Making Good Nutrition Choices During the Holidays

Staying fit, regardless the time of year, should not feel like a punishment.

You’ll hear no advice from this coach preaching abstinence when it comes to holiday treats. The holiday season is a time for festivities, fun, family, friends, fraternizing, flirting, and fanciful feasts.

You’ll hear no advice from this coach preaching abstinence when it comes to holiday treats. The holiday season is a time for festivities, fun, family, friends, fraternizing, flirting, and fanciful feasts.

Health, fitness, and nutrition choices should feel like an extension of your values rather than a rigid structure imposed on your life. This is not to say that eating well and moving often does not require will-power, sacrifice, and trade-off, but staying fit (regardless the time of year) should not feel like a punishment.

The Dreaded Holiday Choices

While looking forward to the holidays, many people feel dread for a time when they will lose all of their fitness progress from the preceding year. We act as though weight-gain and self-remorse are as inherent a feature of this season as toy commercials and NCAA Bowl Games.

You can fully enjoy all the treats that typically accompany holiday meals without stressing or “un-doing” all of your hard-won progress by sticking to a few simple guidelines.

The following are some self-imposed habits that I uphold (most of time) during the holidays or any other festive gathering. They help me enjoy my holiday meals while maintaining my girlish (boyish? Man-ish? Coach-ish?) figure.

1. Bring the Healthy Option

The simplest way to ensure that there is at least one healthy option is to bring it yourself. Many gatherings are potluck style so you simply need to bring something that you feel good about eating. Even if your holiday meal is not a potluck, a simple “let me bring a salad” rarely goes un-exploited.

2. Confine the Treats only to the Special Day

The main reason that many people experience holiday weight-gain is from continual straying from healthy habits. A single meal, no matter how indulgent or extravagant, is a drop in an ocean of positive choices.

The holiday season proves detrimental to your fitness only when you allow those occasional drops to persist as a constant trickle. Using a holiday or special occasion to justify an indulgence can be a fair (and dare I say, healthy) choice, but this is a slippery slope. You must use brutal honesty with each decision to determine if the indulgence is justified. Each of us will make this distinction for ourselves. It’s the day of the special family gathering? Go for it. Spouse brought home leftover treats from an office party a week before the big day? Perhaps exercise some discretion.

By restricting your indulgences to only the day of special occasions you will limit your overall consumption, ensuring those drops in the ocean aren’t the beginning of a growing flow that last a whole season. This guideline also adds to your anticipation and enjoyment of the special day.

3. Book End Your Day with Movement

We could all use more movement in our lives. You, me, nearly everyone. Don’t misunderstand this to mean more training sessions. We all just need to move more.

Most holidays are spent indoors and mostly sedentary. Prioritize beginning and ending your holiday with some light to moderate movement. Take advantage of the day off of work or school, when the world largely shuts down in honor of the holiday, to begin your day with exercise or some light physical leisure.

Most towns host an annual Turkey Trot walk/run on Thanksgiving Day. You could gather your visiting family and friends for a morning walk. Use the free morning for a surf, a hike, a bike ride, a game of catch, or a pick-up sports game. There’s plenty of time to prepare, cook, and sit around chatting later. Get out and move first thing in the morning.

An after-dinner stroll does wonders to aid your digestion after a large (or excessively large) meal. I try to enjoy an evening walk most nights but I find it especially helpful for digestion after a large holiday indulgence. Fight the urge to un-button your pants and succumb to the food coma. Rather, gather your loved-ones and head out for a quick stroll.

Most will be reluctant but will thank you upon returning. I know no more effective way to prevent a food coma and next-day daze than some light movement after eating.

4. Fill Your Plate with the Good Things First

When filling your plate for a holiday meal, begin with the foods that fit within your normal nutritional values. Serving up these foods first will not only ensure that you eat your veggies but leave little room for the dishes that mean a greater deviation from your norm.

On Thanksgiving for example, I begin with turkey (of course), then head for things like green beans, broccoli, roasted veggies, Brussels sprouts, and salad. Only after that will I head for the mashed potatoes, leaving the stuffing and marshmallow-covered sweet potatoes for the end.

Oh no, no room for the Jello-Cool Whip pudding. Oh well, I guess I’ll skip it this year.

5. Save Yourself for the Special Meal

This guideline follows the aforementioned rule to confine the treats to the special day. You can take it one step further and save the indulgences for the actual holiday meal and following dessert. Most gatherings fill the entire day with snacks and treats. It’s easy to sit down for a holiday meal feeling as though we don’t even need to eat at all. Of course, we always eat anyway, consuming our largest meal of the year when we are hardly hungry to begin with.

By extending your restraint for an extra few hours you can save more room for the good stuff and enjoy it more since you’ll be hungrier having skipped (or minimized) the snacking.

Eat How It Makes Sense for You

You can indulge heavily for each special day while remaining positive about your choices in the process. Apply a few simple guidelines to your holiday indulgences (not matter how grand) to minimize the detriment to your long-term progress.

You might also like 4 Commitments You Can Make To Have Happy, Healthy Holidays.