INTERESTING FACT: Weight gain over the holidays (amount ranges, but can be small) are not fully lost in the months following the holidays (BMJ Study), contributing to potential accumulation of annual weight gain.
With the holidays comes joy, celebration and building memories - but it also comes with a bit less structure and more delicious traditional treat foods. This blog is here to offer some tips to help you enjoy the holidays, with a healthy twist and balance in mind. Our Healthy U 5-Step Festive Approach includes evidenced-based, highly effective and practical strategies that can be easily implemented in your holiday routine. Read on to learn more about these strategies - you might want to write down a couple of pointers that resonate most with you!
Healthy U 5-Step Festive Approach:
STEP ONE: Come up with a plan in advance.
Early intervention is key! Creating a plan in advance equips you with the tools you need to stay on track and maintain your health goals, despite our vulnerable holiday circumstances (e.g. indulgent meals, bountiful buffets, cookie swaps, holiday parties and treats all around!).
What type of plan are we thinking? Keep it simple by brainstorming your personal goals over the holidays, and strategies you will follow to help ensure they are achieved! Let’s break this down further by elaborating on the areas you can focus on (don’t forget to track them in a journal / chart to hold you accountable to your holiday game plan):
Write down your holiday eating schedule, that includes eating within 1-hour of waking, and then every 2-3 hours thereafter.
Build a grocery list that includes ingredients for healthy holiday recipes (e.g. cauliflower mash instead of mashed potato) and loads of vegetables, fruit and lean protein to nibble on throughout the day!
Create an activity plan that includes a balance of activity living movement (e.g. walking instead of driving, or using the stairs instead of the elevator) and structured exercise sessions (e.g. 30-minute cardio workout or 20-minute yoga session).
STEP TWO: Offer to bring a healthy dish to your family-style holiday meal, and swap standard recipes for healthier versions.
Delicious foods are a BIG component of the holiday seasons! Many holiday classics can be made using a healthy twist and still taste delicious! Vegetables, fruit and lean proteins are food groups that offer more satiety and menu satisfaction. Building recipes around these food groups can help build a more enjoyable plate that aligns with your health goals.
Need inspiration? Check out some of our classic recipes for the holidays:
STEP THREE: Enjoy a small snack within 1-hour BEFORE family-style holiday meal.
Avoid arriving on an empty stomach. Ensuring you are regularly fueled throughout the day helps to maintain energy levels and regulate your mood and food behaviors. Approaching an indulgent family-style meal with less hunger can facilitate your ability to stick to your healthy plan!
Need some simple easy snack ideas? We got you covered!
Before arriving to a holiday feast, why not munch on some of our favorite snack combinations:
3 mini cucumbers + 1 light Babybel cheese
1 cup snap peas + 2 tbsp light tzatziki dip
1 bell pepper, sliced + 2 tbsp hummus
1 cup carrot sticks + ½ cup roasted chickpeas/fava beans
1 cup celery sticks + 2 tbsp natural peanut butter
1 cup berries + ½ cup 0% Greek yogurt
1 apple + 2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
STEP FOUR: During your family-style holiday meal, try filling your plate up in a specific order that encourages healthy portions for all food types.
Let’s face it, it’s the holidays! Who doesn’t go back for seconds?
Knowing that you will most likely be eating more than one plate means you can plan to fill your plate strategically to ensure you eat a balanced plate with all the healthy nutrients you need!
First up, let’s talk about your main (and second main) plate.
First main plate:
The focus of your first main plate should be to bulk up on vegetables and lean proteins. This could be a combination of any roasted, raw, or cooked non-starchy vegetables and available proteins such as turkey, chicken, fish, beef, and legumes. Avoid starchy vegetables such as potatoes and corn for this round - don’t worry, we’ll come back to them shortly!
That was delicious, but now it’s time to go back for seconds.
Second main plate:
Now that you have filled up on plenty of vegetables and protein, the focus of your second main plate can be to try out starches or any other foods that catch your attention. I’m talking about plating some of those starchy vegetables we mentioned earlier (potatoes, sweet potatoes, and corn), stuffing, or perhaps those delicious looking noodles and pasta at the end of the table.
Remember to save your sweet tooth some room for dessert!
First dessert plate:
Now it's time to tackle that sweet tooth by diving into the fruit tray to fill up your first dessert plate! It's quite easy to get lost in all the holiday treats thus, setting up your first dessert plate with fresh fruit is a great way to satisfy our sweet-tooth cravings plus extra nutrients and fibre points. However, if you are still eyeing that gingerbread cake, do not worry, that's what the second plate is for.
Second dessert plate (optional)
After a yummy plate of fresh fruit, you may still have a little bit of room left to enjoy one last plate. Your second dessert plate can be used to enjoy a small portion of that gingerbread cake or even a healthy twist to a holiday classic dessert.
STEP FIVE: Don't forget to schedule an evening walk for 15-30 minutes after the delicious buffet / family-style meal.
The best way to end such a delicious meal is some fresh air, movement and perhaps more family-time! A short walk after eating will work to stabilize blood sugar and improve digestion after our holiday meals. Make it a family affair - we are more likely to be active when we are accountable to someone else, encouraged to participate by others, and help time pass with entertaining conversations between family members.
That summarizes our Healthy U 5-Step Festive Approach! Remember, it is all about progress, not perfection (80/20 rule), and give yourself a HUGE high-five for even giving your health goals a thought over the holidays. Tailor these 5-steps into a plan that works for YOU, and you will rock IT! Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy - with health goals in mind, of course!
Blog Collaborators: Elisa Porretta Dip HSc & BSc Candidate, Stephanie Boissonneault BSc Candidate and Chashma Mohammad Akram BSc Candidate
Mason F, Farley A, Pallan M, Sitch A, Easter C, DaleyA J et al. Effectiveness of a brief behavioural intervention to prevent weight gain over the Christmas holiday period: randomized controlled trial BMJ 2018; 363 :k4867 doi:10.1136/bmj.k4867