17 Healthy Holiday Tips

Follow this advice to enjoy a little holiday indulgence without sacrificing your health goals.
By Elizabeth Passarella; additional reporting by N. Jamiyla Chisholm, Kaitlyn Pirie, and Rachel Shelasky

Justin FantlJustin FantlIndulging Without Overindulging
Relax. You won't gain 10 pounds.
It's a misconception that you'll need to go up a pant size in January. The average person gains only about a pound during the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's. That's no excuse to eat with abandon, though. (After all, gaining one pound every year can add up in the long run.) But a study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology notes that people who had an attitude of forgiveness and self-compassion after one high-calorie setback were less likely to give up and keep bingeing. So if you lose control with a dish of chocolate truffles, don't think, I've blown it. Might as well move on to the eggnog. Just forgive yourself for the truffles.

See More: 9 Healthy Holiday Eating Strategies

Don't skip meals. It seems logical: Forgo lunch; leave more room for pigs in blankets at the office party later. But arriving starved may result in overeating, and drinking on an empty stomach will give you a quicker buzz, which is more likely to lead to mindless munching. Eat normally during the day, and be strategic at the buffet. Don't bother with things you don't absolutely love. Splurge on something special (hint: It's not those cubes of Cheddar), then stop.

See More: 9 Healthy Predinner Snacks

Count your bites. "A lot of appetizers are about 60 calories a bite," says Karen Diaz, a registered dietitian in Wyckoff, New Jersey. Just five bites is around 300 calories. "That's about half of what you might eat for dinner," says Diaz. Keep a mental tab--or fill a small plate, once--so you don't go overboard.

See More: The Best and Worst Appetizer Choices

Turn down Aunt Jan's pie. "It's better to sit with a little guilt than to overeat just to please loved ones," says Diaz. If you can't say no to Jan's face, try "Maybe later," then hope she forgets.

See More: 10 Guilt-Free Strategies for Saying No

Give yourself a break from the gym. According to a Gallup poll, the percentage of people who exercise regularly is lower in December than at any other time of the year. So don't beat yourself up--you're not the only one who's too busy for Spinning class. But try to stay active in other ways. Speed-walking with shopping bags counts. So does cleaning, says Mark Macdonald, the author of Body Confidence ($27, amazon.com). Add some toning by tightening your core muscles as you vacuum or reach for scattered toys (imagine trying to get your belly button to touch your spine). And most important: Get back into your regular exercise routine once the holidays end.

See More: 6 Easy Exercises to Strengthen Your Core

Weigh yourself every day. Or try on a pair of snug-fitting jeans to gauge those subtle ups and…OK, just ups. The point isn't to get obsessive and berate yourself over every ounce gained; it's to prevent yourself from completely letting go of good habits. "Breaking the rhythm of healthy behaviors that you've built up is the real danger. You don't want to have to start from scratch on January 1," says Macdonald.

See More: 20 Little Ways to Drop Pounds

Justin FantlJustin FantlDrinking Responsibly
Practice moderation (really).
Drinking too much may not just mean a terrible hangover. Around this time of year, doctors report seeing a spike in erratic heartbeats--dubbed "holiday heart syndrome." It is more common among people who usually aren't heavy drinkers but drink in excess for a short time. "Alcohol may be toxic to enough cardiac cells that it disrupts the coordination required to maintain a normal heart rate," says Kenneth Mukamal, an internist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in Boston. "Women should have no more than three drinks on any occasion and seven per week," says Michael Weaver, an associate professor of internal medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, in Richmond. "So a woman can have up to three drinks in a night and go out two nights, but that's it for the week--or else the chances of problems go way up."

See More: How to Keep Things in Moderation

Keep it on the rocks. Melting ice dilutes a cocktail and creates more liquid. So order your drink on the rocks to try to avoid a quick buzz--and to sip longer before a refill. Use soda water as a mixer for liquor (a cocktail with liquor and club soda is only about 100 calories), and don't be ashamed to add ice cubes to bubbly. In France, it's called a piscine. Très chic.

See More: Can Drinking Be Healthy?

Put a cork in it early. Alcohol may help you to conk out quickly; the problem comes when it starts to wear off. The period in which your body is metabolizing the alcohol is when sleep is disrupted. You may wake up frequently in the middle of the night (even if you don't remember doing so) and miss out on restorative rest. The best strategy is to allow time for the alcohol levels in your body to drop before going to sleep; at the very least, retire your flute several hours before bedtime.

See More: 17 Holiday Health Tips

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