How to Enjoy Your Favourite Holiday Foods While Staying Healthy
Fitness and nutrition experts reveal how to indulge in all of the holiday's glories guilt-free—and how to get back on track afterwards.
Don’t beat yourself up
Start by making sure you don’t feel guilty for indulging. It’s a holiday—enjoy yourself, guilt-free, says Nathane Jackson, certified strength and conditioning coach and nutritionist. This is a time to connect with friends and family (whether at a small gathering or virtually), not to get bogged down with anxieties over food choices, he says.
Don’t become discouraged
With the vacation time that often follows—and leads up to—Christmas, it may be easy to eat cookies and other treats the entire time. If you didn’t have a routine, start the day after the holiday, Greg Robinson, a pro bodybuilder and owner of Retro Fitness of East Brunswick in New Jersey, agrees. “Allow yourself to enjoy some of the treats on this day,” he says. Don’t be discouraged, Robinson says. “Your body will get back to its normal weight in a few days. The scale moved, but this is normal and due to the excess carbohydrates and salt you have consumed, which will pass.”
(Related: 14 Ways to Celebrate the Holidays at Home)
Plan ahead, but don’t feel bad if things change
“Having a plan ahead of time helps cut some of this problem off at the pass,” says Elaine Howley, who knows something about commitment: As a marathon swimmer she was the first person to swim the 32.3-mile length of Lake Pend Oreille in Northern Idaho and holds the record for the fastest 16-mile double-crossing of Boston Harbor. “But it’s important to remain flexible if things change.” She says that if something comes up to derail a morning swimming pool workout, she’ll go later and swim by herself.
Eat breakfast the next day
Don’t short yourself on meals the next day, warns Lisa Garcia, a dietitian with Food Coach, LLC in Laconia, New Hampshire. She encourages people to eat breakfast the morning after, and natural oatmeal, flavoured with your own healthy spices or fruits, is a great choice. She explains that it’s a whole-grain fibre that keeps you feeling fuller longer while keeping blood sugar from spiking. If you discover that you’re not too hungry the next day, Jackson suggests focusing on getting a little protein, vegetables, and leafy greens. “Protein helps keep you satiated while the vegetables and leafy greens supply most of your micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), and the extra fiber will help with bowel movements,” he explains. (Try our recipe for steel-cut oatmeal that tastes just like apple pie.)
“Water, water, water,” says Garcia. Thirst can sometimes be mistaken for hunger, she notes, and it can be difficult to tell the difference during the busy holiday season. Always keep water on hand. Also, consider clementines, she says, which are healthy and packed with moisture. “Water plays an important role in digestion as well as helping the body achieve homeostasis,” Jackson says. He also recommends teas; flavours like chicory or chamomile help support digestion.
Go easy on your workouts—and get out and walk
Don’t overdo it at the gym over the holidays: “Do not ramp up extra cardio or hours in the gym prior, during, or after,” Robinson says. “One day off doesn’t derail your fitness goals or body fat.” Ramping up weights and spending hours more working out isn’t beneficial, he warns, and you could be flirting with an injury. “Keep your gym time and routine as normal as possible and your body will take care of the rest—as long as you return back to normal caloric intake the next day,” he suggests.
Jackson also warns against going overboard. “Whichever form of exercise you prefer will do just fine,” he says. “Even a good brisk walk will help stimulate digestion.”