The holiday season is around the corner and while you may not be ready to start celebrating, now is the time to plan how upcoming celebrations will fit into your healthy lifestyle. This time of year is notorious for commitments that interfere with exercise and for overeating unhealthy foods. By making a plan to overcome these obstacles, you will stay on track to meet your health and fitness goals.
Make a list of your favorite seasonal foods.
There are special holiday foods that you can’t get any other time of year. Depriving yourself will only make you feel miserable and increase the chances that you will give up and overindulge. Instead, decide how you will incorporate these foods into a healthy eating plan. Make a list of your must-have foods and estimate when these foods will be available -- pecan pie at Thanksgiving, Grandma’s cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning? When you plan for special treats, you can alter your food intake around this time so that you don’t go overboard on unhealthy fat, sugar, or calories.
Set exercise goals.
Think about what the holiday season really looks like for you. You might be someone with few commitments, who only needs to alter your exercise routine for light travel right around the holidays. Or you might be a person with a packed schedule from Halloween to New Years. Plan your exercise accordingly and set goals for what you’d like to accomplish over the next two to three months. Make these goals achievable. It’s okay to drop your workouts to three 30-minute sessions for a few weeks. Maybe home videos are a better option than a trip to the gym. Set an exercise goal for each week and incorporate healthy, non-food rewards for when you achieve each.
Draft a schedule of your regular commitments.
Most people attend the same parties year after year and travel to the same family reunion. Get these commitments on your calendar and include other tasks like gift shopping and baking. Next, add your exercise sessions to the calendar. Add some longer workouts in the weeks before you know things will get busy. Follow that up with a list of options for how you will stick to healthy eating throughout the coming weeks.
Prepare make-ahead meals.
Often the problem with the holiday season isn’t that you indulge in high-calorie foods a day or two. It’s when this pattern lasts for several weeks that the pounds pile on. Save your splurges for special occasions and prepare healthy meals to have available when you are too busy to cook. Most foods will stay fresh up to two months in the freezer. Bean soups and stews, vegetable lasagna, vegetarian burgers, cooked poultry, and sauteed greens all freeze well and can be thawed for an easy, healthy meal when your schedule gets out of control.
Decide what you will skip.
It might be passing on the cookie tray in favor of a slice of pie, taking a break from an evening exercise class to squeeze in an early morning session, or eliminating a task that causes you stress every year. In order to enjoy a healthy holiday, you have to make trade-offs. Not having every dessert available will save you hundreds of calories. You may miss your regular workout group, but successfully completing your workout is better than skipping it at the last minute due to a schedule change. Some old traditions need to be let go to make room for new, healthier ones. Spend some time thinking about what you will cut out of your holiday season to make it healthier and happier.
Put the plan into action.
A healthy plan will do you no good if you fail to put it into action. Start now by making every meal a healthy one and sticking to your regular workouts. When the parties and commitments begin, you will have several weeks of healthy habits established going in. Use your calendar, set reminders on your smartphone, and ask friends and family for support. All of these steps will make a healthy holiday a natural part of your lifestyle.
As fall approaches, so do game day celebrations with friends and family. Many of these events are centered around food, but that doesn't mean that they have to be unhealthy. By making minor changes to your menu, you can host a healthy game day party without the extra calories.
Make it a meal
Setting out a spread of snacks often means munching on high calorie foods throughout the duration of the game. Try serving a full meal instead. This will encourage you to eat at only one point during the party and prevent mindless snacking. Invite guests to fill their plates at the start of the game or enjoy the meal during halftime.
Create a healthy DIY buffet
Turning a meal of tacos or soup into a self-serve buffet is a great way to stick to healthy options. For tacos, provide hard shells and soft tortillas as well as lettuce for those who want a salad. Beans, brown rice, poultry, diced tomato, fresh salsa, guacamole, and hot sauce are all healthy fillings that will allow guests to create their own meal. For a soup buffet, set up slow cookers filled with chicken tortilla soup, black bean soup, and chili made with lean ground turkey. Whole grain croutons and crackers, fresh herbs, salsa, chopped avocado, diced onion, and chopped black olives are a few examples of delicious and nutritious toppings.
