~Brittany Michels, MS, RDN, LDN, CPT
The hustle and bustle of the holidays tends to throw us off our usual eating, exercise, and self-care regimens; however, having a solid plan going into the season can make this your best year yet.
Start off by reviewing your work schedule and social calendar over the coming months. Do you notice any days or weeks that may throw you off your usual schedule? If so, take some time to plan out what an ideal day or week would look like, including when you’d work out, grocery shop, meal prep, sleep, or even how you’d incorporate any other self-care activities that are normal for you.
For example, will you be away from home all day next Wednesday? Consider prepping meals, snacks, and/or a water bottle. If you must resort to fast food, think through where you’ll go and what food choices will support your goals. Planning ahead will help you avoid skipping meals, choosing poor choices, and overeating later. If you normally exercise on Wednesdays, can it still fit into your day, or would it be better to move it to a different day? Meeting friends out for dinner? Plan what you’ll eat and drink ahead of time. Avoid arriving hungry. You’ll be less likely to overindulge if you arrive with a satisfied tummy. The more details you work through ahead of time, the more likely you’ll be able to keep a routine that best supports you.
One of my favorite tips is setting mandatory meetings with yourself. Would you intentionally miss a doctor’s appointment you have scheduled? Most likely not. Consider adding meeting times to your calendar on days you know you’ll need an extra boost of accountability. It’s nearly impossible to predict all the daily challenges that will pop up, derail our efforts and discourage us from continuing. However, those who have thought ahead, planned, considered possible challenges, and prepped solutions to those challenges are far more resilient and likely to meet their goals.
Next, follow a simple, healthy eating approach to stay on track. You don’t have to follow the all-or-nothing philosophy. Simply incorporate whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, healthy proteins, and whole grains, into your daily regimen and decrease packaged and processed foods by minimizing added sugar, sodium, and hydrogenated oils. If you notice your days start leaning toward more processed than whole foods, then take a step back and re-assess your plan moving forward.
Many of us know what choices are healthiest for us but have a hard time getting into a routine and building effective processes to stay the course. Whether it’s decreasing the frequency of night-time snacking, eating slower, or including a 10-minute walk at lunch several times per week, small tweaks add up over time and can yield big results.
If you’re having a hard time getting on or back on track, consider the following:
- Assess your total added sugar intake for the day by reading food labels and work on gradually reducing the number you come up with. Sugar greatly influences metabolism, weight, hormone responses in the body & an array of other body functions. Many are surprised to find that their total sugar intake is much higher than they thought. Some shocking foods with high added sugar include yogurt, dressing, sauces (like BBQ, ketchup, spaghetti sauce), granola, breakfast cereals & cereal bars, flavored coffee, pre-made soup, crackers, fruit juice & canned fruit. The most effective ways to decrease added sugar include swapping out sugar-sweetened beverages with lower or no-added sugar options and swapping out candy, cookies, and all of those Holiday desserts and sugar-sweetened snacks with fresh fruit, cut-up vegetables, or any lean protein source- like a protein shake, hard-boiled egg or uncured beef jerky. You may find that you consume several sources of added sugar throughout the day. If this is the case, don’t feel overwhelmed with cutting everything at once. Choose one food or drink at a time and work on consistently consuming your chosen alternate. Once you’ve made that choice a habit, then move on to the next food or drink. Small changes are much more manageable to achieve and are likely to lead to long-term lifestyle habits. Long-term lifestyle habits yield big, sustainable results. For example, I had a client several years ago who swapped her 2 cans of coca cola daily for water. She made no other changes over the course of the year and lost almost 50 pounds just from that change alone. You don’t need to commit to big, unreasonable, and unsustainable changes. You just need to be consistent.
