner
Walking after a meal can give you several distinct benefits. First, you can get exercise at a time when you might not otherwise be exercising as frequently. It can also provide some quiet alone time to de-stress and aid your digestion all at once. All of these factors combined are good for your physical and mental health, and can contribute to weight loss. To maximize these benefits, research suggests that walking immediately after a meal is better than waiting even an hour.
Don’t forgo exercise
There’s a million other things to do, and if you’re away from your home gym, working out can seem even more difficult. Despite that, it’s important to maintain regular exercise for both your mental and physical health. Exercise is good for your body and can also relieve the stress that’s so commonplace during the holiday season.
Even if you can only exercise in small bursts throughout the day, make time to do some jumping jacks on the patio or go ice skating with your family. Need more ideas? Check out our home workouts for the holidays.
Try to stick to your typical sleep schedule
This can be particularly challenging with the increase in parties and family in town. But sticking to your sleep schedule will improve your quality of sleep both now and after the holidays. Studies have shown that, unsurprisingly, irregular sleep schedules can lead to poor sleep quality, fatigue, poor eating habits, and daytime sleepiness that can take time to reverse. Avoid this by going to bed and waking up as close to the same time as you usually do.
Take time for yourself
The holidays are full of family and friends, and while this can be a great thing, it can also be draining and stressful. Whether you’re staying with family over the holidays or just attending a large number of events, remember to take time every day for yourself. Go for a walk, meditate once a day, or offer to go to the store for a few minutes of quiet. Even extroverts need time to recharge.
There’s a lot of ways to incorporate healthy living and healthy eating over the holidays, but one of the best things you can do is find healthy alternatives to your favorite dishes that are just as good. Here’s a few to try out:
- homemade cranberry sauce
- healthy green bean casserole
- lighter creamed spinach
- oven-roasted turkey
- avocado chocolate mousse
- spelt rugelach
For even more recipe ideas, check out some of Healthline’s awesome healthy recipe content:
- healthy holiday drinks
- amazingly healthy side dishes for Thanksgiving
- sugar-free desserts
- pies and tarts
- diabetes-friendly recipes
- gluten-free pies
- paleo appetizers
- Rosh Hashanah dinner menu
Eating well and staying healthy can be difficult over the holiday season, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. By maintaining your physical and mental health with some of the easy tips in this article, you’ll be able to start the new year off strong.