How to Take a Healthy Approach to the Holidays

My mom makes Italian rainbow cookies once a year, for Christmas. Like the rainbow cookies, specific dishes are family traditions around the holidays: sweet potato pie (with toasted marshmallows on top), gingerbread houses with buttercream frosting, and all the pies you can imagine: pumpkin, apple, cherry. … These foods grace our table but once a year, and it’s too much goodness to pass up.

In this way, the holiday season is filled with temptation if you’re trying to be mindful about prioritizing your health and making “good” food choices. Sure, I love blue spirulina smoothies and a good smattering of pumpkin seeds on my morning acai bowl, but rainbow cookies? Hard to resist! My diet isn’t the only thing that suffers during the holidays. Physical wellness and even relationships usually fall by the wayside right around the time Target starts stocking ornaments on the shelves.

When I don’t eat well, work out consistently, or recharge with the people who nurture me, I don’t feel well. I suffer from more anxiety than usual, and overall, don’t feel good or confident in my own skin. So, how do we make healthy, conscious choices when there’s so much celebration and good cheer (and indulgent food) around? Follow these tips for a holiday season that’s merry and bright (and doesn’t completely destroy your accomplishments from the previous 10+ months of the year).

Make healthy food and beverage choices

I like to pick one or two indulgences I know I’m going to allow myself at a holiday function. Personally, I’m a sucker for the aforementioned cookies. So, I won’t deprive myself if they’re served near me. But that means I pass on the pies and other holiday desserts. Picking just one or two indulgences — and sticking to them — is a surefire way not to end up in a post-party food coma or regret everything you ate the next day.

I also make a list of my nutrition goals. Am I trying to make an effort to cut back on sugar (always), alcohol, lose a bit of weight, eat more greens? Nutrition goals help inform food choices. I write my goals on the whiteboard in my kitchen. Add a note to your phone, screenshot it, and make it your background. Put your goals where you’re going to see them most often and be reminded of what you want to achieve.

Prioritize exercise, even on days off

The holidays take up so much of our time: baking, party-planning, gift-buying, vacation-plan-making, etc. Who has time to do all that and juggle an hour-long elliptical ride? I don’t. Making it to the gym or braving the cold for the sake of cardio is barely an option. Not only do I not have enough time; I just don’t want to. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important for my overall wellness.

Though a gym rat I am not, I like making long-term fitness goals to give me motivation. Similar to food choices, don’t forget these longer-term goals. Even if you’re not that active in the first place, that’s okay. Make smaller, seasonal goals that help keep you moving during the season of limitless treats.

Nurture the relationships that matter most

Mental and emotional health are crucial during the holidays, too, especially if this time of year brings up sad memories of loved ones who have passed away, or unresolved family issues for you.

Rely on your tight-knit support group whether it’s made up of family or friends. Surround yourself with people who understand what a tricky time this can be. On the other hand, holidays might spark some relationship drama. Even families can disagree, especially with a political climate as divisive as this one.

Prioritize the relationships that matter most to you by spending your time and effort there. Let the stinky relationships roll off your back. If Great-Aunt Bessie is a phenomenal pie maker but a terrible person, keep the conversation to baked goods and steer clear of controversy.

Much like life is a balance, so is my approach to the holiday season. It’s about finding which tactics will help me make the best possible decisions for my nutrition, physical, and mental health.

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