December 09, 2020


at a glance

The holiday season is right around the corner and with it comes all of the treats from the season. For many of us, the holidays are one of the toughest times of year to keep your athletic performance and nutrition on track.

Here are some top tips for living it up during the holiday season without messing it all up and losing your progress from the year. 

Take a Few deep breaths before each meal

While it might sound too simple to work, taking a few deep breaths prior to starting a meal is one of the most effective non-food changes you can make to help ensure your meal is benefiting you.

In our culture, we tend to run on non-stop adrenaline and stress, and the holidays only make things more intense. When we live in this state, our central nervous system is functioning in a sympathetic state, also known as “fight or flight.” In the sympathetic state, our digestive system function differently, causing less saliva and stomach acid to be produced, slower motility, less bile production, and all of this means that our food is unable to be broken down and digested properly, which often means we don’t feel good as a result of our meals.

By taking a few calming breaths before a meal, we can bring our nervous system into a parasympathetic state, also known as our “rest and digest” state, in order to more effectively break down and absorb the nutrients from our food. This will mean less bloating and discomfort, and that you’re actually getting the vitamins and nutrients from the food.

eat only when you're hungry and slow down (enjoy!) your meal

Hunger cues are initiated by hormones sent between the brain and the stomach, and our satiety cues are signaled in the same way. When we slow down during a meal, we are better equipped to interpret these hormonal signals before it’s too late.

We’ve all been there. You’re starving and practically inhaling your food, but before you know it you’re uncomfortably full. Research shows that slowing down your meal actually means you’ll eat less calories overall due to these satiety cues reaching you at the appropriate time. 

Avoid complete restriction

If we told you that you couldn’t have any pumpkin pie this year, what’s the first thing you think about? That’s right, it’s pumpkin pie. Our brains are hard-wired this way, and it’s exactly why food restrictions often fail and cause use to crave those forbidden foods even more.

Instead of restricting yourself from foods, aim to have a little bit of the food you’re craving without setting a restriction on it. This might look like having a small piece of pie or a holiday cookie without overindulging on them. When we know we can have a food any time we’d like, we’re less likely to go overboard on that food item.

decide the person you want to be and prove it with small wins 

You’ve got goals and it’s time to really own them. Sometimes these goals mean making some hard choices, especially around the holidays, and sometimes it means cutting yourself some slack and enjoying the festivities. This is going to be very personal to you, but ultimately deciding who you want to be in order to achieve your goals will be the game changer in deciding what your holiday protocol should look like.

Remember to prove this to yourself with small wins, even if it means you aren’t doing anything perfectly. This might look like having a sugar-less alcoholic beverage or it might look like skipping alcohol altogether. There is no one way to reach your goals, but be authentic to yourself during the process.

create a strategy plan 

There are going to be obstacles along the way, and the easiest way to ensure failure over the holidays is to fail to have a plan in place when they arise. 

First, consider what your three biggest obstacles during the holidays are. Then take each obstacle individually and come up with a plan for when it inevitably happens using the “When X happens, I will do Y” structure.

Here are some examples:

  • When I want some chips, I will put them in a bowl to portion my intake instead of eating them straight from the bag.
  • When I’m craving a holiday cookie, I will grab a piece of fresh fruit instead.
  • When I’m stressed around my family, I’ll have seltzer water between each glass of wine.
  • When I want to have dessert, I’ll skip the potatoes at dinner.
These might look like swaps, but they may also be changes or additions to your routine. When we anticipate our failures, we can plan ahead and know exactly what to do in the moment.

make meals better, not perfect

Aiming to go through the holiday season with perfectly portioned meals, no treats, no alcohol, and no fun will probably lead to a lot of stress in an already stressful time of year. We’re looking at you, perfectionists.

Rather than aiming for perfection, make meals better. We’re looking to tip the needle in the right direction on the spectrum of overall health, and this often means that things don’t need to be immaculate.

Here are some ideas to get you started on how to do this: 

  • Swap wheat flour for a gluten-free flour such as almond or coconut flour for holiday baking.
  • Make sure each meal has a protein, fiber source, and healthy fat included.
  • Replace white potatoes with sweet potatoes for a lower glycemic index.
  • Remove unnecessary sugar from recipes.
  • Cook with healthy fat like olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil rather than vegetable and canola oils. 
When put in place based on your specific goals and intentions for this holiday season, you’ll step into the new year feeling your best without guilt or a few extra pounds, while still being able to enjoy the season with family and friends. 

Healthy recipes

Deidre Bloomquist 

Functional Nutritionist based in Denver, Colorado. Certified L3 CrossFit Trainer who loves working with athletes on performance and health goals.  

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