Keys to a Happy (and Healthy) Holiday Season
Do you find that your stress levels skyrocket during the holiday season? Between work, travel, unique family dynamics, holiday prep and an abundance of foods, does it feel impossible to stick to your health and weight loss goals? Many of us go into the holidays with the mindset that we will just “start fresh” in the new year but the problem with that mentality is that it can result in justifications for more overeating behaviors and less exercise. By the time the new year rolls around, many people feel lethargic, bloated, and depleted of energy. The extra weight can be overwhelming, causing feelings of burnout and hindering motivation to get back on track. Additionally, getting entirely out of our routine can make it that much harder to get back to it, impacting mental and hormonal health as well.
Instead of going from 0 to 60, why not make little changes NOW? Here are our some of our top tips for reducing stress and supporting weight maintenance and hormone balance over the holidays (and beyond):
Create a routine inside of the unroutine. Right now, stop and think about the healthy habits that you have that make you feel your best leading up to the holidays. Next, let’s try to figure out ways to bring them with you on the road or when operating outside of your normal routine. The closer you can stay to your daily healthy routine, the easier it will be to bounce back “into the swing of things” when the holidays wrap up. Note: it's not about perfection. You don't need to adopt all of these tips below in order to be successful. Read through them and find the ones that speak to you. Try a few or try them all and see what's doable.
1. Prep & Pack Healthy Options for On-The-Go: Prioritize a stop by the grocery store and pick up some staples and real food snacks to keep with you in your bag, your hotel room, or even your family/friends’ homes. Pro tip: foods higher in fiber and protein will help to keep you satiated for much longer so you don’t go into social events feeling anxious and starving - these feelings can be a catalyst for overeating. Examples of hearty, high protein snacks include: hard boiled eggs, nuts/seeds, cheese sticks, apples, and low sugar protein powder/bars. If you’re staying with loved ones, see if you can request some staple food items and/or bring some of your own and (politely and confidently) let them know that you are trying to maintain some of your health goals and these items help you stay on track. This way you can still make time to enjoy some of the more traditional family favorite recipes, knowing that keeping a better balance (rather than just throwing everything to the wind) will make a big difference come the new year!
2. Be Mindful of Bites, Licks & Tastes (BLT’s): It can be easy to go through the holidays wanting to try everything. Leftover candy from your kids’ halloween baskets, licking the spatula multiple times as you bake for your holiday gatherings, grabbing a handful of treats from your company break room, grazing the potluck table multiple times (a piece of cheese here, bite of a cookie there, square of chocolate, etc). While it might not seem like much at the moment, these little tastes can add up to hundreds of extra calories, sugar, and excess fats that increase cravings and crashes and plummet your energy levels. That extra 200-500 calories in a day can be enough to put you in a surplus that causes creeping weight gain without the satiety from eating a balanced meal. Let’s be realistic, though. These moments will pop up and you don’t need to corner yourself in a room by yourself to try and avoid all of them. Instead, be mindful. This will allow you to check in and consider an alternative choice that might be a better fit for your goals. It’s easy to find yourself mindlessly sampling foods that don’t even end up being that enjoyable or that make you feel stuffed, bloated, guilty, and downright exhausted. Don’t snack and munch for the sake of snacking and munching. If you’re going to indulge here and there, make sure it’s calories well spent!
3. Focus on Protein: Even if you’re not following your weight loss plan to a T, keep in mind that protein is the most satiating macro and helps to maintain muscle - helping to support a healthy metabolism. There is something called the thermic effect of food (TEF) which is the amount of energy it takes for your body to digest, absorb, and metabolize the food you eat. Of all three macros (protein, fat & carbs), protein has the highest TEF because your body has to work harder to break it down. What this means is your body spends more energy and burns more calories. Cool, right? Because of this, when we overeat we’re least likely to store excess calories from protein…this is another reason that protein is a great tool for weight regulation. As we get older, it’s also imperative to eat enough protein to maintain muscle and bone density, better protecting our bodies against osteoporosis and rapid aging.
A standard recommendation for protein is to aim for at least .7-.8 gram of protein per pound of body weight every day. Note: this will vary based on factors such as age and activity level. So, for a 150 pound woman, she would aim for 105-120 grams per day. To put that into perspective, that’s about 35-40 grams per meal. When thinking about foods that will help you to meet these goals without causing you to eat excess, consider that a 4 oz chicken breast has 35 grams of protein, one egg has 6 grams, an MRC Protein Bar has 15 grams, and snacks and sweets can have little to no protein. While you’re learning protein amounts, it can be helpful to track how much you’re actually consuming in your MRC Success Planner (journal) and then gradually increase your consumption. Be sure to take note of how you feel - increased satiety following meals, more energy, better mood, more restful sleep, etc.
