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The holidays are among us and I'm here to tell you that it truly is possible to have a fun time without going overboard. In between throwing away that tray of homemade cookies your neighbor brought over and single-handedly polishing off a giant cheese ball, there's a whole world of moderation, healthy indulgence, and sanity. You can have your cake (without having an ENTIRE CAKE) and eat it too. Here are my suggestions for a few simple ways to enjoy the holidays without tightening the reigns so much you feel deprived and without treating yourself so much you feel sick and sluggish. Welcome to the healthy holiday middle ground.
1.) Be human.
There are activities many humans do during the holidays strictly because these activities bring humans joy. These activities may include baking cookies, drinking hot chocolate, gathering the family around big tables for elaborate meals, and spending a lot of time indoors being cozy. Do not fight these joys. Do not try to be a superhuman. Do not attempt to avoid all the cookies and the hot chocolates and the big family meals and the cozy time indoors. Do not try to fight them off with extra hours at the gym. Do not show up at your aunt’s house with a Ziploc filled with celery sticks and sit in a corner while the rest of your family makes homemade fudge. Do not turn down an hour playing cards with your cousins to go run on a treadmill. Be human first, above all else. Humans are allowed to have hot chocolate and humans are allowed to take a day off.
2.) Be a healthy human.
If it's your first responsibility to be human, it's your second responsibility to be a healthy human. Don’t use the holidays as an excuse to indulge in excess. You can eat a few cookies and have a hot chocolate and miss a day at the gym without going crazy. By all means, have a few extra treats. By all means, take it a little easy. But don’t throw yourself into bowls of cookie dough. Don’t snack on Chex Mix and candies and chips and cookies and chocolates all day long. Don’t take off two weeks from working out because hey, it’s the holidays. Don’t eat cookies until you feel sick; instead, enjoy the hell out of a few cookies. Don’t go for cup after cup after cup of wine/ hot chocolate/ beer / cider /eggnog / cocktails / other holiday drinks. Enjoy the hell out of one or two. Don’t spend the entire week in your pajamas in front of the TV. You can go easy on your regular workouts without turning into an absolute couch potato. Go for walks. Get down on the ground and do ten push ups. You can enjoy a big family dinner without going back for thirds. The holidays are an opportunity to relax. Don’t turn them into an opportunity to forget reason. Be indulgent. Be reasonable. Be reasonably indulgent.
3.) Make a few small food changes.
Unless you have a family who is completely on board with healthy eating and has no interest whatsoever in traditional treats, don’t aim for an entire holiday menu overhaul. Make a few small changes instead. When the family gathers to make cookies, let them make their delicious, traditional recipes (the ones with the butter and sugar and all things yummy). Then make a batch of your own cookies (the ones with whole wheat flour, Greek yogurt, unsweetened applesauce, and all things yummy). Have a little of each. Enjoy both versions. At the big dinner, make a wonderfully healthy side dish. Serve it alongside traditional, heavier fare. Take a little of each. Enjoy both. The holidays are a wonderful time to practice healthy compromise.
4.) Choose your moments.
Here’s the thing about holiday food: there’s always more. That candy bowl you see when you first enter your parents’ house is just the beginning. Walk further into the kitchen and there will be brownies and cookies and more candies. That cider you’re offered at 10 a.m. will be the first of many. Those mashed potatoes being passed around are one of a plethora of dishes that will make their way around the table. So, choose your moments. You don’t need to eat everything all day long. You also don’t need to turn everything down. Choose your moments. Instead of having a hot chocolate in the morning and a cider in the afternoon and wine with dinner and beer while watching TV and champagne as part of a toast to the holidays, choose one or two of those moments when you want to indulge. Choose to snack on cookies in the afternoon OR have pie a la mode after dinner. Choose to have ONE big meal instead of eating a huge lunch and having a repeat performance at dinner. There will always be more food. This will never, ever be your last chance to eat a piece of cake unless it’s the last day of your life. As long as you live another day, there will be more cake. So CHOOSE if today is the day you really want cake or if you’d prefer to say no thanks because you already had cheese and crackers and Chex Mix and chocolate earlier today.
5.) Squeeze in little bursts of activity and recruit people to join you.
When exercise is condensed into bite-sized pieces, it becomes way less daunting. There are days when an hour at the gym sounds downright dreadful, but squeezing in mini bursts of activity is always doable. Something I’ve really enjoyed doing this year is The Twelve Days of Fit-mas. There are several different versions of it circulating online and it’s easy to make up your own version, too. This started on December 12th but could also be started any time. Each day an exercise is added. On the first day there’s one exercise (think holding a plank for one minute). On the second day there’s two exercise (a one-minute plank plus a two-minute wall sit). On the third day there’s three exercises (a three-minute glute bridge in one version and three vinyasas in another). And so on and so on. It’s a small amount of exercise, but it’s enough to get the body moving and the heart rate up. Recruit a family member or several family members to join you and double the fun. My niece was more than happy to join me today and she’s already excited about doing it again tomorrow. We got a mini workout in and we spent some time having fun together: win/win.