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Let this year finally be the year you don’t feel like a bowl of mashed potatoes. 

Each year, the holiday season approaches more quickly than it feels like it should. Don’t get me wrong—I adore the holidays—but it’s like, September, and then it isn’t. And all of a sudden, my countertop is stacked with cookies, candies, pies, and pumpkin everything. There are more occasions to drink alcohol and fewer full nights of sleep. It becomes too easy to trade workouts for family gatherings and hot chocolate in front of a fire.   

Ya feel me? I know some of you do, because the statistics don’t lie: According to a Gallup Poll, 10% of people who exercise regularly stop exercising as much during this busy season. Also, the Calorie Control Council estimates that just one holiday meal can be as much as 3,000 calories.  

As it turns out, the impact of the holiday season is less on weight (the average person only gains about 1 pound over the season), and more on stress. According to the American Psychological Association, 38% of people experience an increase in stress during the holiday season, with 69% of those citing the reason as a lack of time. 

This year, take a stand against the holiday slump with these tips from experts in fitness, nutrition, and mental health. 

Why It’s So Easy to Fall Off Track During the Holidays

Graphic showing decline in exercise

Most of us are creatures of habit. Added demands during the holiday season can cause extra stress, anxiety, and a sense of hurriedness upon us that messes with our mental health, and thus affects our eating habits, sleep patterns, and fitness routines. 

“Naturally, as the holidays roll around, we consume more calories, more added sugar, more sodium, and more alcohol, and we get less exercise,” says Zoë Schroeder, registered dietitian. “There are holiday parties, plethora of goodies brought to the office, cookies galore, and colder weather means less outside time and usually more sedentary time.”

Additionally, for many people, holiday time is a time of both joy and stress, says Paige Harnish, licensed mental health therapist. “Holiday obligations such as traveling, hosting family, and balancing events pose an added challenge to keeping a consistent exercise routine. In general, the more overwhelmed a person is by the amount of things they need to do, the more likely exercise will be deprioritized.” 

All of these factors add up and can quickly punt you out of your normal workout, sleep, and nutrition regimens. 

How to Beat the Obstacles Contributing to Your Holiday Slump  

Sorry (not sorry), I’m going to call you out on your usual excuses before you get to make them this year. The following seven obstacles are common reasons people let their healthy lifestyles slip away. The earlier you recognize any habitual excuses, the sooner you can nip them in the bud (and have a greater chance of avoiding that mashed potato feeling on December 31). 

Obstacle 1: All. The. Food. And. Drinks.

Walk into any holiday party and you’ll see fudge and cookies and alcohol and tons of sugar and processed treats. You don’t have to run scared. I believe that you should allow yourself to eat the foods you want to eat. Of course, moderation is key, but so is prioritization. 

Holiday Weight Gain

 

 

The average weight gain over the holidays is only 0.81 pounds, so go ahead, have the piece of pie

Zoe Schroeder, registered dietitian, recommends not not skipping meals to “save calories” for indulgent foods. Ultimately, she says, this will likely lead to extreme hunger and make you much more likely to overeat on high-calorie holiday foods. 

“Plan for your indulgences instead of trying to swear off all treats all season long, which will ultimately lead to a binge later on. Think about your favorites, plan out when, where, and how much you will enjoy, and do so without guilt or feeling bad about yourself, instead, enjoy it and move on.” – Zoe Schroeder, registered dietitian

How to Overcome It: 

  • Treat yo’self! You’re allowed to eat a piece of pie and enjoy it. 
  • Make your own versions of holiday favorites to bring to the party if you have dietary restrictions due to allergies or sensitivities.
  • Eat meals with whole foods whenever possible to fill up. 
  • Set a limit for yourself on how many drinks you’ll have (alcohol or high-sugar.

