How can I eat healthy around the holidays?

With the holidays just around the corner, a lot of people are worried about packing on the pounds onto their gut or falling out of their workout routine. So here are my top seven tips.

Tip #1: Remember, it’s just a few days out of the year

For context, Christmas dinner with family is ultimately just one meal out of 1,095 meals of the year. No one became overweight from overeating at Christmas dinner. It took many months, or even years, to do that.

For myself, I eat pretty much 100% home-cooked and nutritious foods—that I love eating—all year round. Eating some processed foods a few times a year during the holidays is no big deal for me. Eat well when you can control it, and that will make your body robust and free to enjoy special times with friends and family.

Tip #2: Eat your proteins first, veggies second, carbs last

Protein is the most filling, and we will keep eating food until we reach our protein threshold, and then we become satisfied. So make sure to eat your meat first, then eat your veggies that will help you fill up even more, and then eat the carbs last (like rice, potatoes, any pasta, etc.) There’s a reason we don’t start by eating pie. Make sure you’re full from meat and veggies before the desserts arrive.

Tip #3 Don’t eat snacks or desserts that you couldn’t care less about

I remember going to get-togethers, and there would be a bowl of pretzels out, and I’d have some. Looking back I realized, that I don’t really care for pretzels. I don’t hate them, but I don’t love them. And they’re not good for me (spiked with elemental iron and fake synthetic “vitamins”. So why am I eating them?

Being aware of what desserts you don’t really care about and ones you do really love eating will help you maximize your enjoyment per calorie. You can skip the ones that you don’t care for.

Tip #4: Waste food to keep it off your waist

In our culture, it’s rude not to finish your plate. But if you took too much, and you’re full, if you eat beyond comfort just for the sake of manners, you’re creating more work for yourself in the future.

It’s completely backward to our psychology to waste food. This is because, through most of human history, food wasn’t that abundant, but today we need to listen to our full bellies and get over the niceties.

Tip #5 Nutrient timing

One coach recommends fasting until it’s time to eat the main meal with family. So if you’re daily intake is somewhere around 2200 calories, you could fast for the morning with a black coffee, have a light lunch (400 calories), and then eat a very large dinner (1800 calories). It doesn’t fix the fact that you ate a lot of processed desserts, but at least you didn’t overdo the calories. Intermittent fasting this way is not for everyone, but it’s something to consider.

Tip #6 Tim Ferriss’s bathroom workout

In Tim Ferriss’s 4 Hour Body book, he tells a story about doing bodyweight squats in the bathroom stalls while travelling, and he never gained any weight despite eating tons of high-calorie restaurants foods.

Exercise before eating can help your body shuttle some of those calories towards your muscles instead of towards fat.

Now the trick here is to give yourself a good little workout, yes. But don’t go overboard so that you come out of the bathroom all red-faced and gasping for breath. (Your family might wonder what’s wrong with you.)

For the holidays, you also don’t need to exercise in the bathroom. I’ve used this trick myself when staying as a guest in someone’s house. In your bedroom or another quiet room, you can knock out a few push-ups (or wall push-ups if that’s easier) and then air squats to get a good burn, and you’ll be all set.

Tip #7 A daily walk and a simple workout when travelling

During the holidays, it’s normal to get couped up inside, especially later in the afternoon as it gets dark early.

Before you start your day, right after waking, you can do a simple circuit workout like this:

  • 20 pike presses
  • 20 push-ups
  • 20 bent-over row (grab something like your bag, etc.)
  • 20 tricep dips on the edge of your bed
  • 20 air squats

That should only take a few minutes and get the blood pumping. If you can’t do that many, just do as many as you can. If you can do more, do more. That will help you keep up your workout habit.

Then just try and get outside for a little walk early in the day. Bright light exposure is huge for feeling good and sleeping well at night, which will help your body process the abundant calories you’re no doubt going to consume.

I sincerely hope you enjoy your time with friends and family over the holidays. Don’t fret one or two meals. Instead, enjoy them and focus on eating healthy the rest of the time.

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