The holidays used to be non-stop food action for me. Thanksgiving dinner wasn't just a meal--it was a weeklong event of parties and leftovers galore. Christmas? Try a three-week sugar bender on everything imaginable. "Inflamed" could have been my middle name.
When I started my very last weight loss journey in 2009, it was right before the holiday season. First, it was those $15 bags of Halloween candy scattered all over my workplace, next it was Pumpkin Spice EVERYTHING and a luscious Thanksgiving dinner, and then... those three torturous weeks of Christmas baked goods offered around every corner.
I had plenty of excuses not to follow-through on my weight loss journey during the holiday season, but I stuck with it (without feeling deprived). For me, I had the brilliant realization that living healthfully didn't mean hitting the pause button for one-fourth of the year.
Even though numerous studies in Western cultures have documented weight gains among adults between mid-November and mid-January, with already overweight and obese folks gaining more weight than those who are healthy weight--it doesn't have to always be that way.
Here are six ways I lost weight during the holidays (and have maintained my 125-pound weight loss every holiday since):
1. I was picky about the treats I chose to indulge in. I've eaten my way through many holiday seasons. There's not one traditional dish I haven't devoured. Because I felt like I had already experienced all there was to offer in the way of seasonal favorites, I committed to saving my indulgences for foods I never had before (both healthy and unhealthy). That decision made it so much easier to say, "No, thanks" to the boring homemade chocolate chip cookies without needing a double-scoop of heroic willpower.
2.The bulk of my eating stayed consistent. Just because everyone else seemed to have peppermint mochas for breakfast every day and pecan pie for second lunch didn't mean I had to. By keeping my meals nutritious and portion controlled about eighty percent of the time, I could enjoy biting the heads off of gingerbread men once in awhile while sipping on eggnog (spiked, of course).
3. I gave up baking. Most of my baking supplies and kitchen tools found new homes. After years of baking carbolicious goodies for co-workers and friends (and myself), it had to come to a grand finale. There are just too many bakers in the world already. I didn't need to be one of them. Getting healthier and losing weight meant more to me than showing folks I loved them with refined sugar and wheat products I cooked up.
4. Family holiday meals were small and treasured. It's not always a requirement that our favorite seasonal comfort food recipes be drastically modified to make them healthier (and unrecognizable). Sometimes, we just need to eat a bit less. Not every holiday meal needs to be a fifteen-course feast. Just as I was picky with the treats I indulged in, I was also content with fewer food options at family dinner gatherings. Like many things in life, less really is more. With fewer options on my plate, I was able to engage all of my senses in actually enjoying my food. As I recall, that was the year I started making those annoying moaning sounds of satisfaction as I ate.
5. I exercised every morning in some way. Despite popular belief, I didn't bust my butt doing high-intensity cardio every day. In fact, I couldn't even run. It was during the holiday season of 2009 that I first experienced crippling shin splints from trying to become a runner after being physically inactive my entire life. Some days, every step I took, I winced in pain. When I went to the gym, my focus was redirected to cycling on a recumbent bike and weight lifting. Not every workout felt amazing, but consistently showing up made the difference. Morning workouts also increased my energy during the day, so I didn't feel like giving into sugar for a quick fix in the afternoons.
6. I found other ways to enjoy the holidays without fixating on food. I've experienced my fair share of stress and social awkwardness during the holidays, but I didn't give in to emotional eating to comfort those feelings as much as I used to. Anytime a negative feeling came up, I tried to find a way to comfort myself with a seasonal treat not coated with red and green frosting. My new soul foods came in the form of Christmas music, nostalgic holiday movies, sending greeting cards to friends and family, appreciating every lit up Christmas house, going to holiday events, connecting with others who had healthy relationships with food, and donating toys and my time to needy kids. To this day, I comfort myself just thinking about Christmas.
In what ways do you stay healthy and happy during the holiday season?