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Staying Mindful and Merry at the Holidays

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

Stressed about staying healthy during the holiday season? While we love all things merry and bright, the holidays can be a source of stress for many. With tempting treats, busy schedules, and less movement than usual, you may be wondering how to stay on track with your goals and stick to a healthy eating and exercise routine.

But here’s the thing — you don’t have to choose between having a healthy holiday or having a happy holiday. Yes, it’s completely possible to enjoy yourself while staying on track with your goals. So, when it comes to indulging and staying healthy, how do you mix the two? Can you truly “have your cake and eat it, too” when the holiday season is upon us?

Short answer, yes. Yes, you absolutely can!

As a certified Health and Nutrition Coach, the basis of my practice — and my training — is to help individuals tune into their bodies, their needs, and their habits more mindfully and intentionally.

The goal is not deprivation nor elimination of food groups, but rather how to mindfully incorporate foods you love (and connect to culturally, emotionally, and mentally) into a healthy, diverse, well-rounded diet and lifestyle.

And what better way to connect culturally to food than to experience the nostalgic, heartwarming joy of your favorite holiday treats? Across cultures and centuries, food has been a means of connection; to one another, to memories, to different places around the world.

This time of year, this could come in the form of digging into your beloved grandmother’s candied yams at Thanksgiving, annually making tamales with your family around the holidays, recreating a regional Christmas cookie recipe to honor old traditions and lineage, ordering matzah ball soup from your favorite deli, or simply sipping a cup of cocoa while listening to your favorite holiday tunes.

Some of you might already be there, enjoying food, not giving it a second thought, and moving right along into January, on track with your goals. And some of you might not be there. It’s important to honor the valid concerns and fears some have surrounding food and holiday indulgences— particularly if those things interfere with goals you’ve set and have been working toward. It’s okay to recognize your fear! Simultaneously, I want to assure you that it’s going to be just fine — there are so many ways that you can celebrate the holiday season without deprivation, all while honoring your unique wellness journey.

Ahead, ways to “stay healthy” during the holidays: mind, body, and soul!

#1 Nothing Off Limits, But Everything In Moderation

If you need a healthy holiday motto, let it be this: nothing off limits, but everything in moderation!

Instead of looking at it in an all-or-nothing mindset, think of limiting those more indulgent foods that have less nutritional value and amplifying healthier choices. This brings the “everything in moderation” trope front and center.

And aside from being unhealthy, depriving yourself isn’t sustainable long-term. In fact, even if you lose weight initially, you’re more likely to gain it back and develop unhealthy eating habits. The better solution? Focus on adding good foods in!

Try to focus on balancing your plate. Consider what percent of your daily intake is allocated to sweets, rich foods, alcohol, and holiday decadence. Then consider what percentage is filled with nutrient-rich foods. Does it need adjusting? Are you getting enough nutrients in other areas? This leads me to the next important bit…

#2 Crowd Out Your Plate

Instead of focusing on what you can’t have, think about all the things you can have! Crowd out your plate by filling your meal with a variety of nutrient-rich foods. Things like colorful salads, seasonal veggies, heart-healthy healthy fats, lean proteins. Head into the holiday with an “abundance mindset” and make these healthy and wholesome options the bulk of your plate. By filling up on good-for-you nutrients, you’ll feel more satisfied and satiated, and be less likely to binge on not-so-healthy options.

#3 Tune Into Your Body

By tuning into your body and developing a more mindful approach to eating, you’ll be less likely to overindulge and more likely to enjoy your holiday and food! Whether your plate is filled with nutritious choices or your favorite holiday indulgences, be sure to slow down and enjoy what’s on your plate. This includes limiting distractions (like TVs and screens), actually sitting down to enjoy your meal, and tuning into your body and hunger cues.

Another great tool? Keeping a food journal. It’s a great way to reflect not just on what you consumed but how you felt physically and emotionally when you had that food — this can be really telling!

#4 Be Mindful, Grateful, and Slow

Speaking of mindful eating, this is another important tip: slow down, think about what you’re eating, and practice gratitude while you eat. We’re all a bit more focused on what we’re thankful for at the tail end of the year, so apply this to your meals and treats, too.

Slowing down your eating while you reflect serves a few purposes. There’s the aforementioned mindful eating benefit, and on top of that, slowing down your ingestion of food has also been shown to help support weight loss efforts.

#5 Eat to 80 Percent Fullness

Another method for how to stay healthy during the holidays? Try to eat until you’re 80% full. This may take some attunement while you adjust to your bodily cues and see what that really feels like (again, tuning in to your body and practicing mindfulness), but when you get to that point, it’ll give your body and brain a chance to catch up. This just-satiated state will help prevent overeating, and it’s a great tool to use on big holiday meal days like Thanksgiving.

#6 Focus on Your Mental and Emotional Health

Sometimes we turn to certain foods (and libations) as a means of comfort when we’re stressed or lonely, and this can happen a lot in the wintertime, particularly during the holiday season.

Some of the previous steps will help you tune into when that might be happening (and react accordingly), but if you want to be proactive, it’s crucial to have some good mental health support during this time of year.

If you do notice your cravings kick in during more emotional moments (like inevitable family stressors), come up with a toolkit of your de-stressing activities that you can use more preventatively. Yoga, meditation, long walks, more sleep and therapy or counseling are all proven ways to mitigate stress; incorporating movement, mindfulness, and other healthy habits into your routine — holidays and beyond — will help in so many ways.

#7 Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

Rule of thumb: drink more water. Many of us aren’t drinking enough water, and dehydration can be mistaken for hunger! Hydration helps you feel more full (which can prevent overeating), helps you digest more effectively, and can even help with sleep and mood. A list for staying healthy during the holiday season wouldn’t be complete without this essential step!

And if you’re indulging in a drink or two, remember — alcohol further dehydrates you (it’s a diuretic). So, either up your hydration game if you’re enjoying healthier holiday cocktails or consider sipping on holiday mocktails!

#8 Get More Sleep

Rounding out that whole picture of health, you’ve got to get some more shut-eye. Seventy million Americans are chronically sleep-deprived, so make an effort to get in a good bedtime habit. If weight is truly a concern for you at this time of year, this is even more important; insufficient sleep can undermine your weight loss efforts (the inverse is true, too — good sleep, more weight loss).

How to Stay Healthy During the Holidays?

Keep it in context!

At the end of the day, remember that this season is quick, and it’s temporary — just like any change to your routine. Weight gain isn’t everyone’s concern, but if it *is* something on your mind, remember this: holiday weight gain, on average, has been shown to be less than a pound.

I hope this helps you find ways to indulge mindfully and joyfully this year. With good rest and hydration, healthy eating habits, and a heart full of gratitude, this may just be a richer, brighter holiday season for you… and you’ll roll right into the new year with great habits in place and a smile on your face.

Cheers to you, and be Intentionally Well (and Merry)!


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