I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure this year has gone by faster than any year ever before. I could have sworn that January was only a couple of weeks ago, and that I was only just looking forward to summer and all the fun that summertime has to offer…
But I guess that’s what happens when you’re busy trying to change the world and have adventures along the way, right?
Anyway, no matter how it happened, there’s no denying it any longer: the holiday season has officially arrived. And you know what that means… holiday food, and lots of it. Sugary, fatty, melt-in-your-mouth, delicious holiday food. Awesome, right?
But just because the holidays are here doesn’t mean you have to let all your hard work this past year go to the wayside.
Because if you follow this cheat sheet for staying in shape over the holidays, you can avoid packing on the pounds and still get to enjoy some of your favorite holiday foods.
First off, it’s ok to indulge
That’s right: it’s perfectly acceptable to indulge a little over the holidays. After all, what else are the holidays really about aside from loved ones, gratitude, and good food?
Because let’s face it: it sucks to try and stick to your diet 100% when everyone around you is feasting.
In fact, this is a perfect time to remember the 80/20 rule—if you stick to eating healthy foods about 80% of the time, the other 20% isn’t going to do much damage. Even at 70% healthy you’re going to be miles ahead of most holiday eaters.
So stop feeling guilty about every single morsel and go ahead and indulge (just don’t go overboard!).
Fill up on protein
If you know you’re going to a party where they’ll be lots of sweets and not much in terms of healthy food, make it a habit and fill up on protein beforehand.
Since protein not only helps you fill up faster, but also makes sure you stay full, this will help to make sure you don’t overindulge on sweets and holiday staples just because you were hungry or didn’t eat enough earlier and felt “snacky” (lack of protein will do this).
So grab your favorite protein before a holiday event, and you’ll not only stay leaner because of it—you’ll also help feed your muscles and make them stronger and bigger, which in turn helps you keep your metabolism at a healthy level.
Never, ever fast
One of the biggest mistakes people make around the holidays is that when they know they have a big meal ahead of them, or a holiday party to go to, or they’ve heard there’s going to be a cookie tray at work, they’ll skip their normal meals and “save” their calories for later in an attempt not to overeat.
The problem with this tactic is that 99% of the time it backfires. Because your body is already hungry from not eating meals as you regularly would, you’ll most likely end up gorging yourself on the unhealthy stuff and end up eating more calories than you would have if you’d eaten a meal and then had a cookie or two.
Key takeaway: never try and fast and “save” your calories for later. Eat as you normally would, and you’ll end up eating less as a result!
Eat your veggies
I have no idea why, but one of the things many holiday foods have in common is that they don’t include veggies (or if they do, they’re candied or oversauced)—most are full of flour, sugar, and butter, which unsurprisingly, aren’t helpful for either muscle building or your waistline. So for the most part, people end up eating less vegetables around the holiday than they do other times of the year.
But since veggies are full of fiber, which helps fill you up and stay full longer, eating lots of them will make it less likely you’ll overeat other unhealthier foods later.
Start making it a habit at mealtime to try and fill your plate half full with veggies. And when you go to a holiday party, head to the veggie plate first—especially if you’re famished—this will make it much less likely that you’ll eat an entire pumpkin pie or a whole plate of cookies in one sitting.
Hold out for only your favorite foods
Over the last couple of holidays, it’s become more and more clear to me that when I save my indulging for only the holiday foods I love best (pumpkin pie, homemade marionberry pie and gingerbread mollasses cookies being just a few of those things), I not only enjoy the treats more at the time, I feel less guilty overall and end up sticking to my normal, healthy diet most of the time as a result.
What does this mean for you? Only eat the things that you really, really want to eat.
Don’t eat a crappy, flavorless Christmas cookie just because it’s there—save your cookie eating for one that’s so good it melts in your mouth.
Don’t gorge on chalky, stale holiday candies just because they’re free—stick to good chocolate and really good treats instead.
Don’t reach for an unsatisfying piece of store-bought pie just because someone offered it to you, hold out for the homemade, reminds-you-of-your-grandmother pie that would be silly to resist.
Save your treats for the good stuff, and you’ll get through the holiday season happier and healthier!
Make healthified versions of your favorite foods
Another way to get through the holidays without feeling too deprived is to make a healthier version of your favorite holiday foods.
By doing this you can eat similar comfort foods without even deviating from your diet at all. And while they may not be exactly the same as the foods you remember from when you’re a kid, you may even learn to like the healthier versions better since you’ll feel better (and less guilty) after eating them.
Love mashed potatoes? Try making mashed cauliflower instead—as a huge fan of mashed potatoes, I can honestly say I like these just as much or better as the classic holiday side dish.
Love holiday cookies and desserts? You can’t go wrong with Anna Sward’s Protein Pow Holiday Recipes eBook – it has amazing ideas to create healthy, protein-ified versions if your favorite holiday treats. If you’ve never checked them out before, her recipes are seriously awesome.
You can find all sorts of healthy holiday recipes all over the internet—or you can make your own. Just get creative, and you’ll be amazed at what you can create that’s tasty and healthy.
Remember: the holidays are temporary
When all else fails and you start to notice your jeans fitting just a little bit tighter around your waist after indulging in a few too many Christmas cookies, just remember: the holidays will be over before you know it.
Yes, for this next month you may be constantly tempted with buttery and sugary goodness, but soon enough, it’ll all be over and we’ll be on to a new year. And as long as you stick with your workouts and keep a healthy diet 70 or 80% of the time, you’ll have no problem bouncing right back to where you were before as soon as the holidays are over.
“It’s not what you eat between Christmas and New Years that matters; it’s what you eat between New Years and Christmas.”