A non-stop schedule makes getting the rest you need difficult while also pushing stress levels to the limit. You might think you will recover once the holidays are over, but at that point the damage may be done. Research shows that both sleep and stress are linked to your weight loss success. Keeping rest and stress relief at the top of your priority list will ensure you get through a hectic period while still hanging onto your health and your waistline.
Sleep is often viewed as a luxury rather than a necessity. This encourages squeezing more tasks into the day at the cost of a restful night’s sleep. Many people operate on five to six hours per night, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most adults need seven to nine hours to function at their full potential.
Lack of sleep has bigger consequences than tiredness. Research shows that sleep influences the hormones that regulate appetite, preventing weight loss and often resulting in weight gain. There are three main appetite hormones – ghrelin, leptin, and cortisol. Ghrelin and cortisol stimulate appetite giving you the urge to eat more. Leptin suppresses appetite signaling fullness. When you don’t get enough sleep ghrelin and cortisol production increases and leptin production decreases. This results in increased cravings and hunger which can lead to a higher calorie intake that causes weight gain.
Stress and lack of sleep often go hand-in-hand. Stressful situations can keep you up at night and tiredness and irritability can make daily tasks more stressful. High stress also causes a spike in cortisol further triggering food cravings, especially for high-calorie carbohydrates. This constant increase in appetite can make it difficult to resist unhealthy snacks and grazing between meals.
Set Your Priorities
Making sleep and stress control a priority will better prepare you to accomplish your endless to-do list while keeping your weight in check. Follow these tips for increasing sleep and reducing your stress levels.
Set a regular schedule for the time you go to bed and wake every day.
If you sometimes experience insomnia, get your workout in at least four hours before bedtime and avoid caffeine in the afternoon.
If your mind races at night, keep a notebook and pen by the bed. When a thought or task pops in your head, write it down, forget about it, and get some sleep.
Exercise, even if you can only fit in 10 minutes. Every little bit will help to reduce stress.
Add stretching exercises and short walks throughout the day to give yourself a break from stressful work.
Delegate your to-do list. Are there things that family and friends can assist with like cleaning, shopping, or cooking? Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
If cravings and hunger increase, take time to evaluate your sleep schedule and stress level. Make changes to gain control before you start seeing the evidence in the form of extra pounds on the scale.
When you are short on time even a small amount of exercise will boost your energy and ease stress. This quick, but challenging workout can be squeezed into any busy day. March in place to warm up a few minutes before you begin and cool down with some light stretching. When time allows, repeat the circuit 2 to 3 times for a full 20 to 30 minute workout.
Cardio Shuffle (90 seconds)
Stand with feet hip-width apart and bend the knees slightly, lowering into an easy squat. Quickly shuffle your feet while staying in place. The faster you shuffle the more challenging the move.
Squats with a Knee Raise (60 seconds)
Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Lower into a full squat (sit back and keep your knees behind your toes). Return to the starting position and raise your right knee high, towards your chest as you contract your abs. Return the foot to the floor, squat and repeat with your left knee.
Side-to-Side Shuffle (90 seconds)
Repeat the Cardio Shuffle, but this time shuffle to your right for 4 counts and back to your left for 4 counts, moving your feet as quickly as possible. Continue side-to-side for the full 90 seconds.
Jumping Lunges (60 seconds)
Step your right foot forward and lower into a lunge position. Lower the left knee to the ground and bend the right knee, being sure that it doesn’t shift forward past your toes. Push yourself up with an explosive movement, jumping into the air. As you jump, switch your legs so your left foot is forward and your right foot back. Lower into a lunge, jump and repeat.
Alternating Toe Touches (90 seconds)
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and with your arms extended out to each side at shoulder level. Keeping your leg straight, kick your right leg out in front of you, raising it to waist level. At the same time, reach your left hand towards your toes, rotating the torso. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
Alternating Side Planks (60 seconds)
Get into plank position on your toes with straight arms and hands directly below the shoulders (as if you were preparing to do a standard push-up). Shift your weight to your right hand as you rotate to the left. Turn your right foot so that the outside is in contact with the floor and your left foot is stacked on top of it. Support yourself with your right arm and the outside of the right foot. Extend your left arm up into the air so that there is a straight line from your right hand, across your shoulders, to your left hand in the air. Return to the starting position and rotate to your right to repeat on the other side.
Mountain Climbers (90 seconds)
Stay in plank position. Pull your right knee towards your chest and rest your right toes on the floor. Jump slightly to switch your feet and land with your left knee in and toes on the floor. Continue to jump and alternate the legs.
Push-ups (60 seconds)
Stay in plank position and move your hands a little wider than shoulder-width apart. You can perform the exercise on your toes or on your knees. Lower your chin to the ground, keeping your abs tight and your body in a straight line from head to heels (or knees). Push back up to the starting position.
