Illustration: Ashley Siebels
Trigger warning: today’s episode of the podcast touches lightly upon dietary considerations that may be triggering for some.
‘Tis the season for quality time with family and friends. But between holiday travel, shopping, and oodles of face time with family, it can be a stressful time of year, too.
And while I absolutely love how my family’s holiday traditions tend to center around delicious, decadent food, I’m not a big fan of the sedentary nature of so much celebrating. But with a little bit of foresight, we all can have a healthier holiday season.
Here’s what I’m doing this year to have happy, healthier holidays:
1. Schedule outdoor family fun
This is a great time of year to sign up for family fun runs and 5k races. There’s a hugely popular turkey trot race near my hometown in Manchester, CT that I missed out on this year (Brad and I hosted our first Thanksgiving for a change!), but it’s always such a fun and feel-good way to start off your day.
I like to find a nice spot for a family hike on holidays, especially on those days that end with hours and hour of eating amazing food. I feel so much better indulging when I know I’ve really worked up an appetite and can lounge without feeling like I’ve been lethargic all day long.
It might be as simple as getting outside to toss a frisbee or football with family members, an inter-generational form of fun you’ll often see us partake in when I’m home for the holidays. If you’re in a snowy climate, making a snowman or going sledding gets you up and moving just the same. Even just taking a walk around the block with the dogs is better than nothing, and will get your body moving and still provide some quality time for connecting with loved ones.
2. Move before meals
Even if you can’t seem to get your family members on board for some outdoor fun, I always try to give myself time to move my body before big meals. I have to remind myself that my hyperactive nature means I crave the stress-busting benefits of fitness more than some of my family members do. And giving myself permission to sneak away for a quick jog or fitness class isn’t rude. I’m not “breaking from the pack” or ‘”abandoning” family time. I’m ensuring that I can show up as my best, most patient and kind version of myself.
While carving out solo exercise time when I’m home for the holidays isn’t easy when your family has a pack mentality like mine does. But it’s a form of self-care! And I’ve realized over the years that martyring myself to be with my family 24/7 while I’m home can set me up to explode like stress-filled ticking time bomb.
After even a quick 20-minute sweat session, I’ve worked up a big appetite, revved up my metabolism, and can now benefit from the mind-clearing calm that I need before a big holiday feast.
3. Get in on the greens
While I’m not one to dish out dietary advice, holiday meals are so delightfully decadent that it’s easy to over-do it. This is especially true in my mom’s house where delicious rich food is part of our family values. But poor Brad, who’s more of a daily PB&J kind of simple eater, was once home with me for a week of my mom’s cooking and ended up waking up in the middle of the night with stabbing back pain coming from his very-overwhelmed gallbladder. His body was just not used to the amount of buttery goodness that was coming out of my mother’s kitchen.
So my rule of thumb is just to be mindful about having something green on my plate. Whether it’s something fresh like a salad, or even if it’s a rich take on vegetables like green bean casserole, making sure that somewhere on my plate veggies are in the mix can help me from feeling completely weighed down by those delicious fried latkes, Christmas ham, and decadent desserts.
4. Don’t set big new health goals
Finally, the key for me is to not over-do it with any kind of restrictive eating or lofty new health goals during the holidays. For me, food, friends, and family are what this season is all about. Not calorie-counting.
Instead of setting yourself up with a restrictive diet, just aim to maintain something close to your usual daily health and exercise regimen. After all, plenty of research shows that the sensation of deprivation ultimately leads to major rebound. So lower the bar! Don’t set crazy-ambitious new fitness goals – save that ‘ish for the New Year and give yourself permission to indulge during this festive time of year.
Because personally, depriving myself while sitting down in front of an amazing spread of holiday delights sounds like the worst way to spend the holidays.