Surviving the Holiday Season without Losing your Waistline or your Mind

As soon as we feel the crisp hints of fall, we start craving pumpkin-spiced lattes, pumpkin pie, roasted turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and all things fall. Then, with the first hint of winter, our cravings turn to hot chocolate, eggnog, tamales, roast beef, cookies, more cookies, and all the fabulous Christmas foods we look forward to every year. (And, yes, some people do like fruit cake!) Not to mention the putting together lists of gifts to buy, cards to send, scheduling all those holiday parties – all this on top of our normal, already busy lives.

The holidays seem to be synonymous with frenzy and food, and it is too much, and it is everywhere. People who don’t cook all year find their inner Julia Childs and Martha Stewart and take to the kitchen to bake cookies, cakes, Aunt Rose’s family favorite, etc., etc. And, as if family, business, and neighborhood functions weren’t enough, if you’re really lucky, you’ll have daily treats at the office. (Another reason for working remotely. Ha ha!) Trying to keep your daily intake manageable is painful, if not impossible, when there is always something to sample.

Have no fear: This is not a pitch about how you can eat whatever you want and still lose weight because that would be a Christmas miracle. This guide is to help you find balance and enjoy the holidays while feeling good about yourself. These are our suggestions for approaching the holiday season and surviving with both your mind and a reasonable weight and waistline.

First – Make a list of what is most meaningful to YOU and decide on the relative importance. And, this might be the year to reimagine your holidays.

Your first goal is to enjoy the holidays, not be a screaming lunatic, and not have regrets. So make a list, make many lists and set a timetable for each task – and make it a reasonable timetable for YOU in YOUR situation this year.

Make a list of who you’re gifting (and consider whether your gift list can be pared down). And instead of buying gifts, consider whether a gift card or something like a membership to the Henry Doorly Zoo, SAC Air Museum, or Lauritzen Gardens is a better (and easier on you) choice.

Schedule your shopping (don’t hope you’ll find time to squeeze it in). Plan and calendar your shopping time and place. Will you do it online? Do you like to go to Craft Fairs? Is your favorite mall Village PointeDowntown ElkhornDowntown Ashland? Nothing substitutes planning to make your life easier and less stressful.

Decide: Do you really need to send holiday cards this year? Could it be a New Year’s card and not a Christmas card? (This would relieve some of your December stress.) And does it have to be a paper card at all? Would a holiday email do just as well?

Decide: How many holiday functions do you REALLY want to do? Separate the mandatory events from the optional events and set a calendar. Is one party a week enough for your family? Two a week? Or are you a once-every-other-week family? Don’t be afraid to respectfully decline an invitation if your time would be better spent dealing with your To Do List.

Schedule and calendar your house decorating and your holiday cooking and baking. Wherever possible, do as much of your cooking preparation as is feasible in advance and freeze.

And, while you’re scheduling, don’t forget to schedule your exercise in the calendar. You may be tempted to skip your workouts because, who has time?

The Merriment of Movement During the Holidays. Our bodies are designed to be active – like engines that need to be tuned regularly. A sedentary lifestyle and too much sitting are linked to back pain, hypertension, depression, and even cancer. But, if we skip exercise to free up time in our calendar, we may be saving time at the expense of our sanity and, in the end, our waistlines. Exercise reduces stress and the effects of stress. Getting our heart rate up with healthy movement releases endorphins, our brain’s natural feel-good drug. And, exercise sheds tension and improves our mood, which makes us better able to cope with stress and the busyness of the holidays.

It is tough to create a good habit and oh so easy to break it. Keeping your good habits during the holidays will help you feel good, so you can enjoy your holiday to the fullest.

Now that you’ve scheduled and calendared your exercise, holiday events, holiday tasks, and gift giving, let’s move to the elephant in the room.

How Can I Control My Eating with Holiday Food – EVERYWHERE?!?

Here, our advice is a little trickier. First, we recommend that you NOT deprive yourself because you could risk the backlash effect.

The Backlash Effect. The I’m dieting. I’m only eating healthy or nothing mindset can set a trap for over-indulgence later. For example, if you look forward to the Thanksgiving meal all year and then deprive yourself of the full enjoyment, at some point, you may tell yourself that because you didn’t eat that great Thanksgiving dinner, you’ve saved so many calories you deserve a reward and then you over-indulge by eating an entire bag of potato chips or the entire carton of ice cream. The result is you missed out on something you looked forward to and overindulged in an unhealthy way to reward yourself for your willpower and to make up for the loss. Sound familiar? There is a way for you to stay off the deprivation vs. overindulgence pendulum.

