Let’s be real—the holidays can be a tough time for anyone trying to maintain a healthy weight or eating plan. There are tempting treats and holiday feasts at every turn, and it can be difficult to stick to your goals when everyone else around you is indulging.

Are you really expected to make it through the entire season without a plate full of mashed potatoes covered in gravy or a decadent slice of your favorite pie? No Pumpkin Spice Lattes or Peppermint Mochas this year? Really? Where’s the fun in that?

And while it might seem impossible to think that you could have enough willpower to say no to all your favorite holiday indulgences throughout this most wonderful time of the year, but the reality is that with a little planning and forethought, you can make it through the holidays without blowing your healthy eating plan and starting the New Year off on the wrong foot.

The reality is that on average, most women gain between one and five pounds during the holidays, which at first glance, might not seem like a lot. It might even seem worth it, for the chance to eat all your favorites with abandon.

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I promise that it’s not, and here’s why.

If you’ve been actively working to get healthy and have successfully lost any amount of weight this past year, then you are not just running the risk of gaining one or two pounds, you are running the risk of gaining it all back and then some. Essentially, you’ll be starting over, or possibly going backward.

And while that will definitely be a huge bummer from a fitting-into-your-skinny-jeans perspective, that kind of a setback will also wreak havoc in other ways.

If you’ve been feeling better than ever since changing the way you eat—more energetic, less bloated, fewer cravings, better sleep—then going off the rails during the holidays will likely have you feeling not-so-hot in more ways than one. You might find yourself struggling with fatigue, brain fog and sugar cravings, just to name a few.

But worse than that, your MINDSET will likely take a huge hit too. After all, you finally found something that worked for you and helped you to reach your health and weight loss goals, only to screw it all up during the holidays. And that’s not good.

But I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be this way this year. Just because the holidays have traditionally been a time of overindulgence and poor eating choices for most people, doesn’t mean that it has to be that way for you. At least not this year.

So let’s talk through some specific strategies for how to make it through the holidays without sabotaging your healthy eating plan.

Be Intentional and Set Clear Goals

It might sound a little strange if you’ve never done it before, but I firmly believe that the first and most important step in keeping yourself on track during the holidays is to be intentional about your goals and intentions for this busy time of year.

And this is actually something I’ve done and recommended for a really long time.  If you know me from any of my other brands, you might know that at Living Well Spending Less we have put together a free Holiday Planner for the past 15 years that we always give away this time of year, and it’s so good and so helpful, but my favorite part is the first page, where you set your intentions for the season.

So what does that mean, exactly, to set your intentions for the season?

Well, it means that before the hustle and bustle even begins, it’s a really good idea to sit down and really think about what you want these next couple of months to look like for you and your family. What kind of holiday experience do you want to have?

Do you want it to be a low-key year, with less stress and more focus on quality time together? Or are you wanting to go all out, decking the halls and throwing big parties? Maybe some combination of the two?

And when it comes to food, what are your goals and intentions?

Are you wanting to maintain your current weight? Or are you hoping to actually lose a few pounds before the New Year?

Whatever your goals may be, it’s important that you take the time to really think about them and get clear on what they are before things start getting crazy. This will help you to stay focused and make better choices when it comes to food and drink during the holiday season.

Plan Ahead

There’s a famous proverb that says “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of regret,” and that was never so true as when it comes to holiday eating.

That’s why I believe one of the very best ways to avoid temptation during the holidays is to have a plan for what you will eat in any and every social situation that would normally derail you.

That means that before you go to your office holiday party, or your family’s big Thanksgiving feast, or any other holiday event that you know will be a minefield of temptation, take some time to think through what you will eat and drink. If possible, take a look at the menu and decide what you’re going to eat ahead of time.

Then formulate your plan. Will you eat before you go so that you’re not ravenous when you arrive? Will you bring a dish or dishes to share that are healthy and compliant with your eating plan? What will you say when someone offers you a piece of pie or a heaping plate of mashed potatoes? How will you navigate the peer pressure of friends wanting you to have just one (or seven) more sugar-laden cocktails?

Believe it or not, answering these questions and preparing for potential pitfalls ahead of time will make it much easier for you to stick to your plan in the heat of the moment when your defenses might be weaker.

Adjust Your Expectations on Special Days

My third strategy is to actually plan for some “cheat” days.  And by that, I don’t actually mean go totally off the rails, but instead to plan to be a little more relaxed and to adjust your expectations on those special days throughout the holiday season.

Basically, it’s okay to plan to go off track for a day.

That means that if you’re normally eating 30 grams of carbs per day but you’re facing a day of eating like Thanksgiving or Christmas or a holiday social event centered around food and drink, then perhaps aim for 100 or 150 grams of carbs those days, knowing that a few days of higher carbs scattered over a two-month season aren’t going to totally derail your progress.

This gives you the opportunity to enjoy a few more indulgences than you maybe normally would, whether that be a slice of your favorite pie, a scoop of mashed potatoes, or a few extra glasses of wine without feeling like you’re totally blowing your diet or sabotaging the progress that you’ve made.

Because the reality is that ONE DAY of holiday eating is not going to be the end of the world.  The problem is when that ONE DAY turns into a whole WEEK or a whole MONTH of eating everything in sight.

