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Hacks for the Holidays from Nutrisense Dietitians

Written by
Team Nutrisense
Reviewed by
Carlee Hayes
RDN, CD
A person decorating a Christmas tree

The holidays are full of fun and festive cheer, but there are also temptations and indulgences around every corner. It can be challenging (and not always fun!) to stick to a health plan. So it’s no surprise that even the most disciplined are at risk of losing track of their health goals this time of year. They’re also a time of year for derailed diets, overeating, and holiday weight gain

And with all the celebrating in store, we don’t blame you if optimizing your health isn’t a priority. But you don’t have to let your health fall into a festive slump or focus on it so much that you ruin the festivities. There’s a middle-ground, and with a few holiday hacks, you can plan in advance to find yours! We asked some of our registered dietitians at Nutrisense to share their tips and tricks for staying healthy during this time of year. Read on to try their tried and tested holiday hacks:

Stick to a Healthy Routine

Carlee Hayes and her quote "Identify two to three of our regular routine that make you feel the best. Do you best to stick to them throughout the holiday season"

"The holidays are a time of joyous celebrations with friends and family—which can be great! This can be when exciting travel, parties, events, shopping, and other commitments take hold of your standard patterns. 

Sometimes, this can make it hard to prioritize what makes you feel good. You may feel off track and unable to refocus after the holidays are long gone. One way to mitigate this is to take a couple of minutes to identify and write down the habits in your life that align with your goals and make you feel your best. This can be a daily walk, a strength workout three to four times a week, maintaining daily hydration goals, and/or daily 10-minute meditation. What’s essential is weaving them into your routine, which will ensure that you feel grounded by your health habits throughout the season. Schedule yourself self-care “appointments” with these routines in mind, and don’t allow yourself to miss them. With the hustle and bustle of this season, it’s essential not to neglect yourself and your values. The end result? A happier, healthier holiday in which you come out feeling nourished both physically and mentally!"

— Carlee Hayes, RDN, CD

Take a Walk Together

Bahar Brocken and her quote "One of the best memories you can make over the holidays can be bonding with a friend or family member over a pre or post-meal stroll"

"The holidays are often a long-awaited time to enjoy traditional foods and create new memories with loved ones. One of the best memories you can make over the holidays can be bonding with a friend or family member over a pre or post-meal stroll. You may or may not be in a new city during the holidays, outside of your typical routine and environment. What’s great about this hack is that you can literally do it anywhere, anytime! Just grab a pair of comfy shoes (weather appropriate if necessary!) and take someone along. 

Even just a single bout of moderate-intensity exercise, like walking briskly, within two hours before or after a meal, can lower triglycerides (a type of cholesterol) and glucose levels by up to 50 percent! It’s a great way to meet the recommended 10,000 steps per day for optimal health. It may even aid digestion, which can be especially helpful after a bigger holiday meal. 

Studies have also shown that friends or families who walk together or participate in activities involving nature often feel closer to each other. Regular exercise can also improve mood and feelings of wellbeing, translating into improved relations with others. So, it’s a win-win all around!"

— Bahar Brocken, RD 

Make Mini Desserts

Marie Funk and her quote "Make desserts in smaller portions by preparing them using mini pans, small dispensing spoons, or single-serve dishes"

"This time of year, it's common for households to be filled with more sweet treats than usual. Do your best to take control of what you can! That being said, if you're one of the bakers in the family, here's a hack that's perfect for you. Make desserts in smaller portions by preparing them using mini pans, small dispensing spoons, or single-serve dishes. For example, instead of slicing a pie or cake into eight pieces, portion it into 12 parts. This not only helps you but also your friends and family members. 

When it comes to desserts, be sure to have a balanced meal beforehand. Ensure your meal includes protein and vegetable-rich foods. This will help satiate you, so you can fight off potential ravenous hunger or craving signals when you're eye-balling the dessert table! Instead of avoiding your favorite decadent holiday dessert, simply practice responsible portion sizes and be mindful of every delicious bite!"