Obstacle 2 : Travel 

Travel is a number-one interruption to everyday life. During the holidays, this is exacerbated because we spend significant time out of town. But with a little bit of planning, you can preempt travel-related slumps: 

How to Overcome It: 

  • Walk around the airport while waiting for your plane.
  • If you’re driving, take advantage of bathroom breaks and move around outside before taking off again. 
  • Bring your own healthy snacks to the airport. (Don’t pay $17 for the worst sandwich you’ve ever had.) 
  • For road-trippers, try to stop at grocery stores, not gas stations, for on-the-go snacks. 
  • Try to recoup as much of your normal routine as possible once you get to your destination.

Obstacle 3: Lack of Routine

“Deviating from an established exercise routine can interfere with a person’s overall functioning and wellbeing,” says Paige Harnish, licensed mental health therapist. “Exercise is an important fixture in many people’s lives and serves as a source of motivation, stress management, socialization, self care, and much more.”  

 

Although ditching your routine might sound like the easiest thing to do amid holiday hurriedness, it’s probably the worst thing you can do for your overall health during this time. Sticking to some semblance of a routine, even if it means reducing the length of your workouts, will help you continue to prioritize your wellbeing during the holidays. 

How to Overcome It: 

  • Try to go to bed and wake up around the same time you usually do
  • Schedule in your workout and let people know that’s what you’ll be doing
  • Start the day with a healthy breakfast

Obstacle 4: Lack of Time

The American Psychological Association reports that nearly 70% of people who experience an increase in stress during the holidays attribute that stress to a perceived lack of time. 

Sure, the holidays are busy, but this is where time management is key. The saying “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” really rings true when it comes to the holiday slump. 

“It’s important to plan and prepare ahead of time. If you are traveling, scope out a gym you can attend as a guest or pack a small amount of equipment to bring to your destination.” – Paige Harnish, licensed mental health therapist

 

(We’re partial to resistance bandsadjustable dumbbells, and portable smart home gym equipment like the MAXPRO SmartConnect Portable Cable Machine.)

But also, be real with yourself, Harnish says. “Ask yourself if there is a way to modify your existing routine to accommodate added challenges at holiday time. Dialing back the duration of your workout can still lead to many of the same benefits of a longer workout and give you a bit more time to complete other tasks.”  

How to Overcome It: 

  • Block off time in your calendar for workouts, walks, or your physical activity of choice—treat it like it’s an important meeting you can’t miss. 
  • Working out in the morning means nothing can come up during the day and force you to skip.  
  • If nothing else, look for 10-minute windows where you can walk or do jumping jacks.

Obstacle 5: Holiday Tunnel Vision

The holiday season is certainly hectic. On top of all your normal daily obligations, you’re now tasked with buying gifts, hosting or attending gatherings, preparing extra food, visiting or hosting family, and traveling. 

It can be easy to lose sight of your long-term goals and focus on solely getting through the season. This is especially true for people who have to deal with family members they don’t get along with (everyone, amiright?) or who have seasonal depression.

How to Overcome It: 

  • Get your friends and family involved with group workouts or healthy meal cooking
  • Write your goals on a piece of paper to put on a mirror in the bathroom where you are staying or somewhere you’ll see it every day.
  • Set boundaries for yourself but also for others. 

Obstacle 6: Holiday Blues

The holidays aren’t merry for everyone, and it’s easy to forget that as someone who loves everything about them. For people who feel more lonely than joyful during the holiday season—or for those who deal with seasonal affective disorder (appropriately acronymed SAD)—negative emotions can quickly gobble up any motivation or discipline you normally have for exercising and eating healthy. 

Holiday Stress

How to Overcome It: 

  • Wake up early to enjoy quiet on your own
  • Try to get sunshine when possible
  • Maintain a consistent sleep cycle
  • Eat healthy 
  • Exercise 

Obstacle 7: Lack of Motivation

Lots of things can mess with your motivation as the holidays wear on. Financial stress, jetlag, and family matters zap your precious—and finite—energy. Not to mention, increased consumption of alcohol and decreased consumption of nutritious foods don’t do much for your motivation level. 

