Healthy holiday - family playing in snow
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During the end-of-the-year holidays, it’s easy to overstuff your gut and regret the results later. All that glorious comfort food begs to be eaten. What can you do to have a healthy holiday season this year?

You can still have your comfort food, but you also have to remember your health. It’s tempting to forget exercise routines, deny yourself sleep, and skip healthy food choices during the holidays.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to invest in and maintain healthy routines during this holiday season so full of temptations. Here are 10 of them.

10 Smart Ways to Enjoy a Healthy Holiday Season

1. Eat healthily, otherwise

The holidays are the worst time to start a diet because the overabundance of rich food will tempt you to binge eat. There will be endless banquets and potlucks in the near future to more than satiate you.

Related content: How to Make Healthy Eating Easy

Leading up to a holiday, make healthy food choices with a balanced diet. The key is balancing out your plate with protein and colorful sides, like leafy greens and carrots. Eat the rainbow. You’ll feel less guilty about treating yourself on the days full of holiday parties.

2. Compromise on holiday food choices

When the holidays come around, go halfsies. I am not saying you have to deny yourself favorite treats—just be realistic and practice smart portion control.

Whether it’s Auntie Rose’s pumpkin pie or Uncle Fred’s fried turkey, pick your guilty pleasure and serve yourself up a reasonable amount. Balance the rest of your plate with healthy choices. Skip the brown sugar on the sweet potatoes. Put more greens on your plate.

If you are attending a potluck, the one to bring the healthier option, do it. How about a fruit tray or hummus dip with cucumbers substituted for chips? Healthy appetizers are the best foods to fill up on before taking on mashed potatoes and gravy.

Related Content: 5 Heart Healthy Ways to Not End Up in the ER on Thanksgiving

3. Hydrate, and hydrate some more

Before you ingest food, drink one to two 8-ounce glasses of water and wait 15 minutes. Are you still hungry after drinking water? There is some evidence that drinking 2 cups of water before meals is associated with weight loss  Some say cold water also helps suppress appetite, although the magnitude of the effect has been shown to be quite small.

4. Take it easy on the alcohol

Some family gatherings encourage you to imbibe, either from all the drama or from the fact that your family members love their holiday toasts.

However, too much alcohol will encourage you to eat more due to its disinhibitory effects. It leads to an abandonment of restraint and a reduction in your ability to avoid temptation.

Remember, it is certainly OK to opt for water. Another approach is to pour yourself less wine or dilute it with ice cubes. 

When drinking, don’t mix your alcohols, and it’s reasonable to limit yourself to one or two drinks. Just make sure you drink a glass of water for every glass of alcohol you have. You don’t want to get pulled over by the police after the party. 

5. Get moving

Add movement to your day. Any kind of movement is an improvement.

Go for a walk after dinner. Do a few stretches before your morning coffee. Shake it all about—do the hokey pokey!

Related content: Rethinking Exercise to Counter the Epidemic of Physical Inactivity

Take dance lessons once a week. After all, dance has been shown to improve memory. It iss one of the most accessible ways to exercise and make new friends.

6. Yoga for stress

Yoga is a safe and effective way to reduce the effects of stress that have built up in your body (tight back neck and back muscles, clenched jaws, tension headaches).

Yoga has been shown to calm stress response systems, effectively lowering blood pressure, easing respiration, and improving heart rate as well as improving pain tolerance in patients with fibromyalgia.

Integrating yoga into your daily routine will help you cope with stress and become more present and mindful of the small things in life that bring great joy. You can think of your yoga practice as living medicine.

7. Quality shut-eye

The holidays are full of hustle and bustle as you try to complete your shopping list and arrive on time for family meals. It’s easy to sacrifice sleep for stuff on your to-do list.

However, sleep deprivation impacts your mood and enjoyment of the holiday season. Prolonged lack of sleep also affects your physical health, since you aren’t giving your body time to heal itself.

Get your seven to eight hours in, even if you have to break your sleep into two slots of four hours. Introducing a bedtime routine, such as reading or turning down the lights, helps cue your body into sleep mode.

8. Practice small acts of self-care

Who has time for themselves this holiday season? You do. You have to make time for yourself, or you’ll get stressed out trying to please everyone else.

Practice small acts of self-care and kindness. Take a long bath. Close your eyes for an extra 10 minutes of sleep. Stop for yoga class on the way home. Or take a long walk in the park. Write down your worries and what you are thankful for.

9. Be thankful

Stop and smell the roses. Appreciate what you have going for yourself. You may not be able to afford a grand feast this year or you may feel you haven’t accomplished everything that you.

Instead of obsessing about what you don’t have or haven’t done, look at your situation in a new light. Your home is filled with love. You have amazing eyes. You worked your butt off and finally got the promotion you deserve. Go you!

10. Pay it forward

The point of the holiday season is love and goodwill unto others. One of the best ways to feel interconnected is to give back. Pay love forward with small acts of kindness.

Donate food to the food pantry, even if it’s a few cans from the dollar store. Hug a friend. Pay for a stranger’s food.

It’s incredibly easy to get stressed out and sacrifice your health during the holidays. It is also easy to give in to temptation and forget healthy routines you’ve established.

Instead, try to be kind to yourself, compromise on food choices, move your body a little at a time and be thankful for what you have. When you have the chance, give back.

More by this author: 10 Tips for Sticking With Your New Year’s Resolutions All Year

May you have a happy and healthy holiday season!

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First published on 12/15/17, this article has been reviewed and updated, including adding new references for republication on 12/24,19.

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