— Marie Funk, MS, RD, LDN

Start Your Day with Protein 

Laura Asrani and her quote "Starting your day with a good serving of protein at breakfast can help your energy stable throughout the day"

"Think: 'protein!' in Oprah's voice, of course! Starting your day with a good serving of protein at breakfast can help keep your energy stable throughout the day. Egg bakes, in particular, work great during the holiday season as they can be prepared ahead of time in addition to being so customizable. Those who celebrate Christmas can incorporate some red (bell peppers) and green (chilies) into the egg bake—bring the holiday color scheme to the table! Or make individual cupcake-sized egg-bakes and use holiday-themed muffin wrappers. 

Pro-tip: Throw half of the mini-muffins in the freezer right away to heat up in the microwave on busy mornings! My secret ingredients for delicious egg bakes are chorizo and dijon mustard—they're a family favorite! Other protein ideas at breakfast include chicken sausages, smoked salmon, and eggs prepared all the different ways, including poached, which will add a fancy brunch-like flair to your breakfast. An easy way to figure out how much protein to have with your breakfast is to aim for it to cover one-fourth of your plate. I promise, including some protein at breakfast will make you feel much better, which will let you enjoy your holiday season even more."

— Laura Asrani, RD

Don't Multitask at Mealtime

Liz McKinney and her quote "Try to sit down and focus on your meal, chew your food slowly and make your meals fast 0 minutes (it takes the satiety signal in your gut that long to reach your brain!)"

"The holidays are often a whirlwind. Things to buy, parties to go do, trees to decorate. It's an exciting and magical time full of festivity and quality time with family and loved ones. But it's important to try not to let the fast-paced atmosphere creep into your mealtimes. If you're multitasking during meals, eating in the car, or in front of the TV, it can be challenging to be mindful about food. Try to sit down and focus on your meal, chew your food slowly and make your meals last 20 minutes (it takes the satiety signal in your gut that long to reach your brain!). You'll connect with your food and maybe even have some time to practice a moment of gratitude while you're at it. And as a bonus, you're more likely to stop eating when you're truly full because you tuned in and weren't distracted!"

— Liz McKinney MS, CNS, LDN

Maintain a Holly Jolly Gratitude Attitude

Jess Wright and her quote "Studies how that consciously practicing gratitude can make us happier, combat the blues and support good mental health. And the holidays are a great time to implement regular gratitude"

"'Tis the season for thanks! The joy and cheer of the holiday season can help remind us to stop and think about all that we are grateful for. Still, the hustle and bustle this time of year can also be stressful! Studies show that consciously practicing gratitude can make us happier, combat the blues and support good mental health. And the holidays are a great time to implement regular gratitude. 

Every year, I like to do what I call "12 days of Thanksmas" as a countdown to Christmas (but you can do it for any holiday and time frame). Every year, starting on December 14, I spend at least five minutes every day reflecting and journaling about something specific I am grateful for. Doing this in the morning helps set a positive intention for the day, and doing it at night before bed can help me get out of my head! Sometimes I will do three good things that happened that day, reflect on a person I am feeling appreciative of, or if I'm stuck, I'll look for some writing prompts online.

If you're feeling thankful for special people in your lives, you can even combine this practice with your holiday cards to share your appreciation with them. At the end of the 12 days, if you notice an improvement in your mindset, you can roll your gratitude practice over into a new habit for the new year!"

—Jess Wright RDN 

Try 12 Days of Fitmas

Madison Gouza and her quote "If you dont have the time in your day to commit to a full workout, what I like to call "micro-movements" can help you stay on track this season"

"The holidays are upon us, and that means schedules are crazy! It can be hard to stick to your regular exercise routine, especially in those areas where the weather is getting cold (brrr). The good news is any movement throughout the day is beneficial. If you don't have the time in your day to commit to a full workout, what I like to call "micro-movements" can help you stay on track this season. Micro movements are simple, bodyweight exercises that can be done anywhere, at any time. You can stack exercises every day for a holiday challenge that keeps things exciting. The 12 Days of Fitmas goes like this:

  • Day 1: 8 pushups
  • Day 2: 10 squats
  • Day 3: 15 jumping jacks 
  • Day 4: 1-minute plank
  • Day 5: 20 mountain climbers
  • Day 6: 15 sit-ups
  • Day 7: 10 lunges
  • Day 8: 20 penguin taps
  • Day 9: 15 glute bridges
  • Day 10: 20 tricep dips
  • Day 11: 20 high knees
  • Day 12: 12 burpees 

Stack each day as you go. For example:

Day 1: Pushups 

Day 2: Day 1 + Day 2

Day 3: Day 1 + Day 2 + Day 3

By day 12, you will do all the micro-movements together!

