8 simple habits to emerge from the holidays happier and healthier than ever

The holidays are upon us! Do you use the holidays as a time for reflection, mindfulness, and resetting healthy habits? Or do you feel that the time between Thanksgiving and January 1 to be stressful, busy, with too much unhealthy consumption and not enough exercise?

If your holiday experience is something like “Christmas is fun, but the holidays are stressful,” or “My New Years resolution is always to get back to regular exercise and eat vegetables again,” you’re not alone. 

But, the holidays don’t have to sabotage all the progress you’ve worked for all year. Here at EVOLVE, while we’re not immune to holiday-related stresses, we have a few strategies that have helped us enjoy and emerge from the holidays stronger, healthier, and happier than ever. And fear not! We are not going to insist that you give up all holiday desserts. 

While you don’t have to use all of these, spend some time thinking about each one, and how you might incorporate them into your holiday traditions.

1. Decide: What matters to you right now?

Before we get to strategies, we need to get our mindset right. Many of our clients feel guilty or stressed around the holidays simply because. Because they feel pressure to be some idealized version of "perfect," or because all their coworkers are feeling guilty, or because they feel a tremendous amount of expectation built up around them.

If that's you, your first step is to stop and reflect about what's most important to you. Don't let social media, fitness magazines, coworkers, or societal expectations determine your priorities and how you feel. The holidays should be a time of reflection, gratefulness, connecting with loved ones, enjoying great food and drink, and (believe it or not!) feeling healthy and refreshed.

So, what's important to you? Is it connecting with your family? Staying in shape after a year of hard work? Observing religious traditions? Setting the stage for a great new year? Something else?

There’s no judgement here. YOU get to determine what’s important. Don’t make your priorities based on what you think they should be. Nutrition and fitness, while important, don’t always have to be #1.  Spending some time thinking about this step can help to inform the rest of this process.

2. Get out of breath in the morning.

Getting out of breath has an amazing ability to take the edge off stress and improve your mood and energy. This doesn’t have to be a perfect workout routine. If you’re busy or traveling, this probably won’t look like “training” or a “practice.” Give yourself some slack here. But, aim to move and get out of breath at least 3 times a week (preferably daily), and your body and mind will thank you. We suggest doing this in the morning before the day gets away from you.

It’s OK to keep this simple: A fast-paced walk, quick jog, short hill sprints, some burpees, or air squats and pushups can all be great. Or if you prefer to go classes such as yoga or Orange Theory, use an app like MindBody to schedule these in advance.

To eliminate all excuses, here’s three 10-minute no-equipment-no-space workouts. 

None of these workouts are necessarily perfect, but that's not the point. They work most of the major muscles, keep you moving, and will get you breathing. That’s the goal.

3. Choose one meal to be your go-to healthy foundation (we recommend breakfast or lunch).

We like cookies and pie as much as the next person. Having delicious treats is an important part of life, and we don’t think you should cut them out entirely. But to emerge from the holidays feeling healthy and strong, you do need regular balanced meals with vegetables, lean protein, and healthy carbohydrates. We recommend choosing one meal as your go-to nutrition foundation. This will be the one meal that serves as your nutritional center, on which you try not to compromise. We recommend breakfast or lunch, as they’re earlier in the day, and generally people have more control over these than big family dinners.

Once you’ve chosen your meal, design several different options that are easy and quick to make, without any special ingredients or equipment. Don't try to get too fancy. Come up with a few quick, foolproof meals that you can fall back on in the midst of holiday mayhem.

Here’s a few suggestions. 

Breakfast:

  • Vegetable, fruit, and protein shake
  • Sautéed onions, mushrooms and kale with eggs and whole wheat toast or a piece of fruit
  • A tossed breakfast salad with scrambled eggs, a vinaigrette, and a piece of fruit (yes, salad for breakfast!)

Lunch:

4. Give yourself 10-15 minutes of “me” time.

What gives you a sense of calm, or helps you do de-stress? Perhaps it’s guided meditations (we recommend Headspace), listening to music, walking your dog, reading, or exercise (see above). Whatever it is, schedule this in throughout your week. We especially recommend this on big holidays before the festivities begin. It will give you the mental space to truly connect with those around you.

5. Focus on eating slowly, balanced meals, and portion size, rather than eliminating things you love.

We prefer a sense of balance rather than elimination or deprivation. So, we recommend the following at big holiday meals:

  • Eat slowly. This helps our body recognize how much we're eating, and is an easy way to avoid eating too much.
  • Include vegetables and lean protein on every plate. Try to fill half your plate with vegetables.
  • When it comes to desserts or other less healthy items, choose a few items that you must have, and that are truly well made and delicious. Politely decline items that you don't actually love. Pass on the crappy store bought cookies and the baked ziti that you never really like in favor of Aunt Cabrina’s legendary penne vodka and your Mom’s world famous apple pie. Then, give yourself permission to enjoy it all! But, perhaps take a smaller portion, and enjoy it slowly, savoring each bite.
  • There’s always seconds and thirds at holiday dinners. Take a smaller portion at first, eat slowly, and wait 5 minutes before going for more.

6. Offer to help cook or bring a side dish — then make it delicious and healthy.

Almost every host loves when people offer to help out with appetizers or side dishes. This is your chance to make something that you know you’ll love, and that is nutritious as well. Here are a few suggestions:

7. Make a plan

Go back to #1. What’s important to you right now? What makes you feel rejuvenated, and what makes you feel worn out? If there’s obligatory things you need to do that wear you out, can you include energizing and rejuvenating activities during the same day?

Once you have some clarity about what’s important to you, schedule important activities in advance. Think through when you’ll get out of breath, what your go-to healthy meal will be, and how you can carve out some “me time.”

If you enjoy going to yoga or other fitness classes, the MindBody app can be a great way to schedule exercise and time for yourself in advance.

8. Share your intentions with your loved ones

If going on this journey is important to you, we’re willing to bet that others around you will also be interested, or at least supportive. So, don’t keep your intentions a secret! Share your plans with other people! It can be simple as the following:

  • “Hey Mom, I always feel better when I go for a walk in the morning. I’m going to take one tomorrow for about 10 minutes before the holiday festivities start. Do you want to come with me?”
  • “I got a little stressed on Christmas last year. I’m going to take a few minutes of “me-time” before we go to Grandma’s. Don’t worry, I’ll have everything ready and won’t make us late!"
  • “I always feel a bit out of shape after the holidays. I’m going to workout at least 3 times a week. Do you want to come to Orange Theory with me?”

Where do people go wrong?

In our experience, most people who don’t feel great about the holidays make one of the following mistakes:

  • They don’t plan ahead. Once you identify activities that you feel are important to your well-being, plan for them in advance.
  • They keep their intentions a secret. See #8 above! Tell your family that you are making your health a priority! Invite them to join you (but don’t make them feel guilty!).
  • They try to change every holiday tradition, or try to give everything up overnight. Deliberately make your goals small and achievable. This ensures that you keep moving in the right direction, and is more effective than trying to change everything all at once. 
  • They try to be “perfect”! Many people have some idealized vision of what is “perfect.” Let’s ditch the idea of perfection, and focus on what you can (and actually want to) control. 
  • They’re always feeling guilty. Again, YOU get to decide what’s important to you. If that’s a few beers with your brothers, enjoying your favorite cookies, or an extra serving of mashed potatoes, then that’s totally fine. Identify what’s important, and enjoy it without guilt. As long as you have a plan and have employed a few of the strategies above, you’ll be just fine.

So there you have it! Our 8-step approach to emerging from the holidays in great shape, with less stress and guilt. Cheers!