Stay on track with healthy food and fitness during the holidays

Stay on track with healthy food and fitness during the holidays

No matter what problems you’ve had with food and keeping fit during the holidays, you can make this holiday season a better one for you. You have the power to stick to your exercise or activity schedule, make delicious and nourishing food selections, stay sane and keep stress low, and find effective ways to take care of yourself. The first step, you see, is recognizing that you can make self-enhancing choices and the second is to realize that you don’t have to do so perfectly.


Do hold rational expectations for yourself and have low expectations of others

People with food problems often have all-or-nothing thinking and a success-or-failure mindset. Forget words like “never” and “always” this season and replace them with “most”-- most of the time you’ll find ways to stay active, most of the time you’ll look for ways to eat healthfully, most of the time you’ll make sure that you’re doing things you enjoy and want to do. Just because it’s holiday time, your family members will still be who they’ve always been, so don’t expect miracles. Rather than hope that people will have changed, assume that they haven’t and treat them accordingly.

Do pay a great deal of attention to your emotions

If you’re often on autopilot, my guess is you’ll be on mega-auto-pilot during the holidays. Instead, make conscious choices by reflecting how you feel inside. Note exactly what you’re feeling. Who makes you happy or unhappy? What activities cause you stress or help you chill out? How do you know you’re stressed or unhappy? Check in with yourself frequently and don’t brush off emotions or believe you shouldn’t feel them. They’re your guide to interacting effectively with the world, so use them.

Do make sure that your focus is on pleasures other than food

Think of how you would enjoy the holidays if there were no such thing as food. Which people or activities would you gravitate to? Make sure you’re not giving up much loved activities (by yourself or with others), just because others have their own expectations of you. If you enjoy walking by the lake alone when others are inside partying, do it. If you like cheerful Aunt Betty more than grumpy Uncle Al, hang out more with her and steer clear of him as much as possible. Consider what brings you pleasure during the holidays and do more of it.

Do follow your exercise or activity routine as much as possible

One of the ways we run amok during the holidays is that we give up the activity structure that makes us and our bodies feel good. If you can’t run 5 miles, run 2 or 3, if you can’t get to a gym, bring stretch bands with you and use them. Climb stairs rather than take elevators, walk or cycle to places that are close by rather than jump in the car. Do as much as you can so you don’t fall into an all-or-nothing mindset.

Do put the part of yourself that loves you in charge of all your decisions

So often during the holidays we’re pulled in a million directions and aren’t sure when to say yes and no not only because of others’ expectations but because we have so little time to do so much. This is especially true if you’re visiting relatives or friends or they’re visiting you. Always consider before agreeing to anything. A great phrase, is “let me think about that for a minute.” Make decisions by thinking (alot) about what will be best for you. Remember, the happier and less stressed you are, the less likely you are to eat mindlessly or unhealthfully.


Do not try to diet during the holidays

When you restrict your eating during a time you really don’t want to, what has happened in the past? After enough of feeling deprived, you probably said “the heck with it” and showed no discretion in what or how much you ate. Don’t restrict. Think this way: I can have this food (after all, you’re an adult!), but will it be the best thing for me at this time? Sometimes the answer will be yes and sometimes it will be no.

Do not think of holidays as an eating free for all

Yes, you may be on vacation from work, but that doesn’t mean that eating or not keeping your body active has no consequences. A vacation mentality can lead to mindless eating. Instead, recognize that all your actions--whether you’re on vacation or not--have consequences and consider them. Although you might think you want to give yourself permission to eat everything that passes under your nose, you don’t because you won’t be happy after you do. You don’t want to regret a great many of your choices when vacation is over.

Do not come home after eating sanely and reward yourself with food

You may be tense transitioning from holiday to non-holiday time due to traveling, entertaining guests, a change in routine, or trying to get along with difficult family members. Don’t fall into the trap of eating munchies on the drive or plane trip home. Instead, pay attention to your need to release tension and find a healthier way to do it. Email a friend about your holiday, write in your journal, or plan what relaxing pleasures you’ll engage in when you arrive home.

Do not forget to keep off the scale

Weighing yourself is the end of a process, while eating is the beginning, the gatekeeper. If you are mindful about responding to urges to eat during the holidays, make mostly healthy choices, eat with awareness and an eye toward pleasure, and stop eating when you’re full or satisfied, you won’t need the scale to see how you’re doing. Weighing yourself gets in the way of “normal” eating: if you’ve gained weight, you might restrict your food intake which can lead to bingeing, or if you’ve lost weight, you might think any and all food is fair game.

Do not have conversations about food and weight

This was not always the case in the history of humans, but for the past several decades, people have gotten into a terrible habit of discussing what they and others eat and weigh, ad nauseum. These conversations are pointless and boring, can lead to distressing feelings, and can trigger reactive mindless eating. If someone comments positively or negatively about your weight, ignore the comment as much as you can. Don’t engage in discussion on these topics. If people are talking about diets or their latest binge, leave them and find something more constructive to do or change the subject.

Jumping cartoon

The greatest gift you can give yourself this holiday season is to make self-nurturing, positive choices that take the best possible care of yourself. This season, please yourself, think before you act, do things that make you proud and not ashamed, give the meaning you want to the holidays, say no as much as you need to in order to avoid being stressed, take as much time as you require to attend to your own needs, don’t try to be perfect, give up your old success/failure mindset, and stay conscious of your feelings and mindful of your eating and physical needs. Honestly, could Santa bring you a better present?

More expert advice about Exercise and Weight Loss

Photo Credits: Subbotina Anna/; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas -

Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, M.Ed.Expert on the Psychology of Eating

Based in Sarasota, Florida, Karen is a worldwide eating coach, blogger, educator, and psychotherapist specializing in overcoming overeating and emotional eating. She teaches the non-diet/non-deprivation approach to finding a comfortable, sustain...

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