When it comes to health, fitness and the holidays, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by making the “right” choice for your goals and for your life. With Thanksgiving right around the corner and Christmas not far after, I know many are feeling the pressure to enjoy the holidays without slacking on their fitness goals or setting themselves back. I am not one to avoid the holidays simply because I am afraid that I will end up overindulging in tasty treats and that I will squander away weeks, maybe even months of hard work in the gym and on my nutrition. For these reasons, (and because I want you to feel the same way!) I think it is very important to have a game plan for the holidays.
Here are some ways to prepare for the holidays without absolutely completely neglecting your health:
- Remember that holidays are about more than the food. Thanksgiving and Christmas are times to be thankful for all of the wonderful blessings in your life and spend quality time with family members that you may not see very often. Remember that this is the number one priority at the holidays: to enjoy your family and make memories together. Tasty food is just a bonus.
- Food is not the enemy! Holiday foods have a reputation for being incredibly heavy and decadent, and often this is true. But food can be more than just physical nourishment, and it’s important to give special traditional family foods their due. “Health” refers to more than just your physical being, and although candied yams may not be the best thing for your waistline, when they’re made once a year by your Nana, it’s almost a sin NOT to enjoy a little. If you are mindful of the amounts of things you are consuming, you will probably be able to have a little sample of everything without setting yourself back.
- Keep up your workout schedule. Although holiday schedules can be tricky, one of the best tips I can give you for not letting your goals slip during the holidays, it to keep up your regular gym schedule. Even if you have to get up a little earlier or cut back on your Netflix time, get it in! This will ensure that you are not that person who “needs to get back to the gym” come January 2nd. It’s a lot easier to keep working out, than it is to start working out again.
- Limit holidays meals to one day per holiday. It’s so easy to let Thanksgiving, Christmas and even New Years turn into a month long holiday food bender. I’m not suggesting that you eat like a bird every day except the holidays, but be mindful of how often you are indulging outside of the holidays. Testing recipes for Thanksgiving, Christmas parties, Christmas cookies and New Years Day brunch—they all add up to quite a bit. By sticking to one robust meal on the actual holiday itself and being more discriminate on the other days about what you consume and what you avoid, it is unlikely you will set yourself back. If one meal turns into one month though, that’s a different story entirely.
- Skip the booze. While it’s ok to have a drink every once in a while, how many times have you heard about a family holiday event being saved by alcohol? Not likely. Health and fitness aside, remember tip #1: the goal is to enjoy your family, and often alcohol only ruins this opportunity.
- Bring a dish. If you are vegan (which you probably are if you’re reading this!), your family, hopefully, will be omitting butter from lots of veggie dishes and maybe even got you a Tofurky, which is very thoughtful. But we all know that, frankly, there won’t be much to choose from if you’re not having an all vegan Thanksgiving and Christmas. If you’re feeling anxious about this particular situation, bring your own healthy(er) vegan dish so that you know you’ll have something filling and satisfying to eat. Make sure it’s really tasty though so that others can try it as well and see how delicious vegan food can be. I suggest Apple Cranberry Walnut ‘Sausage’ Stuffing. (recipe below)
- Plate Anatomy. Ok, down to the nitty-gritty. What should your meal strategy be? Fist thing should be to stick to one plate of food and a dessert. It’s basically common practice at Thanksgiving & Christmas to go back for seconds and even thirds of your meal. Sticking to one plate, even if it’s a big one, is a better strategy than going back to the table over and over. As always, I recommend loading up on the veggie dishes first (roasted vegetables, squash, sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts, etc.). This is always the best place to start. Make about ¼ of your plate starchier foods (stuffing, mashed potatoes, rice pilaf, etc.) and the remaining quarter of your plate your “protein” food. In our vegan household this year, we will be having two different kinds of Field Roast Holiday Roasts!
After your meal, try to wait a few hours before having dessert so that your food has time to digest and you can better determine how full you are. After that , just settle on one serving of a dessert, or two half servings of different desserts. These are just basic guidelines, and of course, you’ll have to play it by ear.
- Put your meals to good use in the gym! Holidays can be setbacks to our physique goals, but they absolutely do not need to impede strength goals at all. Food is your friend, not your enemy, especially when it comes to workouts. Even if you ate a little more than you intended to, you can then use that food to really power your workouts and try to set some new PRs. Keep your intensity up in the gym and your body will thank you for the extra calories.
- Count your macros! Flexible Dieting for the win! While I don’t actually recommend weighing and measuring your Thanksgiving and Christmas food, I do think that closely monitoring your food intake via flexible dieting can allow you to allow the occasional treat around the holidays without any guilt because by keeping track of your food intake, you are able to make sure you’re still getting your allotted carbs, protein and fats. During most of the year, I recommend that people reach their macros by consuming mostly nutrient dense foods (fruits, veggies, beans, nuts and seeds). During the holidays however, give yourself some more leeway if you’re feeling drawn to the treats table at a holiday party. Log your food in My Fitness Pal by using estimations of what you’ve consumed. Savor it, and be on your way.
- Let go of Perfect. Many people, myself included, aim for perfection their pursuit of health and fitness by always nailing their nutrition and never missing a workout. During times of heavy stress, crazy schedules, and junky foods, however, you need to let go of this idea of being perfect, or you will end up driving yourself crazy because it is basically impossible. Holidays are to be enjoyed and relished. There will inevitably be stress, but worrying about every morsel that you eat shouldn’t be among them. Be mindful, savor every bite, stay active, and happy holidays.
Apple Cranberry Walnut ‘Sausage’ Stuffing
- 4 Field Roast Apple Sage Sausages
- 2 Tbl Earth Balance
- 2 c. diced onion
- 2 Granny Smith Apples, cored and chopped
- 1 c. chopped celery
- 1 Tbl Poultry seasoning
- ¾ c. dried cranberries, rehydrated in hot water for 15 minutes
- ½ c. chopped walnuts, toasted
- 1 Tbl chopped fresh sage
- 6 cups stale bread cubes
- 1/3 c. chopped fresh parsley
- 2-3 c. vegetable stock
- 1 Tbl salt
- 2 tsp ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 375*F
Crumble the Field Roast sausages coarsely and sautee on medium-high heat until cooked through and a very slight crust starts to form. Put the sausage crumbles in a large bowl.
Melt the Earth Balance in the same skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, apples, celery, and poultry seasoning and sauté until the onions are soft, about 8 minutes.
Mix in the drained cranberries, walnuts, sage and rosemary. Add the mixture to the sausage in the bowl, then mix in the stale bread cubed and parsley.
Next, add the vegetable stock a little bit at a time until the stuffing is very moist. Be sure not to overdo it; it shouldn’t be mushy. Season with salt and pepper. Place in a 9×13 inch casserole dish (*The stuffing can be made up to this point 2 days in advance. Keep refrigerated.)
Bake, uncovered, in the oven for 20-30 minutes (30-40 minutes if coming from the refrigerator) until the top is crispy and the center is piping hot. Serve immediately.