4. Get in regular movement! Make note: we are not saying “get a gym membership” (but you certainly can if you want to!). Prioritizing movement can be done in creative ways. Committing to moving your body in some way every day can make a HUGE difference in your energy levels, weight maintenance, and keeping cortisol (the “stress hormone”) levels more balanced. Better balance may mean that you don’t feel even more on edge when in tense family settings, stuck in traffic, waiting in airport lines, etc. Simple ideas for getting in more exercise include: invite your family on a walk after a big meal before you gather on the couch to watch TV. Run errands on foot when you can or maybe park a little further back than you normally would. Take conference/client calls on walks, pack resistance bands with you so you can get in 10-20 minute circuit workouts from your hotel room, and take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible!
5. Walk after meals to improve insulin sensitivity: Recent studies show that there is a huge benefit to short bursts of movement after meals, especially those higher in calories (specifically from sugars and carbs). Blood sugar levels spike within 60-90 minutes after eating; so, getting moving directly after a meal will help clear sugar from the bloodstream and bring it into the muscles where it can be used as energy! A meta-analysis published in February 2022 analyzed seven studies comparing the impact of sitting, standing and walking on the body’s insulin and blood sugar levels. Study participants were asked to stand or walk for 2-5 mins every 20-30 minutes over the course of one day. The analysis found that standing after meals provided a better outcome for blood sugar levels than going right back to a desk or couch, but it didn’t lower insulin in the bloodstream. However, if participants went for a short walk after eating, their blood sugar levels rose and fell more gradually, and insulin levels remained more stable than either standing or sitting. Bottom line: even going for a 5 minute walk around the block, doing some jumping jacks, or blasting your favorite holiday music and dancing can have quite the impact on your long term health and how much you weigh!
6. Incorporate strength training to help burn fat and preserve muscle mass. Muscle and fat burning have a circular relationship: the more muscle you have, the more fat you burn. The more resistance style training you incorporate, the easier it is to preserve muscle and lose fat (along with enough protein)! Simply wearing wrist or ankle weights on your walk or packing resistance bands and following a short YouTube fitness video when you have 10-20 minutes in your day can help you to build strength and naturally increase testosterone levels. Increased testosterone levels can help improve energy, stamina, muscle growth, and even confidence.
7. Avoid liquid sugars! It’s so easy to consume hundreds to over 1,000 calories just from beverages if we aren’t careful. These liquid sugars can be consumed in a matter of minutes and most don’t even improve your satiety. Depending on the beverage, you may even find that your cravings are increased as well. For example, one margarita contains an average of 25 grams of sugar and 300-400 calories. A single 8oz glass of orange juice packs in 21 grams of sugar and 110 calories vs a whole orange which is only 7 grams of sugar and 40 calories. Starbucks peppermint hot cocoa will add 440 calories in a 16oz (grande) and 56 grams of sugar to your daily intake (for reference, this is more than the daily recommended amount of sugar)! One of the easiest ways to cut inflammatory sugar and calories from your diet is to be mindful of the amount of liquid sugar you are consuming and replace it with healthier alternatives (like water!).
8. Start the morning with calming activities. The way we start our mornings has a ripple effect on the rest of our day. Racing straight to the coffee pot upon waking (especially on an empty stomach) can increase cortisol “stress” hormone levels and wind us up first thing in the AM. All of this can result in increased anxiety and is a bad recipe for crashes later on. For many, that “crash” is often followed with cravings for treats. Additionally, the caffeine in coffee has a 4-6 hour half life, meaning that if you have a cup at 2pm, it wouldn’t be until 6 or 8pm that half of the caffeine you consumed is still present in your body — keeping you alert and impacting your ability to fall and stay asleep. Furthermore, if you skip breakfast, this is another stressor on the body. While it may feel like a great way to cut calories, it can also cause food obsession and binging tendencies - all of which can backfire, resulting in weight gain and heightened stress. The act of a routine breakfast every morning can help to provide natural order and calm to your day.
9. Keep a food & mood journal. In a weight loss study of nearly 1,7000 participants, those who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight as those who kept no records at all. Start with journaling your food. Then, when you’ve got that down, we suggest adding another layer and tracking how these foods make you feel. This will allow you to begin understanding what works best for your unique body. Things to note: bloating/ digestion, sleep, mood, cravings, PMS symptoms, skin changes/ acne, satiety signals. When you partner with a health coach, such as those at MRC, they will not only keep you accountable to your goals, but will also be able to review your food journal and help you to make adjustments that will better support your goals and how you want to feel as you progress towards those goals.
As you can see, staying on track with your weight loss goals during the holidays is not impossible. With simple changes and built in habits such as the ones we’ve mentioned above, you can enjoy the season while also prioritizing yourself and the goals you have set to feel your best. One of the best ways to stay in control over the holidays is to have a support team by your side. A health coach is the perfect person to keep in your court. MRC Coaches are trained to provide you with the support you need to stay in control and on track with your goals. Our centers are judgment-free zones filled with individuals ready to help you actualize the best version of yourself! Click here to get started on an MRC program and connect with an MRC Coach today.
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