Plan Ahead. Approach the Holiday Foods with the Same Care you Approached your Holiday Planning.

Decide what is important. What you can and can’t live without, and do your best to execute.

As we near the holidays, we look forward to the foods and holiday traditions that come around only once a year. Analyze your past habits and decide what to keep and what can let go (if anything). But at the risk of the backlash effect, don’t deprive (or FEEL you’re depriving) yourself. If Thanksgiving is the only time you have pumpkin pie piled high with whipped cream, then don’t deny yourself – but maybe you can limit yourself to one smaller piece or only one piece a day. And think about what you can cut out. Maybe a tiny portion of that sweet potato casserole that you really only eat so you don’t hurt grandma’s feelings and skip the foods you eat just because they’re there. That way, when you eat the pumpkin pie you’ve been looking forward to – you can do so in the present, slow down and enjoy it.

Eat slowly (savor each bite) until full and stop. There will be leftovers for tomorrow, and the next day, and even the next.

Be Mindful of Why it Matters. We often associate comfort and happy memories with food, so allow yourself to enjoy your favorite foods – guilt-free, whether it is chocolate-covered marshmallow Santa and candy canes on Christmas morning or roast beef and cheesecake at dinner. When you permit yourself to enjoy the treats and traditions you look forward to, allow yourself to enjoy them fully. This is a healthy indulgence – the kind that doesn’t come with backlash. You won’t be tainted with guilt when you balance holiday treats with healthy eating and small portions. But, if you’ve never been wild about something, why indulge? Drop it.

It Isn’t Only About the Food – Try to Develop NEW Traditions. The holidays are busy, and we don’t want to miss a minute of them, so keeping our exercise routine intact can be challenging. But, the top priority is to try to keep moving. Any movement helps keep our body feeling good. Yes, those hours we spend shopping, walking around the mall, and even standing in line count. Playing with the kids and grandkids is excellent exercise. But if your holiday routine has been pretty sedentary, try something new! Instead of sitting down and watching a movie after a family meal, how about scheduling a family ice skating excursion? Or maybe you can take a walk around the neighborhood to admire the decorations? Having family around can be a wonderful way of keeping moving without realizing how much time has passed. Staying active during the holidays isn’t just important for our weight and waistlines; it helps us balance the stress of the holidays.

And then there’s Nebraska’s weekly holiday AKA THE BIG GAME.

Since this is Nebraska, many of us watch The Game every week. There is nothing wrong with enjoying a football game with friends and family, even though it often means four or more hours of sitting on the couch. But, get creative! How can we balance all that sitting and those snacks? Other than happy dances when things are going well for Big Red on the field, consider taking a walk before the game or during half-time. And, consider doing a push-up or sit-up or lunge challenge during the commercial breaks. Your watching parties will take on a whole new and fun dimension.

Finally, remember your health is the most important gift you’ll ever get. Nurture yourself; take care of the only body you’ll ever have. Picture yourself after the holidays are over – you kept your weight within a reasonable range and didn’t feel deprived. You stayed on track with your exercise routine and kept yourself moving. You feel good, confident and healthy.

And if things don’t work out exactly as you hoped they would and you do indeed gain weight, forgive yourself and start over.

At Next Step Fitness, we aim to be a trusted partner in your health. We don’t judge. Our personal trainers work closely with clients to help them reach their individual goals. With private personal or family and friends small group training, we have everything you need to create a successful experience. If you’re not already working with us, call for a free consultation, and let us help you enjoy the holiday season.

We urge that you not let the holidays destroy your personal training routine. Next Step Fitness makes every effort to permit you maximum flexibility. You may have to switch your training time or training days around and, Next Step Fitness will make every attempt to accommodate your calendar. We ask our clients to be flexible and recognize that changes in training time and training days may mean you will have a different trainer a time or two. But our Next Step Fitness personal trainers are knowledgeable and able to execute the training program your personal trainer developed for you.

Your Next Step Fitness personal trainer will be happy to get you in shape to endure football season, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. AND can suggest some fun activities for the family, including fun activities during commercial breaks or half-time.