During the hectic holiday season, healthy eating habits and regular gym time are often the first things to go. With a never-ending list of parties, family get togethers, and stressful holiday travel, now is one of the most difficult times of the year to stay on track.
While you may think that cooking a meal or getting in a workout is the last thing you have time for, it’s more important than ever to stick to your healthy habits this time of year. Physical activity and good nutrition can help lower stress, boost your immune system, and give you more energy.
I asked top nutrition experts from around the country what they do to stay healthy during the holidays. Here are their tips for incorporating exercise, healthy eating, and stress management during this busy holiday season.
“I maintain my routine as much as possible, which means I stick to my typical workouts and try to eat like I do the rest of the year. One or two big meals won’t wreck your diet or health, but when you start to let all of your good habits unwind, it’s time to do a U-turn. Don’t wait another day—take the next opportunity (say a salad for lunch or a 6 PM spin class) to turn things around! Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, VP of Nutrition for Luvo“
“The number one thing I do to stay healthy during the holidays is to continue with my usual eating and fitness habits. Even though holiday time means some time off from work and a change in routine, I try my best no matter what I’m doing and where I go to eat regular, nutrient-packed meals. Research suggests that consistency in habits can help you keep weight off long term; that has certainly worked for me. If I find myself surrounded by more food or more frequent eating out, I consume smaller portions and of course make sure to include lean protein and produce. I also try to incorporate daily exercise and to stay physically active each day, even if that means extra walking around town or up stairs or doing jumping jacks, squats, lunges and crunches in a hotel room. Elisa Zied, MS, RDN, CDN, author of Younger Next Week”
“I take a walk outside every day, even when it gets really cold. I’m a warm weather girl, through and through, and I find that setting the goal to take a daily walk outside during the holidays helps me embrace the cold weather more while also pushing me to my daily step goal. The crisp, fresh air also helps me keep my stress level under control (it provides some time to breath and clear my head) as the business of the holidays ensues. Willow Jarosh, MS, RD, co-owner of C&J Nutrition”
“I take at least five minutes a day to practice meditation, sometimes using a guided app, sometimes just on my own. The holidays can be stressful and chaotic, and that daily meditation practice helps me in several ways. I feel less stressed overall, I’m much more mindful when making eating decisions – which means less spontaneous splurging and more thoughtful choices – and I’m more in tune with my body, including my hunger, fullness, and energy levels. I believe that meditation, even five minutes a day, is a key strategy for good nutrition and wellness, especially throughout the holidays when we tend to have more on our plates in more ways than one! Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, author of Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches With Pulses – The New Superfood”
“I don’t restrict myself and continue to exercise. I like to think of the holiday’s as “bonus time” where I get perhaps more treats than I normally would and I say “yes!” to them. BUT, I don’t over-do it. I balance those indulgences with plenty of other nourishing foods (which taste amazing too, by the way!) and be sure to fit in a good walk, run or other activity that gets my heart rate elevated. Sara Haas RDN, LDN, Dietitian and Chef, Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics”
“I make sure to stay hydrated. We often mistake hunger for thirst, and dehydration may cause symptoms like headaches that can get in the way of enjoying the holidays. I always keep a water bottle in my purse—and at holiday parties, the first thing I do is make a beeline to the bar for a glass of sparkling water with lime. Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in Jersey City, NJ”
“I don’t hang out near the food table…or the bar! While I enjoy the festive food and drinks during the holiday season, you will never find me socializing near the appetizers, so I prevent mindless eating and drinking. Lori Zanini RD, CDE, Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics”
“To stay healthy during the holidays, I make sure to meditate and practice yoga daily. There’s so much stimulation and stress around the holidays that it’s important to find activities that ground and center you. Engaging in mindful activities like yoga and meditation helps me to stay present and enjoy the holiday season for what it’s really all about – spending time with loved ones. Kara Lydon, RD, LDN, RYT, Author of Nourish Your Namaste e-book and The Foodie Dietitian Blog“
“I try to remember the reason for the season, which is not the food but the people! Focusing on your time with loved ones takes away the fixation on foods. Being more mindful also increases feelings of gratitude, feeds emotional hunger and can reduce the constant temptation of holiday foods. Torey Armul, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD, Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics”
“Eating is already a big part of the holidays. Instead of meeting up to eat at every occasion, I invite friends and colleagues to catch up over a brisk walk and talk on the Atlanta Beltline or at Piedmont Park. Luckily the weather in Atlanta in November and December is still quite pleasant. Marisa Moore, RDN, Owner of Marisa Moore Nutrition”
“During the holidays, I continue to bring my lunch to work everyday, drink lots of water and I ride my bike on the weekends. I also continue to cook dinner for my family every night and even though I bake lots of cookies during the holidays, I make sure to give 90% of them away! We will treat ourselves to a home baked goodie or two after dinner, but we make sure to close up the container and place it out of sight, which helps keep temptations controlled! Christy Wilson, RD, nutrition consultant, culinary nutritionist and blogger”
“My primary strategy for staying healthy during the holidays is to make sure I pack my running shoes and all weather running gear no matter where we travel. Although daily running isn’t my go-to fitness routine when I’m at home and have other options, I’ve realized that holiday travel typically offers many mornings where family and friends will watch my kiddos, leaving me time for a long run. This, of course, keeps calories in check and maybe more importantly, gives me a few moments of alone time during the busy holiday season to stay centered and mentally in balance. Regan Jones, RD, Founding Editor of HealthyAperture.com”
“I never arrive at a holiday party starving. It’s impossible to make sound eating decisions when you’re absolutely ravenous. The day of a party or dinner I eat normally, focusing on high quality foods – lots of veggies, protein, healthy fat, and unprocessed grains. If I know I’m going somewhere with a lot of appetizers but not a full dinner, I have a little something to eat right before I leave my house – usually something with veggies and protein to fill me up a little, like a small salad with chicken or beans or some veggies with hummus or guacamole. Anne Mauney, MPH, RD, Registered Dietitian and Blogger”
“I stay healthy by exercising regularly and getting a good night’s rest. I play competitive tennis and am in a few leagues throughout the year. I also practice traditional reformer pilates once or twice a week. I also make sure to get at least 6 hours of sleep each night. Both regular exercise and sleep help me focus better during my busy day and help give me feel positive about my lifestyle. Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, Nutrition expert and author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day”
“I try remember that the holidays are just a couple of days–for us, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. It’s okay to celebrate with special foods, and rich foods you only get once a year. I definitely indulge in those! But the trick is to not let that spill over into all the week surrounding those days. When that kind of indulgent eating goes on for weeks, it not only tends to wreck my digestive system and my energy level, but it becomes a habit that is hard to break once the new year begins. Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, blogger at Real Mom Nutrition“