As most fitness enthusiasts know, motivation doesn’t last, anyway. During the holiday season, you’ll need to tap into your self-discipline instead of relying on intrinsic motivation. ‘Cause the fact of the matter is: You probably won’t feel motivated to work out or eat healthy in the presence of a bunch of people who are doing the opposite. 

How to Overcome It: 

  • Create an alarm or calendar event that pops up with motivational quotes or reminders of your goals
  • Ask a friend to help you stay accountable 

Obstacle 8: All-or-Nothing Mindset

Toying with an all-or-nothing mindset is a dangerous game. Skipping one workout can spiral into skipping two months’ worth, and eating one indulgent dinner can lead to weeks of noshing on dense leftovers. During the holiday season, it’s extremely important to avoid falling into an all-or-nothing trap. 

You may not be able to exercise as frequently as normal, but not exercising at all may lead to negative thoughts or emotions which may make coping with holiday stress even more difficult,” says Paige Harnish, licensed mental health therapist. “It’s more difficult physically and mentally to get back into a routine when you’ve deviated from the routine completely.” 

 

How to Overcome It: 

  • Moving for 10 minutes three times a day still adds up to 30 minutes
  • Pick one time that you know for sure you’ll be able to exercise and stick to it.
  • It doesn’t need to be structured exercise to be good exercise. Fun family games like ring toss, cornhole, frisbee, or capture the flag, can increase physical activity without feeling like a drag. 

Holiday Workout Ideas: Workout Routines You Can Do Anywhere

No more excuses: Do this workout anytime, anywhere over the holidays because it requires no equipment and little space. 

30-Minute Bodyweight Workout 

This workout is split into three 8-minute sections with three minutes of rest in between each section. By completing all three sections, you’ll get in a killer full-body workout.

Part 1: Lower Body

Complete as many rounds as possible in eight minutes.

Rest 3 minutes

Part 2: Upper Body

Complete as many rounds as possible in eight minutes.

Rest 3 minutes

Part 3: Core 

Complete as many rounds as possible in eight minutes.

Image showing lunges and hip thrusts

Image depicting jump squats and wall sits

Image showing tricep dips and pushups

Image showing bear crawl and pike hold

Image showing Russian Twists and V-ups

Image showing hollow body rocks and plank hold

15-Minute HIIT Workout 

Need to squeeze in a quick workout before that holiday dinner? Try this EMOM (Every Minute On the Minute) workout to get your blood pumping in just 15 minutes. 

To complete the EMOM, start each exercise at the top of each minute. Do as many reps as possible in 30 seconds, rest 30 seconds, and then begin the next exercise at the top of the next minute.

The intent of this workout is to get your heart rate high for 30 seconds and then let it slow down before upping it again. Make sure to select your exercise modifications appropriately to ensure you can get a lot of reps with good form in the 30-second intervals. 

One round is five minutes. To make this a 15-minute workout, do three rounds. You can keep going if you’re feeling strong! 

Minute 1: Burpees (modify: no push-up burpee | advanced: burpee to target)

Minute 2: Walking lunges (modify: reverse alternating lunges | advanced: jumping alternating lunges)

Minute 3: Mountain climbers (to modify or make it advanced, adjust your speed)

Minute 4: Pike shoulder taps (modify: plank shoulder taps | advanced: handstand shoulder taps)

Minute 5: Jump squats (modify: air squats | advanced: squat to box jump)

15 min HIIT workout image showing burpees and walking lunges

Image showing mountain climbers and pike shoulder taps

Image showing squat jumps

Final Takeaway

Navigating the holidays is hard. While it is important to maintain your health and fitness as best you can, it’s also important to be fully present and thoroughly enjoy your time with your friends and family. It’s really not worth it to restrict yourself from things you want to eat, drink, and do, only to look back later and realize you missed out on some special memories. 

The bottom line is just try your best. Staying healthy throughout the holiday season requires a delicate balance and a lot of self-forgiveness. Always remember, a few scrumptious meals won’t derail you, nor will a handful of missed workouts. Plan ahead, do what you can where you can, and don’t stress about the rest.

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