4 Healthy Holiday Fitness Tips

Photo credit: Kham Tran CC-BY-SA-3.0

The holiday season can wreak havoc on your waistline, but the average holiday weight gain isn’t quite as bad as you think. Many believe that 7 pounds is the average holiday weight gain, but according to the National Institutes of Health report, Americans put on roughly one pound over the holidays. However, even a pound a year can add up over time and lead to obesity and other chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease. Making exercise a priority during the hectic and stressful holiday season can seem virtually impossible, but with a little forethought, you can reap the benefits of a fit, healthy holiday season.

Tip #1 – Plan realistic workouts and healthy meals BEFORE the holidays begin. Cooking make-ahead nutritious meals and designing shorter, daily workouts will help to save time, reduce stress and promote well-being. Even a 10-minute workout is better than not exercising at all.

Tip #2 – Incorporate high-intensity interval training (HIIT) into your exercise routine. HIIT training can be a godsend over the holidays, because it burns maximum calories in the least amount of time. So, next time you get on the treadmill, bike or step machine, choose the interval program option to burn more fat in less time. If you don’t have access to a gym, then pick up a jump rope and alternate bursts of quick activity with a slower pace, or do some jumping jacks or speed play (e.g. 30 second sprint followed by a 90 second recovery jog).

Tip #3 – Do some multitasking; combine holiday tasks and errands with physical activities. For instance, walk fast while shopping or park farther away from the mall entrance, or try taking a 5-minute break from cooking and do some calisthenics to burn those excess calories and reduce stress. Shoveling your own snow can burn a ton of calories, too. When family or friends come to town, take a tour of the neighborhood on foot to see the Christmas lights, or throw an ice-skating party. During TV commercial breaks, do some lunges, jumping jacks, squats, pushups and sit-ups.

Tip #4 – Avoid overeating at holiday parties by eating normally during the day. In other words, don’t starve yourself all day and then eat like a horse at the party. Eat as you normally would during the day, then go to the holiday party and focus on eating low-calorie foods first, such as celery sticks, carrots, fruits and leans meats. Put your snacks on a small plate and then sit down to enjoy it; don’t snack straight from the buffet. After you consume the healthier, fiber-rich, low-calorie foods, then by all means treat yourself to a small, rich and satisfying treat. Chew slowly and enjoy every morsel of it. Occasionally indulging in a tasty treat, without guilt, will help you to avoid overeating. If you do overeat, don’t let the guilt from one mistake destroy the rest of your healthy holiday plans.


5 Simple Ways to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain

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The Holidays are a wonderful time of year, and there is so much to appreciate, to enjoy, and to be thankful for. This is also the time of year when many of us gain a lot more than just quality time with friends and family. Putting on an extra 5 to 10 pounds isn’t difficult to do and for most, they will spend the next 6 months or more working to get it off.  To help you stay focused on your health and fitness goals, here are 5 simple ways to avoid holiday weight gain.

Get some sleep.

The Holidays are a busy time for most of us whether it be holiday shopping, family and friends coming into town, traveling, cooking, cleaning, kids programs at school, projects, volunteering, and the list goes on. This is why it’s especially important to get plenty of rest, take care of yourself and take time to relax. Sleep is critical for a healthy immune system and maintaining a healthy weight. Adults normally need about 7 to 8 hours of sleep to help reduce stress, fatigue, exhaustion and fight off sickness…all of these factors can also lead to overeating during stressful times. Limit your intake of alcohol, caffeine and sugars, especially if you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep. Doing some light exercise, such as yoga or Pilates, a couple of hours before you go to bed will also help to reduce holiday anxiety and stress. Or, try to unwind before bed by taking a hot shower or bath.

Drink water before every meal.

The best rule of thumb is to drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day to stay properly hydrated. Ideally, you should be drinking your weight in ounces per day to help your body function at its best, as well as remove toxins and process foods. By drinking water before every meal, you will decrease the amount of food you consume at each sitting and thus prevent you from overeating and gaining unwanted weight. Many times when we think we are hungry, we are actually thirsty, so drink a tall glass of water to see if that curbs your appetite. Above all, listen to your body and give it the proper nutrition it requires, especially water!

