The holidays can be a joyful period full of rest, great food, and quality time with loved ones. We sit back, relax, and enjoy many of our favorite treats. This tradition is as old as time, but weeks of celebration and spending time with loved ones may get you off track of your health journey. After the holidays, you might not know where to start or how to get back on track. Should you start your diet as if from scratch? Go cold turkey on the carbs and sugar? Or simply carry on as if this week of eating never happened?
Read on as I share some of my top tips on how prepare for holiday celebration and how to regroup after holiday celebrations.
If you’re trying to stick to a certain nutritional plan and are worried you’ll stray off track over the holidays, here are some things to do during and after Christmas:
1. Forget the guilt and be kind to yourself.
A shocking 47% of Americans say that food guilt is more stressful than thinking about dramatic family dynamics and finding the right Christmas gifts for loved ones. (Crazy, right?!)
You can’t change the past but you can control what is ahead of you. Thinking about the guilt and having negative feelings about yourself will only lead to a relapse and potentially days of guilty binge eating. Instead of punishing yourself for enjoying some treats over Christmas, accept what you’ve eaten and drank, and use your energy to try again.
2. Get moving!
The holidays are a famously sedentary time, especially here in the US where many of us start to change our habits from late November, due to Thanksgiving. There’s no better time to start getting back to your normal routine than the first day of January, so wrap up and head out on your favorite walk. If it’s too cold out, blast your favorite music and dance around the house to get some movement in! Getting back into the habit of moving regularly will help with your blood sugar, aid in digestion, and help improve your mood.
3. Try to keep your stress levels down.
While the holidays should be a time for relaxation, the reality is, they aren’t always that relaxing. With the start of a new year it can be easy to throw yourself wholeheartedly into all your goals, forgetting to strive for balance. If your holidays were stressful, it's important to unwind and recover before jumping into new goals. Try mindfulness, make time for activities that make you feel peaceful, and make sure you eat healthy meals.If your holidays were relaxing, try to cultivate some of that sense of ease and peace as you move into a new year. Your mind and body will thank you!
This is particularly important during (and after) a time when we’re more likely to snack on overly-sugary and salty snacks like cakes, chips, nuts, and candy. While some indulgence over Christmas is inevitable, we can at least counteract this by making sure we’re getting enough fluids each day. Drinking enough water will help keep your bowels moving, help your organs to clear toxins, and battle dehydration caused by extra salt, sugar, and alcohol.
5. Revisit your goals in the new year.
Don’t be afraid of getting back into the swing of things and don’t feel as if your goals are out of reach because you overindulged. You can modify your goal, rather than feel as if you have failed. No one is perfect, so don’t expect the same of your health or weight journey.
Revisit your goals and remember your “why” – why did you start on this weight loss journey in the first place? Was it to look and feel better, to live longer and be a good role model for your kids, or something else? If your “why” no longer motivates you, find a new why.
It might also be encouraging to remember that weight loss and health are not linear processes and don’t simply come crashing back to square one if you have one week of higher-calorie meals. Your diet isn’t “ruined” if you don’t stick to it over the holidays, so when you’re ready to get back into your routine, just go back to your previous eating habits and you’ll be back on track. Remember – two steps back before taking a step forward is better than giving up entirely!
6. Try something new.
If you don’t feel like getting back to your exercise routine or normal weekly diet after the holidays, try switching it up. Trade your weekly gym sessions for walking or running at lunch time, or try something completely new like rock climbing. If you’re bored with your normal meals, try new recipes – there are literally thousands of ways to combine healthy foods, so don’t limit yourself and make healthy eating boring!
Getting back into a healthy routine after weeks or even months of change isn’t easy, but taking the first step is always the biggest. Try not to think about your weight loss journey as a whole at this stage, and just take it meal by meal, day by day. Get back into the routine of working out when you normally would, eating the healthy meals you would, but don’t be afraid to switch things up if it feels too boring. You don’t need to follow the same exercise routine or weekly meal plan to lose weight and stay healthy, so find what excites you and use it as motivation to get back into the swing of healthy living.
Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease.