More than anything, the holidays are time to gather with family and friends, have fun, and decompress after a long year. But the truth is that the holidays wouldn’t be the holidays without food. And with a never-ending supply of comforting casseroles, decadent desserts, and boozy beverages, it can be difficult for even the most hard-core health aficionados to keep their waistlines in check. In fact, researchers have found that gaining weight over the holidays is a real phenomenon that, in the U.S., starts in October and peaks 10 days after Christmas. (1)
But are desire to avoid the packing on the pounds doesn’t mean you need to hide out during the most wonderful time of the year or go on a crash diet. Instead, these five easy-to-implement tips can help you to enjoy the best of the season while staying true to your health and fitness goals.
1. Swap grains for filling veggies
Many holiday dishes use grains as a main ingredient, and while whole grains are always a better option than refined grains like white pasta and rice, I like focusing on recipes that feature veggies instead of heavy carbs.
Choosing dishes rich in vegetables means that you get an extra serving of vitamins and minerals with each bite. And fiber-rich foods like sweet potatoes and acorn squash keep you feeling full for a longer time, thus minimizing your desire for between-meal snacks. These dishes also tend to be lighter and healthier than grain-heavy meals, which means you can save room and calories for dessert.
2.Try digestive enzymes
While you might be eating all the right foods, if you’re having trouble digesting them, you might find yourself packing on the pounds anyway. We all have natural digestive enzymes that help our bodies absorb the nutrients we need, but if you suffer from a digestive disorder like Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, acid reflux, constipation, or leaky gut, a digestive enzyme supplement may be beneficial.
Digestive enzymes can help take the stress off your gastrointestinal tract during the holidays and help you break down difficult-to-digest ingredients like gluten, casein and lactose — a benefit that comes in handy during holiday parties and events with limited (and not-so-healthy) food options. While enzymes shouldn’t replace a healthy diet, they can help make the busy holiday season easier to, well… digest.
3. Consider intermittent fasting
Although you might not realize it, most of us engage in fasting nearly every day when we stop eating post-dinner and then head to bed. It’s where the word “breakfast” (literally, “break fast”) originates. And more and more, intermittent fasting is becoming a way of managing weight and reaping other good-for-you benefits.
There are different types of intermittent fasts, ranging from alternate-day fasting to 16/8 fasting, during which you fast for 16 hours (including the time you spend sleeping) and limit food intake to 8 hours. But the commonality is that, with each fasting method, meticulous calorie counting or food tracking gives way to guilt-free enjoyment of whole, nutritious foods—as long as it falls within designated eating times.
So why fast during the holidays? Fasting can help shed fat while still keeping strength intact. (2) And if you struggle with high blood sugar, intermittent fasting can also help stabilize sugar levels and prevent spikes and crashes. (3)
4. Sip on red wine or other healthier alcohols
Between the egg nog, cocktails and spiked ciders, it’s easy to drink several hundred calories before you’ve touched any food. But that doesn’t mean you have to abstain from alcohol during the holidays. Just learning to choose your spirits wisely can help keep the number on the scale working in your favor.
I always suggest skipping high-calorie, sweetened mixed drinks. This includes anything made with soda or creamy liqueurs like irish cream, as well as table sugar or sugar syrups. Instead, opt for red wine, which contains antioxidants that can boost heart health, or spirits mixed with soda water or served on the rocks. And remember, even healthier drink options can become a hazard after you’ve had a few too many. You might find it’s just as tasty and festive to stick to sip on a non-alcoholic apple cider, kombucha or seltzer, and skip the headache!
5. Make the most of limited time with burst training
Time becomes crazily scarce during the holidays, so it’s important to make the most of any gym time you manage to squeeze in. Burst training, or high-intensity interval training, combines short bursts of exercise at 85-100% of your maximum heart rate with less grueling recovery phases. And because these workouts are so intense, you can reap the same benefits of regular exercise in much less time—think anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes.
Best of all, you don’t need any fancy equipment or a ton of space because many burst training programs focus on using your own body weight. That makes them the perfect workout to do in a hotel room while you’re traveling to see family, or during some precious downtime. It’s also easy to incorporate exercises like jumping jacks, pushups, squats, and high jumps if you want to burst train at home.
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