Limit the options
The larger the variety of foods available, the greater the chance that you will eat more. If you serve appetizers and snacks, limit them to three or four healthy choices. Create mini salads or a soup that can be sipped from a cup. Fire up the grill for chicken satay or shrimp skewers. Serve a healthy bean dip or fresh salsa with chopped vegetables. If there are only a few foods to try, you’ll be less likely to overload your plate and consume more food than you need to feel full.
Keep the food in the kitchen
Avoid leaving snack foods out on the coffee table within easy reach. Set up a buffet of foods near the kitchen and provide plates to encourage everyone to fill their plates and take them back to the television. Keeping the food out of reach will make everyone less likely to engage in mindless snacking throughout the party.
Dress up low calorie drinks
Avoiding alcohol and sodas will save you hundreds of calories. Add some flavorful twists to lower calorie drinks so that you don’t feel deprived. Serve club soda with shots of 100 percent fruit juice or cider. Make up a few pitchers of water that have been filled with cucumber or citrus slices and chilled. Serve unsweetened flavored teas like orange or Chai over ice. Sipping these low calorie drinks during the party will keep you occupied, which may reduce the urge to grab more snacks.
Staying constantly connected via your cell phone or computer creates an environment that can prompt the ‘fight or flight’ response and the release of stress hormones. Research shows that playing computer games can cause some of the same physiological effects as stress, such as increased heart rate and blood pressure. Links have also been found between technology use, reduced quality of sleep, and increased stress.
Whether or not everyday stress is directly related to poor heart health is still being evaluated, but stress can promote other activities that do increase risks for heart disease. Eating high-fat and high-calorie comfort foods, smoking, and excess alcohol intake are all risk factors that are made worse by stress. Escape from all forms of technology for at least a short period every day and consider taking longer breaks over the weekend or during vacation.
Monitor your sodium intake
Eating high sodium foods can cause sodium levels to build in the blood resulting in increased blood pressure and an increased risk for heart disease. National health recommendations suggest that sodium intake be limited to 2,300 milligrams per day for healthy adults, however, some organizations suggest limiting intake even further to 1,500 milligrams per day. The best way to reduce sodium is to limit your intake of processed foods such as chips, crackers, condiments, and frozen meals or meal kits, and reduce the amount of salt you add to prepared foods before eating.
Eat more fiber
Soluble fiber can reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and decrease risk for heart disease. Many grains, legumes, and fruits are rich in soluble fiber including oats, beans, peas, rice bran, barley, and citrus. The American Heart Association recommends that adults eat 25 grams of dietary fiber per day, which includes soluble and insoluble fiber.
Commit to regular workouts
HDL (good) cholesterol protects against heart disease by clearing excess cholesterol from the blood to prevent it from causing clogged arteries. Research shows that two months of regular cardiovascular exercise can increase your HDL cholesterol by as much as five percent. This can be achieved by exercising 30 minutes, five days per week. When planning your program, keep in mind that a healthy heart is not only linked to aerobic exercise. The American Heart Association also recommends strength training as a way to reduce heart disease risk.
Get some sleep
Sleeping fewer than six hours per night has been linked to to an increased risk for high blood pressure, insulin resistance, heart attack, and stroke. While incorporating more hours of restful sleep each night can help reduce your risk, be sure not to over do it. Research shows that sleeping more than nine hours a night can also increase your risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that adults get seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
Living a healthy lifestyle doesn't mean that you have to cut out all special occasions. It’s okay to responsibly enjoy happy hour with friends and coworkers from time to time. When you do, aim to make it a healthier event so that it doesn't throw you off track. Here are a few ways you can join the fun without disrupting your progress.
Know the facts.
