Healthy Habits of Eating During The Holidays

By Brian Hazelgren

The holidays are here, bringing with them gifts, parties…and awesome food and desserts! Potatoes, turkey and cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes with baked marshmallows, pies, six layer cakes, cookies, soda and cocktails; ‘tis the season to be merry and to indulge! So, let’s talk about how to enjoy the harvest without going totally overboard.

What are the healthiest choices among all the traditional holiday foods?

Keeping it down to the basics: For instance, for Thanksgiving, having turkey is a great protein source. Filling up on the vegetable dishes like green beans or broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and yes, even mashed potatoes, as long as they’re  not smothered in a ton of cream and butter. All of these options can be healthy choices.

Is there anything we should just completely avoid?

It’s not cool to tell people during the holidays to avoid their favorite special, traditional foods. It’s like my wife Ann always says: “keep it in moderation.” When you keep your indulging to moderation, you can also be mindful of the foods that are really calorie-packed and fatty, like creamy casseroles and really sweet dishes. Be mindful that those foods that are special treats – but shouldn’t be overdone. Take smaller portions, and if you really want more – wait until after the first stuffing.

What are some strategies for indulging in a smart way?

Often times, when people have to plan a large meal like a Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas party, or New News bash, that they think it’s a good idea to skip meals before that, or to not eat enough. Between my wife, four daughters, and two daughters in law, I see this happen too ofter. Skipping a meal is a huge misconception, because then you end up being really famished by the time you get to that meal – you then tend to overeat. This year, try eating something like a small breakfast that’s protein-packed, or a snack, then you’re not going to be super-starved by the time you sit down for the big meal. When you do this you’ll be able to make wiser choices, and make it through the holidays without gaining 10-15 pounds!

Continuing with Moderation, if you’re at a dessert table and you see a bunch of things that you want …

The best thing to do first is do a quick scan of the feast you’re about to take in; look around and see what’s actually there to eat. That moment when you look at things, you’re like, “Oh my, I want everything – and I’ll take four of those!” We’ve all felt that way before as we stand in front of cornucopia of delicious foods and desserts! But then, if you really look a little closer and say “Everything in moderation”, you can then say “OK, what can I do without? What do I absolutely want to have?” Then you have to pick and choose small portions of what you think is really going to be worth it.

So keep your expectations realistic.

Realism…it will keep you grounded! You will bounce back after the holidays. And, if you need extra help (here comes the shambles plug) we sell an amazing weight loss program that will rev up your metabolism, and help you lose those extra pounds. Getting some type of movement in and incorporating your friends and family can make it more fun, too. Take the dog on a longer walk. Go hiking. Go site seeing. Do a scavenger hunt in your city. Or, you can always plan a walk in a nice area with friends and family and just walk and talk for 30 minutes.

OK, so it happens: You eat too much. How do you take care of yourself after you overdo it?

If that happens, first and foremost, definitely stay hydrated. It’ll help flush you out. A lot of people feel a little bit bloated when they overdo it on food, soda, or alcohol, because they have a lot of extra sodium and carbs to burn. So, sticking to  a good hydration plan is very important. Eating a little bit lighter, trying to focus more on some fresh vegetables and fruits during the day will help de-bloat you, and make you feel a little bit better. And don’t forget to exercise, too. It can be a little bit of exercise, just get up off the couch and get moving. Getting your heart pumping will help you ultimately feel better. Even a light workout will help release endorphins, and get your blood circulating to help you feel better both physically and mentally.

You shouldn’t entirely skip eating anything the next day.

100% spot on! Especially if you have that heavy of feeling of eating too much with too many carbs, fats and sodium. It’s not a great feeling, and you might not have as much of an appetite when you wake up, which is OK. But, you still need to eat and hydrate. Eat something with protein and lots of fresh vegetables and fruits. This will help you to overcome your feelings of heaviness, and bloating.

What about alcohol and soda? Sometimes we’re just drinking and not remembering there are calories involved.

This is a tricky one. Try to drink a glass of water for every alcoholic beverage, or soda pop that you consume. Alcohol and soda just slow you down; it also helps make sure you’re staying hydrated with water. Many people think that if they are drinking liquids like alcohol or soda, that they are staying hydrated. That could not be further from the truth! My sister once ended up in the hospital from dehydration, when she was drinking her favorite diet soda all day every day, to the tune of a a six pack of diet soda every day – or more. She was full of sodium and chemicals, with very little water content. So hydrate with water! I don’t consume alcohol, but if you do, then make wiser choices of what you consume. Stick with wine or wine spritzers or a light beer – they are better choices than a mixed cocktail that has all of the added sugars and sodium. There’s plenty of calories for you to consume during the holidays, so you might as well drink something that’s less.

What about exercise?

I love to exercise! I’m a four sport athlete, and the habits that I learned at a young age are what keeps me pumped up about staying active. But not everyone feels that way, and certainly not as we age. I think people are sometimes too hard on themselves because they feel like they’re going to make positive resolutions, stick with their regular exercise routine, and then get disappointed when they don’t. It’s almost impossible sometimes during the holidays to stick to your an exercise schedule, but you have to try. Cutting down on portions, desserts, alcohol, soda, and other junk food is a great start to feel better – and exercise will be more enjoyable. Even if its just a little bit in the morning and at night. Try switching it up a bit. Maybe when you’re with your family or friends during the holidays, suggest everyone goes for a walk after a meal or play a game outside. Even just squeezing in 10 minutes of a quick exercise or yoga session or stretching is better than nothing – and it’ll be good for your body and your mind. I promise you will feel better. This year we already have a game of softball with the kids and grandkids scheduled on Friday. Everyone knows about it, and we will walk to the park to work off some extra pounds.

A few final thoughts…

I always remind clients that the holidays can be stressful. Actually I remind that the holiday WILL be stressful. There are a lot of commitments, expectations, long lines at the store or mall, deadlines to meet, more traffic to deal with, family coming in for a week, or traveling to see family. But for the most part, it’s just a time to enjoy some downtime, some time with family or friends. Sometimes it’s just remembering how blessed you are – and focusing on friends, family and blessings is exactly what you may need to de-stress. Stop worrying about the negative thoughts of the food and the lack of exercise and lack of routine. The holidays are about spending quality time with people that are important to you. And, it’s a time for self reflection on you, and coming up with ideas and activities that will help you to be happy, healthy, and more productive in your own life. Happy Thanksgiving…safe travels…and I wish you peace and happiness throughout all of the Holiday season!  Brian

You can also check out my new book Healthy Habits of Highly Productive Employees at

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