Being intentional about adjusting your expectations on special days will also preserve your mindset and help you maintain your confidence and trust in yourself. You’re not “losing control,” you’re finding a healthy, sustainable compromise. And that in and of itself is something to celebrate!

So that’s my third recommendation–actually plan a few “cheat” days a few times throughout the season for those really special events.

Get Creative in the Kitchen

Here’s the deal: If you really, truly want to stay on track during the holidays but don’t want to miss out on all of your favorite holiday foods, then I can’t say it strongly enough that the very BEST way to do this is to just get in the kitchen and learn how to make them yourself!

Honestly, there are very few dishes out there that can’t be made a whole lot healthier with a few strategic ingredient swaps, and our recipe database is packed FULL of them. We’ve got DELICIOUS recipes for everything from Sausage Stuffing, Mashed Cauliflower with Gravy, and Creamed Brussel Sprouts to Rich & Creamy Pumpkin Bars, Buttery Short Bread Cookies and Homemade Peppermint Bark.

Whether it’s Thanksgiving dinner, hosting a holiday gathering, or throwing a New Year’s brunch, we’ve totally got you covered with deliciously indulgent recipes that taste so good no one will even know they’re “healthy.”

And that’s exactly the way it should be.

The reality is that with a little creativity, the right ingredients, and a willingness to roll up your sleeves, throw on an apron and step into the kitchen, there’s very little you can’t enjoy over the holiday season. Maybe someday healthy eating will become so ubiquitous that everyone’s eating this way, but for now, just take comfort in knowing that you’re ahead of the curve.

Don’t Drink Your Carbs (or Calories)

Because honestly, it’s SO easy to mindlessly consume hundreds of extra calories—not to mention completely blow your carb count—when you’re drinking, especially if you’re imbibing in sweetened mixed drinks or holiday cocktails.

If possible, stick to calorie-free beverages like seltzer water with a splash of cranberry juice, unsweetened iced tea, or diet soda. Not only will this help you save calories, but it can also help prevent you from overeating, as alcohol can inhibit your ability to make sound decisions and control your impulses.

If you do decide to drink alcohol, choose clear liquors like vodka, gin, or tequila paired with soda water and a splash of lemon or lime, which are lower in carbs and calories than mixed drinks or cocktails made with fruit juices or sugary mixers. Scotch or whiskey neat or on the rocks is also a good choice, or opt for my own personal favorite—champagne or prosecco. Be sure to opt for brut, which contains the least amount of sugar, and consider adding a splash of soda to keep the carb count even lower.

It’s also a good idea to drink plenty of water in between alcoholic beverages to help prevent dehydration, which can make you feel hungrier and more likely to make poor food choices.

Remember though that aside from lowering your inhibitions, alcohol isn’t a great option for anyone trying to lose weight, but especially when you are following a low carb plan. That’s because alcohol is metabolized differently than other nutrients and can kick you out of ketosis, so it’s best to consume it in moderation, if at all. If you do decide to indulge, always try to do so mindfully and with intention, rather than just sipping or gulping down drinks without really paying attention.

Of course alcohol isn’t the only opportunity for drinking your calories during the holiday season! Hot chocolate, eggnog, and all those festive flavors from your favorite coffee shop can quickly add up, so be sure to account for those calories and carbohydrates as well.

Get Moving

Staying active is always important when you’re trying to lose weight or maintain your weight, but it’s even more crucial during the holiday season. That’s because all those tempting holiday treats—even the ones that are “healthy”—can quickly add up, and the last thing you want is to end up feeling sluggish and bloated.

Not to mention, exercise is a great way to relieve stress, which is often high during the holiday season. And we all know that when we’re stressed, we’re more likely to make poor food choices and overeat.

So make sure to schedule some time for exercise every day, even if it’s just a brisk walk around the neighborhood or a quick at-home workout. And if you can’t fit in a full workout, try to do some sort of activity throughout the day, like parking further away from the mall, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or working at a standing desk instead of sitting all day.

Another great way to stay active during the holiday season is to sign up for a Turkey Trot or Jingle Bell Run or other holiday-themed race. Not only will this give you something to look forward to and help you stay motivated, but it’s also a wonderful way to celebrate the season in some way OTHER than with food, which is important.

At the very least, try to make it a habit to go for a quick walk after large meals, and especially after dinner if you can. Recent studies have shown that even just a 10 or 15-minute walk after a meal can help dramatically lower your blood sugar levels, and in turn, help you avoid weight gain.

Give yourself grace

In the end, it’s all about grace.

The holidays are not only a time of year when we’re more likely to overindulge because of all the tempting food choices, it’s a time where emotional and stress eating might come into play as well.  And that means it’s extra important to be kind to yourself–to give yourself a little grace and celebrate your small victories. If you expect perfection, you could be setting yourself up for failure when one slip-up becomes the catalyst for going completely off the rails.

Remember, the goal is not to be perfect, but to simply do the best you can. So if you find yourself indulging more often than you’d like, try not to beat yourself up about it. Just get back on track with your next meal and keep moving forward.

The holidays are a time for celebrating, so make sure you enjoy yourself and don’t put too much pressure on yourself to be perfect. After all, ’tis the season of giving…including giving yourself a break! 

Got any great healthy holiday tips of your own you’d like to share?  Post them in the comments below!

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