Before you decide to gather for a drink, it’s important to understand how alcohol impacts weight loss. Not only do alcoholic drinks add calories, they can affect how efficiently you burn body fat and they can also stimulate appetite. Understanding how alcohol can interfere with reaching your goals will help you make healthier choices and prevent the risk that you will overdo it on drinks.
Order a classic.
Fruity and frozen drinks or those mixed with regular soda cause calories and simple sugars to add up. If you want a cocktail, stick with the classics. Traditional daiquiris, martinis, and spirits mixed with club soda allow for a cocktail without the cost of blowing your daily calorie budget. Order a classic martini instead of a cosmopolitan and you will save 70 calories or more.
Stick with smaller portions.
Many craft breweries and tasting rooms provide options for smaller portions that can help you stick to your plan. Order a half pint or tasters of beers for less volume and fewer calories.
Seek out session beers.
It is difficult to estimate the calories in a beer without knowing the exact recipe, but generally when the alcohol content goes up so do the number of calories. Fortunately, session beers provide a lighter option. Session beers are less than 5 percent ABV (alcohol by volume). As a comparison, a 12 ounce Budweiser is 5 percent ABV and contains about 145 calories.
Pick wine over sangria.
Stick with plain wine instead of sangria. A five-ounce glass of Merlot contains about 115 calories. Sangria is made with wine, but many varieties have added fruit juice, syrups, liqueurs, and some even contain flavored sodas like ginger ale. All these additions cause the calories to soar to over 200 for one glass.
Work in water.
Alcohol is dehydrating so keep your water intake up even if you only have one drink. Drink a glass of water before and after your cocktail. Dehydration can zap your energy levels making you feel sluggish and unmotivated for tomorrow morning’s workout.
Select the snacks.
Consuming alcohol lowers inhibitions making it much easier to engage in mindless snacking. If your table decides to order a few bar bites, take charge of the situation and order some healthier items. Check for options like grilled chicken satay, sautéed shrimp, or lettuce wraps. If none of the offerings meet your healthy eating plan, order a side salad or a cup of broth-based soup. Ignoring your hunger will only make you cave in when the high-calorie appetizers get passed around the table.
Committing to take your lunch to school or work every day is just one step in the right direction. Once lunch time arrives, the meal needs to be appealing so that you won’t pass on it in favor of going out, and it should also be balanced in nutrients to keep your energy up throughout the afternoon. Here are a few tips to help you pack a healthy lunch that you will enjoy eating.
Pack a filling meal.
Taking a small lunch in an effort to save calories is a plan that can backfire. Your hunger may overwhelm you soon after the meal. Take enough food so that you feel comfortably full after eating. Choose foods that supply protein, fiber, and healthy fat. They will take longer to digest, keeping you full and satisfied. They will also help to sustain energy levels longer than a meal filled with simple carbohydrates.
Include something new in your lunch at least once per week. Try an exotic fruit or splurge on a infused-olive oil for your salad. Eating healthy food should be something you look forward to. Adding variety to your meals makes you less likely to be tempted by unhealthy options.
Keep it balanced.
As you pack your lunch, keep a mental list of all of the components of food that benefit your health -- protein, carbohydrates, fiber, healthy fat, vitamins, minerals, and plant phytochemicals. Select combinations of foods that will supply all of these beneficial nutrients. The more balanced your meals, the greater your food variety and the more nourished your body will be.
Include some foods that will help satisfy cravings and keep you from mindlessly snacking throughout the afternoon. Include a small square of dark chocolate or a mixed fruit salad for dessert. Instead of chips, satisfy your craving for something crunchy and salty with lightly salted air-popped popcorn or roasted chickpeas.
Make it interesting.
Most importantly, pack a lunch that you want to eat. A bland salad may make you feel like you are being good, but if you don’t enjoy it, a coworker’s offer to split her high-calorie take-out may be difficult to pass up. Pack food that is interesting and appealing. If you want to stick with a salad, dress it up with shredded cabbage, bok choy, fresh fruit, beans, colorful heirloom cherry tomatoes, and sunflower seeds. If you feel like you are in a lunch rut, try some of these ideas.