Maintain an exercise routine.

The shorter days, cooler weather, and overwhelming to-do list can leave you feeling exhausted with no time to spare. And, more than likely, exercise is the last thing on your mind. However, incorporating a regular exercise routine will help you to stay healthy mentally, physically, and spiritually. So, weather permitting, get outside in the fresh air and take a 30-minute walk. If that doesn’t appeal to you, try dancing away the calories at your holiday party, or burning off those extra calories by shoveling your snow by yourself.  The important thing is to get at least 30 minutes of exercise, 4 to 5 times per week, to keep holiday weight gain at bay.

Watch your portion sizes!

Use a smaller plate size to control your portions and to trick your mind into thinking you have a full plate. Often times our hunger pangs are psychological, so if your mind thinks you have a full plate, then you’ll be more satisfied and less likely to reach for more food.  Also, you need to focus on what you’re eating, so don’t eat in front of the television. It’s amazing how much you can eat when you’re not paying attention! And lastly, control your portions and caloric intake by eating lots of veggies and protein at every meal to keep yourself fuller for longer, and avoid drinking high-calorie beverages. Liquid calories can add up fast.

Eat a meal, don’t graze.

When the average person sits down to their holiday meal, they’ve already consumed 90 percent of their daily calorie needs, according to Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating. How can this be? Well, you can blame it on grazing, which is a bad habit of snacking throughout the day without sitting down to an actual meal. To avoid grazing, pick out your favorite appetizers and put them on a small plate, sit down, chew slowly and savor every bite. Don’t spoil your appetite, though; eat just enough to hold you over until the main meal is served.


High Calorie Holiday Foods to Avoid

Photo Credit: Tim Lewis CC-BY-SA-2.0 2008 
All those delicious holiday treats and traditional dishes can tempt even the most dedicated dieter and weight-conscious. nutrition oriented person. The occasional treat probably won’t undermine all your hard work to stay lean and fit, but be careful not to over-indulge in some foods on the holiday banquet table. Balanced diet and exercise are essential to keeping your weight under control and staying healthy.
Swedish meatballs are a holiday tradition in many households, but did you know that many recipes call for loads of butter, white bread, salt and fattening heavy cream? One cup of Swedish meatballs can have as many as 400 calories! Individual meatballs can be small, which makes it easy to over-indulge in these tasty treats. Eggnog is another traditional holiday treat that has over 400 calories per one cup serving. Eggnog contains bourbon, sugar, eggs and cream. Opt for a nice hot cup of flavored tea instead of eggnog.
A baked potato is a healthy food that is rich in vitamins and minerals, but when you load it up with cheese, butter, bacon bits and sour cream, you’ve also loaded up on the calories and the fat. One baked potato with bacon and cheese has over 330 calories. Skip the bacon and cheese and enjoy your baked potato with low-fat sour cream and chives. Steamed vegetables, such as broccoli, carrots and asparagus, taste delicious and are packed with nutrients and vitamins. Load your baked potato with these tasty alternatives.
Red meats like pot roast and steaks can have as many as 400 calories per serving. Choose lean cuts of meat and skip the drippings and gravy. Roasted white meat turkey is lower in fat and has fewer calories if you don’t eat the skin. Where there’s a turkey there will probably be stuffing. Cornbread stuffing made with onions and celery contains fewer calories and less fat than sausage or white bread stuffing. 

What would a holiday dinner be without dessert? Fruitcake and pecan pie are two traditional holiday sweets that can ruin your diet. A one-inch square piece of fruitcake can have almost 60 calories! One slice of fruitcake has nearly 400 calories. Pecans are a nutritious snack when eaten alone, but when you bake them in a buttery pie crust with sugar, butter and corn syrup you’re asking for a calorie overload! One slice of pecan pie contains around 360 calories. Fresh fruits and berries are a healthy alternative to pies and cakes.
You’ve just got to have one of those crispy, flaky sweet sugar cookies! Think about it before you reach for a second cookie. Sugar cookies are usually made using processed, bleached flour, whole eggs, butter and a lot of processed white sugar. Oatmeal cookies made with whole grain oats and sweetened with light corn syrup and raisins are delicious and packed with fiber. 

