Healthy Through the Holidays (10 Tips to THRIVE Your Way Through the Holiday Season)

Ahhh the holiday season, it’s definitely here! With Thanksgiving next week and the weather cooling WAAAY down, it feels like the right time to start talking about staying (and feeling!) healthy through this time of year. 

In previous years I would start to worry and be anxious for weeks leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas. This worry usually stemmed from more traveling + less routine + less control over my food = ANXIETY! In the last few years however I have come up with tips and tricks to keep myself feeling good and “in control” while still being able to enjoy life!

One of the most common cycles I see throughout the holiday season is that of overindulgence leading to guilt and shame and then relying on restriction via some type of detox, diet or cleanse starting when the holiday season is over to “get back on track.”

This is a vicious cycle where guilt and shame get the best of us and perpetuates a mindset where we feel inadequate – like we have a lack of willpower or motivation to “stay on track.” I put this in quotes because I don’t really believe there is an “on” or “off” track to begin with.

By saying and operating under always being on or off track we are giving our power away to food. Therefore attaching morality to foods, aka “good foods” and “bad foods.” Food does not have morality, it is not inherently good or bad and certainly does not make you a better (or worse!) person when you consume it. 

When we work to detach morality from food (and our food choices) we work towards breaking free from feeling the need to restrict, diet, detox or cleanse. This, to me, is what freedom looks like. Making our choices consciously and deliberately, accepting the consequences of our decisions (if there are any) and then listening to what our body is truly asking for. 

Listening to our bodies is the first step towards breaking the guilt and shame cycle. Working towards being gracious and loving to ourselves is the first step in feeling awesome and truly enjoying the moments!

#1 Keep a Loose Routine

Hear me out on this one – have you ever gone a week or two where you didn’t keep up with your normal exercise routine and started to worry that maybe taking off too many days in a row will derail all your progress? Or maybe you find yourself neck deep in cookies because there are just SO MANY cookie plates at the holiday party but you normally wouldn’t be caught dead with a cookie in your hand.

Keeping a “loose routine” can be extremely beneficial to keep yourself from feeling like you’ve “gone off the rails” or fallen off the (proverbial) wagon. By carrying habits over from your daily life into your life during the holiday season it can actually cultivate a stronger and deeper habit and make post-holiday season seem much easier to tackle.

I believe it is much easier to continue doing something than it is to start something, stop it and then have to begin again. Aka it’s easier to keep up than to catch up. Gretchen Rubin has an excellent article about this here. In terms of exercise, it is much easier to continue, even if at a different intensity, level or even type of exercise, than to stop all together and then feel out of shape upon returning. 

So whether it’s still exercising throughout the holiday season even if you don’t really feel like it, or getting in a healthy breakfast daily to set the right tone for your day, it is important to stick to a loose version of your “real life” routine. Your body will thank you come January 1!

#2 Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

This goes hand in hand with tip #1, while it is nice to keep a loose routine, don’t sweat it if you sleep through your planned workout class. Your body probably really needed the rest! Instead, ask yourself if you truly want to workout that day and try to get some movement in later in the day. 

The key here is to try and be as adaptable as possible while still making your health a priority. If working out is important to you but family obligations are also important, try to combine the two! Try creating a new tradition of going on a family walk after Thanksgiving dinner or attending a Black Friday fitness class!

The key here is to start to break the guilt and shame cycle but not worrying so much about minor decisions that we make throughout the day. 

#3 Nix the Guilt

This is HUGE! The holidays can be a stressful time. Feeling guilty for what we did or didn’t do can really add to the amount of stress that we feel and perceive. I honestly believe that the guilt that we place on ourselves often outweighs the decisions that we’ve made. 

Maybe you ate one too many pieces of (delicious!) pumpkin pie and you are starting to feel guilty since you wouldn’t “normally” do this. There are very few opportunities throughout the year to really enjoy these moments with family and friends and instead try to be thankful you had so much pie to enjoy! 

Along the same lines, trying to use guilt as a motivator to “burn off more calories” or restrict food intake usually backfires. By using guilt we are discrediting our decision making process and creating mistrust in ourselves. These negative feelings create the shame cycle that can really take away from fun moments and cause unhealthy behaviors and habits. 

Instead, try to be very mindful of any and all decisions that you make during this time and be very open to the outcome of decisions that have been made. 

This is one of the first steps towards breaking the guilt and shame cycle. It is tough, but worth it in the end! By not giving into guilt and shame or letting it control our behavior, we create more trust in ourselves and our decision making process. 

#4 Choose Gratitude

Studies show that thankful people or those who practice gratitude daily are among the happiest in the world. I have been working to incorporate gratitude into my daily life (via this journal especially) and have found it to make a hugely positive impact on not only my mindset but my outlook on life. 

