Well Being

Eating Healthy For The Holidays: Experts Explain How To Not Ruin Your Diet This Winter

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holiday diet healthy eating for the holidays

Eating healthy, working out regularly, resisting the temptation to lay on the couch eating cookies and watching “Elf”…these are the challenges that the fit-minded face at this time of year. While it's important to celebrate and indulge with your family and friends, it can be a bummer if you feel like you've undone all the hard work of healthy eating. Curious how to strike a balance between holiday fun and healthy living, I asked a few fitness professionals for their best tips on how to make merry without breaking bad.

Melissa Hartwig, CISSN, founder of Whole9 and author of the New York Times bestselling book It Starts With Food:

Avoid making arbitrary rules around holiday eating. “I’ll only eat one treat a day” or “I’ll only splurge on Saturdays” are completely arbitrary—and your subconscious knows it, which means you’re less likely to stick to your guns under temptation. Instead, create a plan focused on awareness.

  • Make conscious, deliberate decisions when deciding whether to eat less healthy holiday fare. Nomindless eating, no impulse eating, and no group-think eating. (“Everyone else is dipping into the candy dish, so I might as well.”)
  • Use these three guidelines to help you choose: Is this truly special/delicious/culturally significant? (The sprinkled donuts on the break room counter do not pass this test.) Is it going to make me feel like total junk? (It’s not much of a “treat” if your stomach hurts or your skin breaks out after eating it.) Is it really worth it? (Is this something you truly want to indulge in at this moment, understanding the consequences?)
  • Practice these three simple words: No, thank you. If something isn’t worth it, it’s not worth it, and you shouldn’t feel bad about taking a pass. Do not allow others to engage you over food (“What, you can’t relax your diet just a little? It’s the holidays!”), and do not fall for a guilt trip—even from your mom.
  • When you make a conscious deliberate decision around food, there is no guilt—only consequences. Don’t let one poor decision affect the rest of your day. Reflect on the situation, make a plan for how you’ll handle it next time, and move the heck on.
  • Remember, the holidays aren’t about the food—they’re about family, culture, love, and friendship. Don’t stress so much about food that you forget to celebrate the real gifts of the season.

Celebrity Trainer Lacey Stone:

  • Don’t go in blind: Have a plan for the holidays. Schedule it out. Fit in your workouts, wake up early and knock them out. Or make it a group thing. My family using has a annual Doubles match where my sister and I look to crush my parents.
  • Make the call: I always call my mom and say… “RELAX on the sweets mom, I gotta fit into these spandex in front of all these people. Hide the cheese STAT!” (I’m from Wisconsin) Your family can work for you or against you, I try to recruit them to be on my team.
  • Goals: Don’t look to lose weight during the holidays… That’s just not nice. The holidays are a time to focus on giving and being there for the family. When you’re always focused on what you’re eating it takes away from your joy and everyone else's. On the holidays, make it a goal to maintain your weight, not lose weight.
  • Everything in moderation: The problem with holidays is that the food is everywhere and so gooooddd. Sometimes it’s stuff you’ve been waiting to eat all year long.  I think you get killed with seconds and thirds. Promise yourself that you are going to fill your plate with everything you want in an appropriate portion size. NO SECONDS. But enjoy that plate and take your sweet a** time because you are not getting more of it.

Former “Top Chef contestant,” nutrition expert and new host of PBS' “The Cooking Odyssey” Marisa Churchill:

I seem to be living out of a suitcase these days. While I enjoy traveling, constantly running to and fro can be challenging when trying to stay healthy and fit. Indeed, eating an $8 slice of airport pizza and shirking your workout routine just doesn’t fly when your cookbook is called Sweet & Skinny!

So whether you are a frequent flyer, or just need a little extra Sweet & Skinny inspiration, here are a few tips I picked up recently that will help to make traveling and staying healthy easier . . . now if only I could master the secret to getting an automatic upgrade.

  • Don’t skip meals: Eating well will help to keep your energy levels and your immune system up and running. Skipping meals is one of the easiest ways to start making poor food choices, like that $8 slice of airport pizza. If you might not have time for a meal, pack a healthy snack. When I am feeling particularly virtuous, I carry carrot sticks, goji berries, or fresh fruit. Okay, it has nothing to do with being virtuous. Those are the snacks I carry when I don’t have time to prepare a tastier treat.
  • If you have time before you travel, use the power of the internet to find out what food options the airport offers. Search for healthy options and map out their locations in advance so you know exactly where you need to go in the airport to have a decent meal.
  • Drink green tea, unsweetened, up to 20 ounces a day. Green tea causes the body to secrete more interferon, a key element in your body’s infection protection arsenal. This is vital when you are traveling on planes, or when you are simply on the go and  feeling worn out.
Kathy Kaehler, celebrity trainer and the founder of the Sunday Set-Up meal plan:
  • Try and avoid the creamy holiday drinks. When you're traveling, it can be easy to pick up a quick holiday drink at the airport, or add whipped cream to that delicious mocha, but the calories in those drinks really add up. Instead, try drinking low fat versions of your favorite drink, and drink a glass of water in between drinks. So whether it's a creamy eggnog at a holiday party or a gingerbread latte on the road, you'll feel hydrated and fuller longer.
  • If you're going to treat yourself to some holiday foods, balance them out with more nutritious foods. You want to have an even protein to healthy carb ratio. What does that mean? If you're munching a piece of cheese, eat it with some apple. If you're loading up on sweet potatoes, add a serving of turkey to your plate, too. This will ensure you're getting a good amount of nutrition while satisfying your holiday cravings.

Photo: Shutterstock

Photos of experts: Courtesy of Whole9, Lacey Stone, Marisa Churchill, Kathy Kaehler