I just read a New York Times article that expressed one concise (and slightly depressing) message: early fall is the leanest most of us will be all year. While lean isn’t the only indicator of health, our holiday weight gain is typically due to loosening the healthy habits we’ve created during warmer months. Starting now begins a whirlwind of sugar, too much booze, stress, and way less movement. While colder days, more parties, and temptations are inevitable this time of year, does it have to mean foregoing our health to participate?
Up until last Christmas, I was always on the live it up now, lose it in the New Year bandwagon. Last year I decided I didn’t want to go through the holidays feeling lousy, so I made a few rules for myself that worked to keep up my energy and didn’t leave me feeling deprived.
Hydration will keep your circulation flowing, false hunger down, bloat at bay, and your skin looking supple and smooth. Many experts recommend a minimum of half your weight in ounces per day. Start each morning with a 16-ounce glass + the juice of 1/2 lemon. Keep a bottle with you at all times (I love this water bottle, which has time indicators to keep your drinking on track). Resist the urge to have that second mug of coffee which can dehydrate you, and reach for green tea or water instead.
This time of year heavier root vegetables come into season, and in our search for comforting food, fresh greens don’t always sound as appealing. Try to have a minimum of 3-5 cups of leafy greens per day, preferably in the form of a salad right before lunch and dinner. In addition to leafy greens, continue to enjoy a rainbow of vegetables! Aim for a minimum of 5 servings of vegetables a day, with an ideal goal being 8+.
Protein and fat, three times a day
Have a palm size serving of high quality protein (think wild fish, chicken, grass-fed beef, lentils, and pastured eggs) three times a day. You can supplement with 2-3 tablespoons of collagen protein when you just can’t find good protein. I love this protein because it dissolves in any warm liquid (think tea, soup, or coffee), and has no taste. Add a serving of healthy fat to every meal (a drizzle of olive oil, a spoonful of ghee or coconut oil, 1/2 an avocado, a handful of raw nuts). These two macro-nutrients will keep you full and happy.
Five drinks per week
If you don’t drink alcohol - then don’t worry about this! If you do, allow yourself to drink five servings of alcohol per week through the holidays, never drinking more than two servings in a single day. This will allow you to participate without going overboard. Choose wine, champagne, light beer, and cocktails without added sugar (1/2 a lime, tequila, and club soda for example). And remember, drink an extra 8-ounce glass of water with each serving of alcohol!
Choose your poison, twice a week
Around every corner will be a new temptation - pastries your coworker made, holiday parties with free flowing wine, and busier days that make exercise seem nearly impossible. While it’s tempting to say yes to every treat - follow the two-treat-rule. I suggest planning your treats (like a bowl of creamy pasta from your favorite restaurant on date night) rather than choosing spontaneously throughout the week (do you really need that mediocre-looking sugar cookie at every holiday get-together)? If you do choose an in-the-moment treat, ask yourself if it’s worth 50% of your weekly allowance - usually, it won’t be!
Increase your exercise
Yes, I said increase. Normally, we go gym crazy come January 1, as most of us have worn seat imprints into our couches by then. This year, join a new class, buy an unlimited membership, or get a trainer, now. As schedules become busier, exercise gets easily reprioritized to the bottom of the list. On Sundays, schedule every workout you’ll do that week and add them to your calendar. Treat these like any other appointment (you aren't going to skip the doctor or a meeting with your boss just because you're not in the mood). Ideally, these will be friend-dates or with a trainer so you have accountability. Often gyms, boutique fitness studios, and trainers see a lull in business during these months so it’s a great time to ask for a deal. Set a goal of 10,000+ steps per day, plus 2-3 days of strength training and 2-3 days of cardio per week.
Get your zzz’s
Higher stress, increased sugar intake, and less movement can often mean a decline in the quantity and quality of your sleep. Aim for 7-9 hours every night. Some tips for sleep:
- Set the stage: choose cool sheets (I love bamboo), have a clean, uncluttered bedroom, and never eat or work in bed.
- Get into bed an hour before you need to be asleep and turn off electronics. Read a good book instead.
- Rub on some lavender oil or light a lavender-scented candle
- Use a sound machine, earplugs, and an eye mask
- Meditate or focus on your breath for a few minutes when you get into bed
If you find that you’re still too wound up to sleep (and healthy eating + exercise isn’t helping), consider adding natural supplements to calm you down:
- 5-HTP (try 50-150 mg in the afternoon and again at bedtime) and GABA (try 100-300 mg at bedtime) are miracle workers
- If sleep is still troublesome, try a magnesium supplement or melatonin (of course always talk to your doctor before taking supplements)
*always check with your doc before taking supplements.
Find activities that don’t center around food
Look, I am obsessed with good food. I fully comprehend the joy of a good meal with good wine and good company - in fact, I don’t think I can think of anything better. While these moments are wonderful, try suggesting other activities every once and a while. Try a turkey trot, apple picking, ice skating, or volunteering at a soup kitchen instead of always planning your next good meal.
Give yourself two days off this season
Whether you celebrate Hannukah, Christmas, Thanksgiving, or any other holidays - choose two of these days to take off from your healthy rules. Seriously, go crazy and throw the rules out the window - your willpower will get a much needed break and one day will absolutely not derail your progress. Notice I said day, not a week or month. Every party or stressful day does not need to be a full on binge.
Happy holidays! I hope these tips help you feeling your very best during this wonderful time of year.