10 tips to stay on track with health and fitness goals

It’s been a hell of a year. I’m sure some of you have found comfort in a pint of beer or ice cream more than once. We’re in the home stretch before the new year, and between the holiday parties laden with hors d’oeuvres, cookies and overflowing alcohol, it’s quick and easy to down the calories. But remember, it’s not so easy to burn them off again.

The holiday season is all about celebrating, togetherness and indulging–in moderation. So here are 10 ways to avoid the scale creeping up over the next few weeks.

Creature of habit

Try to stick to your regular routine of sleep and exercise. While it may be tempting to stay up all night binge watching Netflix, just remember that 6 a.m. comes around way too quickly when your little ones get up. Getting enough sleep has also been associated with less weight gain. Practice good sleep hygiene, like turning off electronics in the bedroom and avoiding high-fat foods at night.

Beware of booze

Martinis, wine, rumchata, spiked eggnog … they all sound delicious, but these are “empty calories,” offering little to no nutritional value and contributing to excess weight gain. Don’t overdo it and try having a club soda with a lime twist to help cut calories and remain well hydrated in between beverages. Because, hangovers suck. Hangovers as a parent suck even more (and refer back to No. 1 because sleeping in is something that doesn’t exist anymore).

Indulge wisely

I’m not suggesting eating whatever you want every day, all day. But, caving to a craving–as long as it’s in moderation–can curb the desire to go at it like a ravenous wildebeest.

Still want more of your mom’s famous cheesecake after a couple of bites? Try thinking of your favorite holiday activity, like opening presents, watching “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” or “Elf,” or sledding with the kiddos. Research shows that daydreaming about pleasant activities or distracting yourself with just about any activity can reduce the intensity of food cravings. Or, do 10 burpees for every cookie you eat, or 20 jumping jacks per candy cane.

Portion control

Before you hit up the soiree, eat a small, healthy meal before party time. This will help you from unconsciously snacking all night. Something full of fiber or protein are solid options that will keep you fuller, longer and help maintain a healthy weight because high protein diets are associated with greater satiety (bonus benefit: It’s important for healthy muscle growth). Great options include: roasted chicken or turkey, hummus with vegetables, quinoa, lentils or beans.

If you do want to try out your friend’s “killer mac and cheese,” choose the smaller salad plate (8-10 inches) instead of a tray-like one (12 inches or more). Using smaller plates can actually make us feel fuller with less food. The brain associates a big white space on the plate with less food (and smaller plates generally require smaller portions).

Exercise every day

People generally take time off during the holidays, and it can be tempting to cozy up and hibernate the entire time you are off from work, but stick to your routines as mentioned in No. 1, and continue to exercise every day. Making exercise a daily habit won’t even feel like a chore any longer, but rather a built-in part of your day.

Find creative ways to stay active. Choose the farthest parking spot at the mall, shovel your driveway (and your neighbors!), take the kids sledding or ice skating; these are just a few ways that negate calories and you won’t be tethered to a treadmill.

Don’t stress

Easier said than done. This time of year brings stress about finances, family drama and more. Unfortunately, a lot of stress can trigger increased eating and cravings, especially for sugary carbohydrates (Hello, cookies anyone?) Try to keep a positive mindset and don’t find solace in treats.

Be mindful

Yoga, deep breathing, massage therapy and meditation are all ways to nix the stress and allow you to be more present in your daily life. Being present is the best present your family and friends could ask for this holiday season. Try to stay focused during the holidays so that you don’t lose track of your end goal.

Track your food and exercise

There are great apps out on the market that can help such as MyFitnessPal, Lifesum (which integrates with Apple Watch) and more. Wearable fitness trackers are the best way to get motivated. Apple and Fitbit are two of the most popular health and fitness companions on the market today that help you not just exercise, but stay productive in other ways.

Set goals

Plan your weekly food intake (see No. 8) and include those tasty treats or Christmas cookies into your food bank. Allow yourself to “stick to two cookies at every holiday party” or “avoid the eggnog and go for the signature cocktail.” Also, setting lofty health goals (i.e. drop two dress sizes by Valentine’s Day) probably isn’t a realistic mindset. Instead, focus on goals that are specific and attainable and follow through on them.

Remain positive

Always remain positive. If you do have a bad”day, don’t worry or stress about it. Just get back on track the next day. Don’t fall down the rabbit hole and punish yourself for indulging a wee too much and continue down that path. Many of us demonize certain foods and even punish ourselves for indulgences. Instead, positive messages like “I can control my eating” or “I’m proud that I ate responsibly today” can reframe our relationship with food. Research shows positive expectations are associated with weight loss. Even if it feels a little silly, try telling yourself at least one positive affirmation per day. A healthy mind leads to other healthy habits.

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