Tips for a Calmer Holiday Season

By Cathy Cram, for SparkPeople

We're in the thick of the holiday season, and for many women it can be a time when the mainstays of our healthy habits take a back seat to preparations for seasonal celebrations. For those who struggle with weight issues, the holidays can be a minefield of cookies, festive meals and lots and lots of favorite treats. In addition, stressful pace of this season can derail the most faithful of exercisers, and add snow, ice and cold to the mix and you have even more fitness dropouts.

So what's a gal to do? The first and most important step is to start now with a contingency plan for keeping your diet healthy and your fitness routine alive by proactively having positive alternatives to the usual things that sideline your good habits this time of year.

Most people have several holiday parties that provide a tempting array of fatty appetizers and desserts. You can take part in those events, enjoy the food and not overindulge if you just think ahead and make a plan for negotiating the holiday fare. I've found the following tips can make a big difference in how well your maneuver through the holiday eating season.

Alcohol is the bane of diet control. Keep your holiday imbibing to a minimum, especially when you're at a party where treats are abundant and drinking can inhibit your ability to keep eating in control. Never go to a party on an empty stomach. The risk is two-fold; any alcohol you drink will have more of an effect, and you'll have little control at the buffet table. A small snack of crisp vegetables, and apple with a piece of cheese or low fat yogurt thirty minutes before you hit the party will help dull your appetite.

Make a plan of how much you will eat at the party, and keep track! Appetizers may be small, but their caloric content is high. Keep your selection at three small choices, and heap your plate with lower calorie fruit, vegetables and lean meats. Make a pact with yourself that you'll make only one trip to the buffet table and stick with it. Have a glass of sparkling water with a dash of cranberry or lime juice for a festive, healthy drink.

Do the math. This simply means portion control and calorie counting will help you keep your eating from going overboard. You know how many daily calories you need to maintain your weight, so think before you eat. I'm all for enjoying a favorite treat, but remember that those few seconds of taste enjoyment can leave you with an excess of calories. Slow down and enjoy the treat and cut your portion by half. Don't let yourself mindlessly eat just because it's there.

Some people find that cutting back on their caloric intake the day before and after a big meal helps them negate the excess of the day. I prefer to add more exercise the day before and after to burn off the excess, and a combination of the two is even more effective.

Don't starve yourself the day of a big holiday meal--have a light breakfast and mid-morning snack so you aren't ravenous by mealtime. If you're the cook, keep a supply of fresh vegetables to snack on so you avoid dipping into more caloric dishes you're preparing.

There are many wonderful recipes for making great tasting meals that don't provide an overload of fat and calories, so think about including some healthy new dishes in the usual holiday fare. It's helpful to have several offerings that allow you to dish up without feeling deprived.

Keeping active during the holidays is even more of a challenge than maintaining your diet. Most women are the driving force behind the meals, parties, and family get-togethers, so the stresses of this time of year can derail a fitness routine. The irony of this is that exercise is needed even more when the pace of life gets frenetic, and women in the menopausal years had the added stress of dealing with children as well as aging parents who may need more care.

Although you may feel that there's just no time for exercise, stop and think about little windows of time in your calendar where you can fit in a walk, part of an exercise DVD, resistance band strength training or a quick trip to the gym. I've listed reasons that we all have for not exercising during the holidays and corresponding fixes. Not all of the fixes may work in your life, but see if you can find a few that'll help you keep exercising.

Can't walk outside in cold, snowy conditions.

  • Try mall walking or join a gym.
  • Invest in a pair of snowshoes and head out on a local golf course.
  • Take up cross-country skiing. It's a sport that is great for any age, and the bonus is that you'll stay warm even when temperatures are low.
  • Check out some exercise DVDs from your local library and see which ones you enjoy.
  • Set up Wii Fit on your TV and make it a family fun activity.
  • Fit your shoes with "crampons" so you can walk on icy sidewalks safely.
There's not enough time in the day for a workout.
  • Everyone has at least 20 minutes in each day where they could fit in a couple of bouts of exercise. You can do a ten-minute portion of an exercise DVD in the morning before work, and add another 10 minutes of walking, stair stepping or DVD later in the day.
  • If you have stairs at your workplace, do five minutes of stair climbing during your lunch time and five minutes of resistance band exercises at your desk.
  • Throw out your expectations of getting in the usual duration of exercise and think more in terms of little bouts that add up. Even five minutes of stair stepping go a long way towards boosting your heart rate and metabolism.
  • Pen in your exercise time on your calendar with the same resolve you give every other thing listed on it.
  • Make it a family affair. Start a tradition of a family walk in the snow after a holiday dinner, or other outdoor activity. It's a fun way to work off the meal and interact with your family.

How do you stay on track during the holidays?

Related links:
Is Your Kitchen Ready for Holiday Cooking?
Slim Down During the Holidays
Prevent Holiday Weight Gain: Burn It to Earn It!


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