Delicious & Healthy Holiday Desserts

It isn’t going to be easy to resist all the delicious desserts and tasty candies during the holidays. You can still enjoy tasty sweets like cakes, cookies and pies without all the extra calories and fat that will undermine your diet.

Photo Credit: Steven Depolo CC-BY 2.0

If you enjoy cheesecake and chocolate but worry about the calories, substitute one half of the cream cheese with low fat cottage cheese. Reduce the amount of melted chocolate in the recipe and substitute cocoa powder for rich chocolaty flavor. Top the finished cheesecake with fresh raspberries and a light raspberry sauce. Omit the cocoa and chocolate and top with fresh strawberries or blueberries for a more traditional cheesecake minus all the extra calories.

Oatmeal cookies are always a favorite. Substitute refined white sugar with coarse brown sugar and add some crushed pecans or walnuts for extra flavor. Use whole wheat flour instead of refined white flour. Raisins can also be used to sweeten the cookies. Gingerbread cookies are generally low in sugar and calories. Decorate the cookies with raisin or pecan eyes and buttons using a dab of frosting to hold the raisins and pecans in place. 
Mix together fresh fruits for a deliciously healthy fresh fruit salad. Peel and cut into bite-size pieces some mangoes, oranges, bananas, kiwis, seedless grapes, blueberries and tangerines. Include some strawberries and raspberries, if they are available. Mix together 1/4 cup of apple juice and 1 tablespoon of orange zest. Bring to a boil. Allow the juice and zest to cool. Strain the juice over the fresh fruit for a tangy, sweet flavor. Drizzle bowls of fruit salad with low fat yogurt for extra flavor.
For recipes and more information, see: The Food Network, Healthy Holiday Desserts

Eat to Feel Good During the Holidays

Photo by Nevit Dilmen, 2006 CC-SA
The holidays can be a difficult time to maintain a fitness routine and healthy eating habits. Stress causes the body to release the hormone cortisol which increases blood sugar levels. Almost everywhere we turn there are delicious cakes, pies, cookies, puddings and candy. Traditional holiday dishes are often loaded with fats and sugar. Add the inevitable holiday stress to sugary foods and you have a recipe for weight gain. Nutritious foods, including whole grains and fresh fruit, can help improve your mood, reduce the impact of holiday stress and help you maintain your weight.
Start your day with a healthy breakfast that includes whole grain cereal such as oatmeal. Add some bananas or strawberries and drink a glass of orange juice. Vitamin C can help reduce the release of stress hormones. Oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, guava and  kiwi are rich in Vitamin C and taste delicious. Skip the eggnog and enjoy a fruit smoothie using fresh guava and kiwi instead.
Complex carbohydrates found in whole grains and beans stimulate the brain to release the hormone serotonin. Serotonin has a calming effect on the mind and body. Stimulate your brain to release serotonin by eating whole wheat breads, whole grain pasta, brown rice, dried beans, dried peas and fresh vegetables. Nourish your brain and muscles with protein found in nuts, fish and lean meats like turkey.
Coffee, tea, soda, chocolates and energy drinks contain caffeine. Too much caffeine in your diet can cause headaches and make you feel anxious. Help reduce your stress levels and feel better during the holidays by avoiding caffeinated drinks. Replace sugary, caffeinated sodas with water. Limit coffee to two cups per day and avoid drinking coffee in the evening.
You may not be able to avoid all the stress of the holidays, but you can alleviate some of the effects of stress by eating a variety of healthy foods. Remember to get plenty of rest and exercise daily.
For more information and meal plans, see: WebMD, Nutritional Training to Beat Holiday Stress, by Jean Lawrence, reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD. 2002.
For information about caffeine content in drinks, see: Mayo Clinic, Nutrition and Healthy Eating, Caffeine Content for Coffee, Tea, Soda and More. 2011