1. Ease into the Holidays
The holiday season is a time that fills us with warmth, gratitude — and stress. We want to buy the perfect gifts, take time away from work to spend with family, and wow relatives with show stopping feasts. It’s a lot to pack into six weeks. Luckily, keeping everyone happy doesn’t have to mean neglecting ourselves. Make your season brighter by eating foods that nourish you and indulging in activities that help you relax. Think you don’t have time? We’ll show you how.
2. Keep Moving
Don’t let the busy holiday season sidetrack your regular exercise routine. Think you don’t have a second to spare at the gym? Guess again. Because working out can boost energy and mood, squeezing in a workout may actually help you be more productive — and keep you in the holiday spirit. You can experience the mood-boosting benefits of exercise in as little as 10 to 15 minutes. And you don’t have to run a marathon to get a runner’s high. Any kind of heart-pumping aerobic activity, like climbing the stairs, will give you a burst of bliss.
3. Soak in the Tub
Immerse yourself in the holiday spirit by giving yourself the gift of rest. It’s easy to run yourself ragged during November and December, which is also the apex of cold and flu season. Not getting enough sleep can increase your susceptibility to colds and viruses — and leave you more than a little cranky. Instead of feverishly wrapping gifts until dawn, tackle gift wrapping a few at a time so you spend Christmas Eve unwinding in the tub. Taking a warm bath not only relaxes your muscles, it can help settle your mind and help you sleep, which promotes your body’s natural defenses against stress.
4. Use Your Senses
If tension at the dinner table is fraying your last nerve, whisk yourself away using the power of guided imagery. The only thing this relaxation technique requires is your imagination, making it the perfect on-the-go stress reliever. Close your eyes and imagine yourself in your favorite, most relaxing spot in the world. Maybe you’re sitting on the beach, listening to the waves crash against the shore. Or maybe you’re at home, under a cozy blanket, reading a good book. Visualize yourself in that spot down to the smallest detail, using all of your senses. What things do you see, feel and smell? Practice this technique at work or at home — whenever you need a quick release.
5. Be in the Present
Is life feeling like a blur lately? Maybe you’re putting up holiday decorations with your family but thinking about your to-do list or wishing you had handled a conflict differently. Learning how to be in the moment can help lower stress. Called mindfulness training, it teaches you to observe what’s going on in your life, instead of worrying about the future or fretting about the past. Simply paying attention to the present moment can give you a sense of renewal. After all, it takes energy to feed all of that mental chatter.
6. Improve Your Mood With Food
With a batch of cookies an arm’s reach away, it’s easy to eat poorly during the holidays. And when we overindulge on treats, our waistlines aren’t the only things that suffer. Sweets can also wreak havoc on our mood. According to Elizabeth Somer, RD, author of Eat Your Way to Happiness, when stressed, people are more likely to choose sugary carbohydrates that deliver a quick shot of energy to the system. Unfortunately, these same foods cause us to bottom out just as fast — leaving us irritable and exhausted. Instead, choose complex carbohydrates, like whole-grain bread, combined with protein, such as turkey or low-fat cheese, to keep your mood on an even keel.
7. Avoid Winter Weight Gain
Did you know that most of the weight that we put on each year appears in the six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s? And research shows that those holiday pounds don’t go away after we ring in the New Year. Because most people keep their extra padding for Christmases and Hanukkahs to come, holiday weight gain is considered a major contributor to obesity. Though most people gain one or two pounds during the holidays, people who are overweight or obese tend to gain more. So go easy over the next few weeks. You don’t have to deprive yourself of your favorite foods during the holiday season; just remember to enjoy them in moderation.
8. Do the Math
When it comes to maintaining a healthy weight, remember that math is your friend. The trick to eating what you want without putting on the pounds is making sure calories in are less than calories out. When you want a treat, balance extra calories (for example, 100 calories for a glass of wine or a cookie) with exercise to burn it off, like taking a 25-minute walk. Calculating how long it will take you to work off a slice of pecan pie might make you think twice about eating it.
