The holiday season is a time for gathering with loved ones and creating great memories. And let’s be honest — it’s also a time for bingeing on our favorite calorie-laden holiday meals and seasonal treats.
Legendary meals happen during the holidays. And while some dishes (like Aunt Margaret’s hard-as-a-rock fruitcake) might be easy to resist, most holiday feasts involve mountains of delicious food that can disrupt all your best-laid healthy-eating plans.
So if you went a little overboard this past holiday season, how can you get back on-track? Here’s how to keep a cheat meal — or a cheat season — from getting in the way of your long-term fitness and nutrition goals.
1. Keep moving forward.
It’s pretty much inevitable that you’ll veer off-track at least a little bit over the holidays — and that’s okay. “Don’t beat yourself up over it,” says Andrea N. Giancoli, M.P.H., R.D., and nutrition manager at Openfit. “Just move on and get back to your routine.”
After a full-day feast, load up on clean protein like eggs at breakfast. “Make sure you get some good protein with breakfast, because that will help carry you over until the next meal,” Giancoli says. “In general, protein is something you should be making part of your routine after a big binge — try to have around 30 percent of your calories coming from protein.”
And steer your appetite back to your best foodie friends — fruits and veggies. “Make sure they’re a large part of your diet, particularly for lunches and dinners where at least half of your plate should be loaded with plant foods,” Giancoli says.
If you have a plan in place for how you’ll bounce back from any nutritional deviations over the holidays, it’ll be that much easier to hit the New Year running. (Speaking of which, some cardio should also be part of your damage-control plan.)
2. Don’t slash calories to compensate.
If you just spent a solid day (or week) gorging, you may feel like you need to “undo” the damage, but don’t deprive yourself. “Get back on-track with a regular meal schedule that is well-balanced,” says Kim Larson, dietitian and health coach at Total Health in Seattle, Washington. “You can ratchet back on the portions, but don’t skip meals — especially breakfast! — because nine times out of 10, that will backfire.”
Restricting yourself because you feel bad about how much you ate at grandma’s house (hey, we know it’s tough to say no to her cooking!) just means you’ll eventually get ravenous and make up for it later in the day. “Everyone overeats once in awhile,” says Larson. “You have to let go of that day and move on to healthy eating the next.”
3. Drink plenty of water.
You may be craving soda or sugary fruit drinks to fill the void from all those sweet holiday desserts — but reach for water instead. “Water is really important in our health journey, and it can be important in our weight-loss journey,” Giancoli says. “There’s research that water, particularly cold water, slightly increases your calorie burn for a short period of time.” And research suggests that drinking two cups before a meal may help you consume fewer calories.
4. Fill up on fiber.
It can be hard to watch your portions after you’ve been in holiday-binge mode. Larson suggests making fiber a main attraction at meals: “Fiber will keep you full longer, and you’ll keep your appetite in check, making it less tempting to think about the sweets and junk foods you may have made a habit of over the holidays.”
5. Toss the leftovers.
It’s fine if you went back for seconds (and thirds) at your holiday dinner. But don’t keep leftover mashed potatoes and stuffing in the fridge if you don’t have enough self-control to stop yourself from pounding down those foods.
“Some people feel it’s too much of a trigger to have them handy,” says Larson. “If you’re serious about getting healthier, the less exposure you have to unhealthy foods, the more you’ll choose the healthy ones.” Instead, stock up on healthy snacks like yogurt, cottage cheese, nuts, and fresh fruit so you reach for these rather than the tin of leftover gingerbread cookies.
6. Get moving.
In the immediate aftermath of an all-day feast, just getting up and moving around can help you feel like you haven’t totally abandoned your pre-holiday-feast fitness goals.
“If it’s right after you’ve indulged, go for a walk,” Giancoli says. “A walk can really help with digestion — it helps you get things moving, prompting all of that food to start leaving your stomach.”
7. Stay on top of your progress.
While the number on the scale doesn’t tell the whole story, it can be a good way to monitor yourself during the holidays. Studies have shown that getting on the scale every day can help you better keep track of your weight and maintain it — or lose weight — over time.
“If you’re going up or down on the scale, you can catch it right away,” says Giancoli. “I know people may not want to get on the scale after they’ve been binging during the holidays, but it’s really helpful because it helps you keep track and you can start to see patterns of weight loss or gain.”
8. Get your z’s.
Getting enough restful, restorative sleep is another piece of the puzzle you need to pay attention to after overindulging during the holidays. “Good quality sleep is very important,” says Giancoli. “If you’re not getting enough sleep, your appetite hormones can increase. Getting enough sleep means those hormones will be more in balance.”
Make sure you get 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. Because the blue light from LED screens can suppress melatonin production, refrain from looking at your smartphone, tablet, or TV for at least an hour before you hit the sack. Keep your bedroom cool and dark and comfy, with as many distractions as possible removed from the room.
Above all, don’t let a holiday binge discourage you. “It shouldn’t take more than a few days of getting back to your routine of eating healthy meals and exercising to get back on-track,” Larson says. Everyone overeats once in awhile, so let go of those slipups and focus on moving forward.