Shock and disbelief are the usual reactions when I tell people that I started my weight loss journey three days before Thanksgiving 2009. “You started the week of Thanksgiving?!?” is the most common first response.
That’s because we think of the holiday season – Thanksgiving through New Years – as a time of overindulgence. There is so much food, so many parties, so many treats, and so much temptation. Most people go into the holidays hoping not to gain too much, forget trying to lose or maintain. The holidays don’t have to be such a time of struggle, though. Over the last four years, I’ve picked up some tips that help me navigate the holiday season without too much damage to my health and fitness goals.
1. Choose your favorites.
First, at big holiday meals, such as Thanksgiving, I choose only my favorite foods. The first year that I was losing weight, my favorites weren’t even the healthy options, for the most part. I’d rather have the dressing and sweet potato casserole instead of the green beans – so I did! I decided that eating the green beans to make me feel healthier was just going to add more calories to my plate.
I decided I’d rather spend my calorie budget on the yummy foods that I could only get during the holiday season. Besides, we live in the South. The green beans probably weren’t all that healthy anyway!
2. Moderation is key.
This is a fact all year long, but particularly around the holidays. Since I had decided to only have my favorite foods and knowing the many of those were calorie heavy, I knew I had to exercise portion control. I found that a small serving of most foods really does satisfy the craving without going overboard or feeling deprived.
Even now, my kids know that somebody has to sacrifice two fries when we go out to eat. It sounds crazy, but those two fries allow me a taste of a food I rarely eat anymore (not as a full serving at least) without overindulging.
3. Change your tastes.
By the second year of my weight loss journey, I had started to successfully change my eating habits by developing a taste for new or healthier foods. Instead of the sugar-filled sweet potato casserole, I brought a much lighter sweet potato brulee to our family potluck. Instead of the calorie-laden broccoli casserole, I brought roasted broccoli. I also brought the green beans – of the fresh and steamed variety.
Everybody loved the changes. Well, except one cousin who asked that I bring the sugar-filled sweet potato casserole the next year. You can’t win over everyone. The green beans were a huge hit, though, and have been requested multiple times. I love when healthy tastes good!
4. Drink water.
When you’re eating more calories than normal, you don’t want to drink an excess of calories on top of that. Plus, if you drink a glass or two of water before you eat, you feel fuller, which goes a long way toward increasing your willpower. Another option is to eat a light, broth-based soup half an hour or so before your main meal.
5. Don’t skip your workout.
The busyness of the holiday season can easily derail a workout routine. Be sure you’re making time to be active. While everyone else is taking a post-meal nap, take a brisk walk. A quick internet search should reveal some early-morning turkey trots in your area. These 5K runs or walks have become very popular all over the country and are a healthy, invigorating way to start your Thanksgiving day.
6. Focus on the true meaning.
Finally, make sure that you take some to focus on the true meaning of the holiday season. Thanksgiving is a day to give thanks for our blessings. Health is an incredible gift that we often take for granted. The ability to get out and go for a walk or a run is a blessing for which to be thankful.
Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of our Savior. We can do that without cookies, candy, and fruitcake.
As the holiday season approaches, instead of feeling overwhelmed and defeated, use these tips to help you navigate the temptations and challenge yourself to make wise food and activity choices. Come January 2, you’ll be glad you did!