- Assess water intake and aim to drink half of your weight in ounces. Staying hydrated is essential for a well-functioning body and influences metabolism, digestion, satiety, energy levels, mood, sleep quality, and the immune system. Many find that conquering their hydration snowballs into other healthy decisions. To make it easier to meet your hydration goal, think through your usual day, assess your current intake and make a plan. If you need 75 ounces daily and are currently at 50 ounces, consider increasing your intake by 8 ounces every week until your goal is met. Tips to include more water include drinking a large glass of water as soon as you wake up to get a jumpstart on the day, packing a water bottle when you leave the house, and setting an alarm reminder to drink up on busy days.
- Assess your week for processed or fast food intake. Figure out how many meals/week are processed or fast food. If you find this is a frequent habit, consider identifying the reason for these choices. Sometimes it’s as simple as a lack of planning. Do you have a day each week that you plan out your meals for the week? For meals you aren’t making at the moment, do you have a planned time or day that you’d prep those meals ahead of time? Consider adding planning and prepping meetings with yourself to stay accountable. The more details you outline ahead of time, the more on track you’ll be. You can also assess challenges that pop up that get you off track. Can you think of a time when you pulled in for fast food? Or you grabbed that bag of chips to hold you over until dinner? What caused that decision? And what action can you put in place to avoid this in the future? The challenges that often pop up are linked back to the lack of planning & prep.
We all have busy schedules, so a few ways you can cut time with prep include cooking in large batches, using leftovers, using a slow cooker, and cutting up fruit and vegetable snacks ahead of time. If you find yourself snacking on unhealthy foods throughout the day, swap in healthier options, such as fruit, cut-up vegetables, a protein shake or bar, pre-portioned nuts, uncured beef jerky, hard-boiled eggs, plain Greek yogurt with fresh fruit, cottage cheese. Anything that’s higher in fiber and protein will aid in satiety. If you find yourself hungry between meals, consider looking at your meals. Do you include enough fiber and protein in meals?
Adequate fiber consumption is essential for not only satiety and blood sugar management but also proper digestion and cholesterol support. Aim for 14 grams of fiber per 1000 calories consumed. To make it easier to meet your fiber goal, make half of your lunch and dinner plate non-starchy vegetables, snack on whole fruit or nuts, and choose whole grain options with at least 5 grams or more of fiber per serving. Assess current daily fiber intake and make a plan to gradually increase 2-3 grams per day until the goal is reached. Adequate protein consumption is essential for satiety (feeling fullness), healthy metabolism, muscle maintenance, and hormone and neurotransmitter production. Aim for a protein source at every single meal in order to meet your daily goal. Does each of your meals contain a protein source? I’ve noticed that my clients who complain the most of hunger at some point throughout the day or share they overdo it when snacking usually don’t consume enough fiber or protein earlier on and/or include too much added sugar throughout the day- which spikes blood sugars and negatively influences satiety hormones.
Lastly, build your support system. Look outside of family and friends if you need to. Share ideas, recipes, and encouragement with your circle. Sharing a common goal makes staying on track much easier. Also, be kind to yourself. Many of us are quick to get discouraged by our imperfect attempts at meeting our goals. When you have a bad day, acknowledge the great things you were able to do and take a few minutes to plan out how you can accomplish your goal when those same challenges pop up in the future. Challenges are bound to happen, so work on staying positive and being kind to yourself when days don’t go your way. You don’t need to be perfect to meet your goals. Consider a flexible, consistent approach.
Happy Good Nutrition Month,
From Gryt Health: What do you think about these tips? Have you tried them? What helps you stay on track during the holidays? Share below in the comments!
Brittany has been a Registered & Licensed Dietitian since 2009, with extensive consultation experience in all aspects of wellness, including sports nutrition, dietary & herbal supplements, functional foods & holistic nutrition, corporate wellness & weight loss programming, diabetes prevention & management, community education, private practice, long-term care, hospital/acute care, home care, maternal & infant education. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Bowling Green State University, OH, completed her dietetic internship at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, MI, received her Master of Science in Dietetics from Kansas State University & obtained her certified personal training certification from NASM. Brittany is also an ultra-marathoner with a passion for nutrition as it relates to training, fueling, recovery, and competition day. You can connect with Brittany on Instagram.