Air-popped popcorn makes a filling, whole grain snack, but it doesn't have to be plain to be healthy. This version is dressed up with the rich flavors of garlic, rosemary, and a light sprinkle of salt.
Yield: 6 servings
Preparation time: 35 minutes
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1, 4-inch long sprig of fresh rosemary
½ cup popcorn kernels, air-popped
1/8 tsp fine ground sea salt
Pinch of black ground pepper (optional)
Place the olive oil in a small saucepan and add the garlic. Heat the oil on medium, just until it begins to bubble, 1 to 2 minutes.
Remove from the heat and add the rosemary sprig. Let sit for 30 minutes.
Place the popcorn in a large bowl. Strain the oil and discard the garlic and rosemary. Pour the oil over the popcorn.
Use a large spoon to toss the popcorn in the oil. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper, toss again, and serve.
Nutrition information for 1/6 recipe: Calories 122; Total Fat 5.4 g; Saturated Fat 0.8 g; Trans Fat 0 g; Cholesterol 0 mg; Sodium 48 mg; Carbohydrate 17 g; Fiber 3.3 g; Sugar 0.2 g; Protein 2.7 g
There is nothing wrong with choosing a few special treats during the holidays, but going overboard can undo weeks of healthy eating and exercise. Before you make the decision to cave into a craving, use this guide as a reminder of how hard you will have to work to offset the extra calories.
Candied Sweet Potatoes (1/2 cup)
Burn it off: Walking at 3.5 miles per hour for 60 minutes.
Lighten it up: Serve baked sweet potatoes topped with 5 mini-marshmallows. 172 calories
Gingerbread (1 slice)
Burn it off: Fast ballroom dancing for 45 minutes.
Lighten it up: Choose 1 to 2 small gingerbread cookies instead. 150 to 200 calories
Peppermint Mocha (12 ounces, made with 2% milk and whipped cream)
Burn it off: Weight training for 50 minutes.
Lighten it up: Ask for skim milk and no whipped cream. 220 calories
Eggnog (1 cup)
Burn it off: Shoveling snow for 52 minutes.
Lighten it up: Choose light or low-fat eggnog and cut your serving to ½ cup. 140 calories
Homemade Pecan Pie (1 slice)
Burn it off: Jogging 5.2 miles per hour for 48 minutes.
Lighten it up: Have only half a slice or choose a slice of pumpkin pie instead. 228 calories
*All calorie expenditures are based on a 150 pound female.
Often it’s not the holiday foods, but the portions that send calorie intake through the roof. Instead of using large casserole dishes, use oven-safe ramekins that hold ½ to 1 cup of food. Fill them with baked side dishes like sweet potato casserole, macaroni and cheese, or stuffing. When your servings are pre-measured, it eliminates the temptation to scoop large portions onto your plate.
Go heavy on the vegetables.
Adding extra vegetables is a good way to fill up and improve the nutrition of your meal with fewer calories. Add extras to salads like chopped broccoli, sliced bell peppers, and sliced cabbage. Add diced mushrooms or shredded carrots to stuffing, and mix finely chopped cauliflower into casseroles.
Limit your choices.
When there are too many choices, it is tempting to try a little of every dish. This results in an overflowing plate of generous bites. Plan a holiday meal like you would any other. Select two vegetables or fruits, a protein source, and a grain. Of course, these dishes may be dressed up for the holidays, but stick with only four to five separate dishes. You will be able to taste all of the options and still keep the portions and calories under control.
Take a water break.
Put the focus on the special food and skip the high calorie drinks. Sipping on water instead of sweet tea and soda can drastically reduce your calorie intake. Drinking water between courses and between cocktails can also help to fill you up and keep you hydrated, lessening the effects of the alcohol and excess sodium.
Don’t pass up true treats.
"Eat and enjoy" is advice not shared often enough during the holiday season. The holidays bring special foods that you eat only once a year. Pass on more common items like rolls and mashed potatoes. Take one serving of special holiday foods and enjoy every bite. Forcing yourself to pass up on true treats will only make you feel deprived and that is no way to spend a healthy holiday season.
Practice mindful eating.
Planning, tending to guests, and bustling conversations can be distracting. When it is time to join the table, keep mindful eating high on your priority list. Eat slowly and focus on the flavor of the food. Put your fork down between bites and take sips of water. These small changes will slow your eating, help you enjoy your meal, and keep you aware of your hunger level.
Take on new traditions.
Special family recipes will always be part of the holidays, but making a commitment to a healthy lifestyle may mean that it's time to start a few new traditions. Delicious food doesn't have to be loaded with calories, fat, and sodium. While the average Thanksgiving meal contains 4,500 calories, the 3-course healthy holiday meal listed below is under 710 calories. It also has a fraction of the fat and sodium of a typical holiday meal, but with all of the traditional flavor.