9. Use a Small Plate
Trick yourself into eating sensibly. Smaller plates encourage smaller portions, which means you eat less. (If you don’t go back for seconds, that is!) Research shows that people eat almost 60 percent less when they put their food on smaller dishes. “We eat as much with our eyes as with our stomach,” says Elizabeth Somer, RD, author of Eat Your Way to Happiness. When it’s smaller, your plate looks fuller. The result: You’ll eat less but feel just as satisfied.
10. Don’t Stand by the Buffet Table
Satisfying your sweet tooth will not come via osmosis, so there is no point in standing anywhere near the enticements. Lingering unnecessarily will tempt us to throw caution and calories to the wind. Instead, take small portions of the foods you really want, then back away from the buffet table. Go into another room, and try to avoid going back for seconds.
11. Eat Regular Meals
Saving up all of your calories so you can eat what you want at the holiday party? Skipping meals before the big fete might seem like a smart idea, but it’s a recipe for disaster. You’ll be so hungry by the time you arrive, you won’t care what you shove in your mouth. Start the day with a healthy breakfast — one that combines complex carbohydrates and protein, which will tide you over for longer. A piece of whole-wheat toast and an egg is a good option, packing just 200 calories.
12. Stay Hydrated
Always seem to stuff yourself silly at the dinner table? Here’s a trick to fill you up fast and help you lose weight. Drink agua. Research shows that people who drank two glasses of water before mealtime ate nearly 100 fewer calories per meal. Over the course of 12 weeks, that resulted in an extra five pounds of weight loss. People often mistake hunger for thirst, so if you’re craving food, try drinking a glass of water before rummaging through the fridge.
13. Stay Strong All Season Long
The holidays, which fall during cold and flu season, are the most important time to stay active and healthy. Stress weakens your immune system, and a prolonged period of stress, like the holiday season, is the worst time to forgo healthy choices. You’ve got more pressure at work; more travel, which means greater exposure to sniffling and coughing strangers; houseguests to entertain; and tons of shopping and running around to do. Working out can help relieve stress, strengthen the immune system, and give you the extra energy you need to breeze through your holiday checklist.
14. Be a Stairs Master
Why waste time waiting for the elevator? Save a few minutes and burn seven times the amount of calories by taking the stairs. Stair-climbing burns about 10 calories a minute — and even more if you’re carrying a couple of shopping bags. According to Yale University obesity expert Kelly Brownell, walking up and down two flights of stairs a day is enough to keep off five or six pounds of yearly weight gain. That’s enough to prevent the usual holiday bulge.
15. Count Your Steps
Need a little nudge to get off your fanny? Treat yourself to an early holiday gift: a pedometer. Keeping track of your every move can be a real motivator that can even result in weight loss. Clip it on and aim to walk 10,000 steps every day. Research shows that setting goals and logging your daily steps can increase how much you walk by 1.25 miles a day — that’s an extra 100 calories burned. Get your coworkers or family involved and turn it into a healthy competition. Whoever logs the most steps by the end of the year collects $10 — or some other type of reward — from each participant.
16. Up Your Pace
Have only 15 minutes to spare? That’s okay. Make the most of your workout by doing interval training. For every three minutes of moderate-intensity exercise you do, add 30 seconds of high-intensity activity. If you’re taking a brisk walk, for example, you can either increase your speed or climb a hill for your high-intensity bursts. Not only will it keep things interesting, research shows that interval training can get you fit faster too.
17. Get Energized With Morning Stretches
Did last night’s festivities leave you with no energy for your morning workout? You don’t have to bag it altogether, says personal trainer Joan Pagano, author of Strength Training for Women. Do 10 or 15 minutes of light stretching to ease your body into the day. “Stretching helps energize your body by discharging tensions from the muscles,” says Pagano. And it may just give you the oomph you need to go for a run or hit the gym.
18. Rely on a Do-Anywhere Mini Workout
Don’t have time to hit up every weight machine at the gym? Dumb it down. When life becomes hectic, keep it simple with four easy exercises. “Squats, pushups, back extensions and crunches provide a mini full-body conditioning program that you can do anytime, anywhere — no equipment required,” says personal trainer Joan Pagano. Not familiar with back extensions? Lie on your stomach, hands out in front of you. Keeping your buttocks and abs tight, gently lift your chest a few inches off the floor. Return to your starting position. Aim for two sets of 10 to 15 repetitions of each exercise.