Keeping a Healthy Lifestyle in Focus during the Holidays

So how do you manage your healthy lifestyle while still celebrating?

It is an age-old conundrum.  The Holiday Season presents many a temptation to indulge in goodies and skip out on your fitness routine.  However, it’s unrealistic (and frankly no fun) not to indulge at all.  So how do you maintain your healthy lifestyle and still celebrate?   Jill Wattenbarger, MHA, Group Fitness & Personal Training supervisor, and Susie Bond, a Registered Dietitian—both with Health First Pro-Health & Fitness Centers— have some tips and ideas for keeping stress at bay and calories in check during the Holidays.

Make time to exercise

For some, the joys of the Holidays are tempered with the stresses of entertaining, coordinating travel plans, or scheduling conflicts.  So what can you do?  Well for one—Exercise!   “We all get very stressed during the holidays and other busy times,” says Jill Wattenbarger.  “Exercise releases endorphins in the body (the feel-good hormone) and helps us feel better so we can deal with the stress of the Holidays or other situations.”

The main thing is not to lose focus and let “life” get in the way. Jill suggests scheduling your workout sessions just like you would any other appointment and making it stick.  Put it on your calendar and stick to it.  “If you do miss one session, don’t let that get you off track,” she says. “Just pick up where you left off with the next time you would normally exercise.”

Eat smaller portions

Registered Dietitian Susie Bond recommends making it a habit to eat a bit less during your routine meals to allow for those occasional Holiday splurges. “For example, instead of having your usual lunch of a turkey and cheese sandwich, chips, and a soda, opt for a turkey sandwich without the cheese and a piece of fresh fruit along with a large glass of water.   For dinner, forgo the rice or potato, and load up with healthy veggies along with a moderate portion of lean meat.”

Don’t over eat

Many people over-eat due to stress.  If the Holidays are stressful for you, be proactive in planning ways to avoid stressful activities or to modify them so that they are less stressful.  Set limits for yourself.  Learn to say “no” to activities that you truly don’t care to participate in.  It’s important to carve out “me time” during the Holidays.  Every day do something that relaxes you and makes you feel good —take a few minutes to read a chapter from a good book, take a leisurely stroll through your neighborhood after dinner, call up a good friend and have a short chat, take a bubble bath, or look through old photo albums.

Everything in moderation

This is the time of year to celebrate, and food is one of the pleasures of parties, Holiday festivities, and other social gatherings.  Just because you’re trying to eat healthfully doesn’t mean you need to avoid celebrations.  Depriving yourself of special Holiday foods, or feeling guilty when you do enjoy them isn’t part of a healthy eating strategy, and it certainly isn’t part of the Holiday spirit!  Just remember to prioritize —eat moderate amounts of what you love, and leave the other stuff behind.  Make it a goal to do something active every day.  Maintaining consistency with your workout routine can make all the difference between maintaining your weight through the Holidays and gaining 7 to10 holiday pounds.

Typical Holiday Treats and Healthier Alternatives


Pecan Pie — Per slice: 500 calories, 37g fat, 26g sugar

Healthier alternative:  Baked Apple with Cinnamon (topped with non-fat vanilla yogurt)


Eggnog —Per cup: 350 calories, 19g fat, 21g sugar (and that’s without the alcohol!)

Healthier alternative:   Hot Chocolate (125 calories, 1g fat) or Spiced Apple Cider (120 calories, 0g fat)


Green Bean Casserole with Fried Onions —½ cup: 290 calories, 20g fat

Healthier alternative:  Fresh Green Beans (cooked in Chicken Broth, seasoned with turkey bacon)


Cranberry Sauce —½ cup: 209 calories, 52g sugar

Healthier alternative:  Cranberry Relish (Make with 1½ c. fresh cranberries, 1 orange, peeled & seeded, ½ cup sugar, 3 tbsp. chopped walnuts.  Chop in food processor and let stand 30 minutes.  ½ cup: 47 calories, 4g sugar)


Spinach/Artichoke Dip:  (¼ cup: 220 calories, 22g fat)

Healthier alternative:  Salsa —(¼ cup: 10 calories, 0 g fat)


Sweet Potato Casserole: (½ cup: 315 calories, 15g fat)

Healthier alternative:  Baked Sweet Potato with Cinnamon (1/2 cup: 125 calories, 0 g fat)


Peppermint-Chocolate Martini: (438 calories, 9g fat, 29g sugar)

Healthier alternative:  Wine Spritzer:  Mix half red wine with half diet lemon-lime soda  (8 oz. drink: 8 calories).  Or mix half white wine with half diet cranberry juice (8 oz. —83 calories).


Venti Starbucks Peppermint Mocha: (480 calories, 17g fat, 63g sugar)

Healthier alternative:  Nonfat Cappuccino with Peppermint Syrup (2 pumps of syrup 120 calories, 0g fat, 10g sugar)


Holiday Healthy Eating Tips:

  • Beware of calories in alcohol. Opt for a wine spritzer or a mixed drink made with a non-caloric mixer, such as cranberry vodka with club soda and lime.  A cup of alcoholic eggnog contains 350 calories of sugar, eggs, whipping cream, and bourbon.
  • Keep your focus on the people.  Holiday parties are about good conversation, not just camping out at the food table.
  • Commit to a “one-trip limit” to the buffet table at a Holiday party and only take the items that you really want. For example, you can always skip the chips and dip, cheese and crackers, nuts and candies.  You can get those anytime.  Choose those special Holiday foods that you love, and eat only a moderate amount.  Be the one who volunteers to bring a veggie tray, fruit platter, or shrimp cocktail, so that you’ll be sure to have plenty of healthy food to fill your plate.
  • Keep a bottle of water in your hands at all times, so you’ll have something to sip on during the slow times.  Drinking water fills you up, and gives you something to do with your hands.
  • Position yourself far away from the food table, so the temptation to reach over and grab a cookie disappears.
  • A little exercise is better than no exercise.  The key is to move.  While shopping, park as far as you can from the mall or the store, take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.
  • Go for a walk around your neighborhood for a great cardiovascular workout.  Try to walk a little faster each time.  If you cannot walk faster for the entire time, then use landmarks for some interval training.  For example, walk faster or jog to one mailbox then slow down your pace to the next one, then repeat.
  • Short bouts of exercise are effective, for those who are new to exercise.  Try to get in a 10-minute walk in the morning and evening and maybe even lunch.  If you have a job where you sit a majority of the day, you can even stand up and do some squats, or lunges at your desk while you are on the phone.
  • High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a great way to stay in shape, for those who have been exercising and have limited time.  Alternating high-intensity movements with short periods of rest is very intense and so you’ll need adequate rest (48 hours) between sessions.  But HIITs are great workouts that can be accomplished in 20 to 30 minutes.  Research has shown this type of exercise increases what is called your EPOC (Excess Post Oxygen Consumption) so you burn more calories after the workout is over versus steady exercise for 45 minutes.  This type of training should only be done two to three times a week.


A healthier take on a favorite recipe.

Hot Crab Dip (Low Calorie)

1/2 cup fat-free cream cheese

¼ cup fat-free mayonnaise

7 ½ oz. can crab meat, drained

3 Tbsp. minced onion

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

1/8 tsp. Tabasco™ sauce


1.      Beat cream cheese and mayonnaise until smooth. Stir in the other ingredients.

2.      Spoon into a small oven-proof dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray.

3.      Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until bubbly.

4.      Serve on warm toasted whole wheat pita wedges


Only 6 calories per tablespoon (or cracker-full) compared to 50 calories per tablespoon for traditional crab dip!