By focusing on what we do have instead of what we lack, we are shifting from focusing on negative to really being grateful for what we do have. Because we all know, there are those out there with much, much less.

I have really found this helpful during stressful times, especially when using re framing techniques. Example: instead of saying “oh my gosh I have to clean my house before the guests come over and then I have to start cooking so much food!” creating stress over all the things you are telling yourself you have to do. Instead, try phrasing it like “I get to clean the house and cook for so many wonderful family members and friends who want to spend time here!” It might sound a little cheesy at first but I promise you won’t feel nearly as stressed when you focus on what you get to do versus what you have to do. 

This little mindset shift exercise has seriously changed my outlook on so many things. Give it a try next time you feel overwhelmed!

#5 Focus on Today, Not Yesterday

This is one of my favorite tips! Dwelling on yesterday’s “mistakes” changes nothing. What really matters are the choices and decisions that we make today and moving forward. Letting guilt and shame control how we live our lives keeps us from growing as human beings. 

Since changing the past is not an option, focusing on the future and the now is where we can experience growth and joy. We only have 24 hours in a day and personally, I don’t have time to spend on thinking about things I cannot change. 

Instead, try setting very intentional (read: realistic) goals for individual days and be proud when you accomplish them. 

#6 Practice Saying No

By far my favorite tip and something I believe more people need to be practicing – this is incredibly important! By protecting our boundaries we are honoring ourselves and protecting our personal time and energy. By saying no to obligations that we don’t really have an interest in, we are allowing ourselves to be authentic and opening up space to do what we really want! 

Instead of saying yes to attending a holiday party where you never enjoy the food or company, maybe try hosing your own party! Sure, it might be a bit more work, but when you are excited about a commitment, the reward  can outweigh the additional work. 

Saying yes to commitments and activities when you would honestly rather say no sets you up for over-committing yourself and can easily lead to burnout and rebellion. 

It might seem hard at first to say no to all the extra obligations and favors that might get asked of you during this time but saving your energy for what you are really excited for really pays off. 

#7 Ask for Help 

For many, this is a really tough one. Asking for help can be a huge help in offloading some of the holiday burden. By reaching out to those who care about us for help we are strengthening relationships by letting people help us out in a time of need. 

While we often tend to think that asking for help makes us appear weak, it actually has the opposite effect. By taking on more than we can (or should) handle, or spreading ourselves too thin, this lessens the amount that we have to give to others. 

Asking for help when you have too much on your plate can help others feel useful and even empowered! Asking others to bring a dish to your holiday party can greatly lessen the load on you and you might even get to try a fun new dish!

#8 Bring Your Own Food

This is a great option if you are attending a holiday party or function where there will be food served. It is an even better option if you have food intolerance, allergies or just prefer to eat a certain way! 

Making and bringing a dish can take a lot of pressure off of the host. Dietary preferences are extremely personal and not everyone will understand why you choose to eat a certain way. This is a great way to ensure you have something to eat and can also be a great talking point for those who are curious about the dish!

Need some ideas? I love to bring my Sweet Potato Casserole for Thanksgiving dinners and my Rustic Cinnamon Rolls or Cinnamon Ginger Scones for a Christmas party (usually brunch!).

#9 Make Self-Care a Priority 

Prioritizing our self-care routines can help us to keep feeling our best during stressful times. Remember when you are in an airplane and are advised to “put on your own mask before helping others with theirs?” The same applies here, take care of yourself and your own needs before jumping in to help others.

By filling up our own cup first we are able to give more from it than if we start with the cup half full. Self-care is a very hot topic right now, and for good reason! Whether your form of self-care is a hot bath, a face mask, spending some quiet time away from everyone or even just heading out on walk – it is really important to still make time for these activities. If an activity leaves you feeling drained or more stressed, then it’s not self-care. If it leaves you feeling refreshed and more relaxed – bingo!

For me personally, I know I am easily overwhelmed in groups and need alone time to recharge my batteries. I usually do this by getting in a quick workout or just finding a quiet room to hang out in for a bit. 

#10 Take it Slow

Since the holidays are usually a time to be spent with friends and family, this is a perfect opportunity to take things a little slower. Whether that be taking more time to travel somewhere in winter weather, more time to just stay up late and chat with friends or taking the time to brighten someone else’s day. 

Even when it feels like there is SO.MUCH.TO.DO., try to remember to slow down and appreciate everything around you. These moments only come around once a year and before you know it, they’ll be over! 

I hope you found these tips helpful! Not every tip will be right for every person but focusing on one or two that you think will really benefit you can really have a positive impact. 

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