Pair the 12 days of Fitmas with a habit you already have, such as brewing your coffee in the morning or warming up the shower. This adds no extra time to your day, keeps you on track to reach your goals, and provides a sense of accomplishment during this busy month!"

— Madison Gouza, MS, RDN, CPT

Practice Mindful Eating

Jillian Ceasrine and her quote "Mindful eating is a practise where you're more cognizant and conscious of your food. It's the "how" versus the "what" regarding eating practices."

"The holidays are upon us, and with them come a wide variety of fun, celebratory food! When surrounded by these fun/hyperpalatable foods, it can be easy to get off track and eat past satiety. But it does not have to be this way. Using mindful eating can be a helpful tool to help prevent overeating over the holidays. Mindful eating is a practice where you're more cognizant and conscious of your food. It's the "how" versus the "what" regarding eating practices. To practice mindful eating this season, try the following tips:

  • Take a minute to reflect before eating: Some questions to ask are are you eating out of genuine hunger? Are there emotional cues triggering you to eat?  
  • Slow down eating: To slow down when you're eating, try using a smaller utensil, make your meal last 20 minutes, and/or chew at least 20 times.  
  • Appreciate the food: When eating your holiday meal, pause to consider all the people involved in making the food. It will help slow down eating, but it will also help you connect with your family on a deeper level."
— Jillian Ceasrine, RDN

Think ahead! 

Sharon Higgins and her quote "Socialising can mean you're distracted and more likely to overeat without realising it. Before arriving, I recommend planning which foods are "worth it" for you"

"Between visiting family, attending parties, and going out to eat, many people find themselves eating out more often as the holidays approach. Letting yourself indulge once in a while is absolutely okay! It can actually have benefits in its own right since some fun socializing can be good for your mental health. But of course, there's a line here. 

Something I find really helpful is anticipating ahead of time what foods will be available to you when you are attending a gathering. Often, we show up for a party with the best intentions, but if we don't have a plan, we can eat whatever fried, and sugary foods end up in front of us first. Socializing can mean you're distracted and more likely to overeat without realizing it. Before arriving, I recommend planning which foods are "worth it" for you. For example, if egg nog is one of your nostalgic Christmas treats, don't avoid it just because it's an indulgence. Instead, allow yourself two cups, but stay away from the dessert table and rely on crudités and meat platters for other pickings. Making this decision ahead of time will enable you to enjoy the treats you can eat even more!" 

— Sharon Higgins RDN, CDN 

Drink Healthier Drinks

Victoria Eaton and her quote "Alcohol in moderation can undoubtedly be a  art of your holiday health plans. Get a little boozy if you want, but choose lower-calorie and low-sugar options."

"'Tis the season for enjoying a fun cocktail (or two) with family and friends! Alcohol in moderation can undoubtedly be a part of your holiday health plans. However, festive beverages can carry a hefty dose of added sugar and calories. Stick with lower sugar and calorie options like a glass of dry red wine or pure spirits like whiskey, vodka, gin, and tequila. 

It's best to avoid simple syrups, sodas, and fruit juices. Instead, opt for sugar-free mixers like sparkling flavored water, sugar-free tonic water, fresh lemon, lime, or grapefruit juice. A dirty martini, gin & tonic with lime or a good old whiskey on the rocks are great, low sugar options. If you're like me and enjoy a boozy brunch on Christmas morning, try a low-carb mimosa using prosecco and a small diet V-8 splash. Cheers!"

— Victoria Eaton, RDN, LDN, IFNCP
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