Holidays and their accompanying celebrations are a wonderful thing. They usually involve spending lots of time with family and friends and eating lots of delicious food; this holds true across almost all cultures. Whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving, Kwanzaa, Passover, or Diwali, chances are there are several traditional dishes included in the festivities.
Food has a way of bringing people together and strengthening bonds, so it’s no surprise that food is one of the traditions that’s persisted across time and cultures. It can be no fun to miss out on such an important part of the celebration, but unfortunately many of the ways we celebrate don’t exactly have healthfulness in mind. In addition to rich, heavy foods, celebrations may include sitting around and talking to family members (or watching TV if your family is more into that!) or attending religious services—none of which does much to get you moving and get your blood flowing, which not only offsets the richness of the food but also helps your body digest all that food.
So what can you do if you don’t want to choose between traditional celebrations and your health? First of all, remember that it’s just one day (or week, or meal, or…). A holiday is a special time, and there’s no need to beat yourself up if you indulge in some choices that aren’t the best for your health. Instead, think more holistically—consider the big picture. Maybe you ate two pieces of dessert because it’s a special dish your grandma only makes once a year…you can still make other choices that align with your healthy intentions—and kick that guilty feeling to the curb!
1. Stay hydrated.
If you want to indulge in some rich foods, consider skipping the alcoholic or sugar-laden drinks and stick to water to help your body stay hydrated and keep things moving along digestively speaking. If you want to feel more celebratory, try sparkling water with fruit added.
2. Move it, move it.
Make a point of doing some kind of physical activity during the day. Whether you have to get up early to participate in a holiday 5K, make plans with an old friend to walk around the lake and catch up, take the family dog for a walk, or join your sister-in-law at her yoga class, do something to get your body moving. If all else fails, do some body weight exercises and yoga poses at home—invite family members to join you!
3. Bring your own food.
If there’s a dish that feels necessary for you to celebrate the holiday and a current dietary restriction prevents you from eating it, seek out a recipe for your diet and bring it for yourself and others to enjoy. It might not be 100% identical, but it might make you feel a little better without compromising your body’s needs.
4. Clean up.
If you’re hosting, chances are you’ll be doing plenty of this both before and after the meal. But if you’re joining a meal at someone else’s house, help clean up. Clearing tables, moving around extra chairs, and washing dishes will get your blood flowing.
If there are children at your celebration, join them for some playtime fun. Kids tend to be more active in their “relaxing” time, whether it’s playing chase, playing hide-and-seek, or throwing a ball. Participate with them to burn off some energy and get your heart rate going—not to mention it’s a chance to bond with the youth.
6. Chew gum, enjoy a mint, or sip tea.
If you want to avoid mindlessly munching while you cook, chat, or hang out in the kitchen, chew on some gum, enjoy a mint, or sip on some herbal tea to keep your taste buds activated and happy without extra calories.
7. Stick to small portions.
You can often satisfy a craving with a lot less than what we think of as a “serving.” Try splitting a dessert with a friend or saving half for tomorrow, and focus on diversity on your plate instead of huge helpings of your favorites.
8. Make your mind your ally.
If you do indulge in something, don’t feel guilty. Enjoy the splurge, and move forward with love for yourself and gratitude for the ability to make your own food choices.
Another way you can turn your mind into a helper is by reframing your perspective on movement. If you’re running around cooking or cleaning or decorating, spend a moment thinking about how that physical activity gets your heart pumping and combats any holiday food you consume. One Harvard study showed that when participants were told they did enough in their daily activities to meet recommendations, they lost weight without changing anything else. The mind is a powerful tool!