Profile photo of Mark Hyman, MD Written by

15 Ideas to Survive the Holidays While Feeling and Looking Great!

15 Ideas to Survive the Holidays While Feeling and Looking Great!

It’s holiday time!  This is when we are all tempted (even me) to indulge and eat too many things that taste good but make us feel bad.  Then, of course, we promise ourselves to go into food rehab right after the holidays.  But what if you could enjoy the holidays, have amazing food and not be smothered in mounds of sweets and cakes and heavy foods that give you that momentary pleasure that you immediately regret.  Remember that commercial for antacids, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing”?  Holidays are a festive, joyful time to celebrate with family and friends. And you can avoid turning those social functions into sugary, processed food orgies that do nothing good for your health or waistline and ultimately, can contribute to diabesity.

Especially during the holidays, you’ll likely find yourself somewhere where you have no control over what is served — a party, an event or a friend’s house. But that doesn’t mean you need to lose control and devour whatever sugary concoction your host has made. These 15 strategies can become incredibly helpful for your next dinner party or other holiday social gathering:

  1. Make special requests. Tell your host about any food sensitivities you might have. Most will be more than happy to accommodate your request.
  2. Don’t skip meals on the big party day. Instead, eat early and eat often. Keep the fire of your metabolism burning all day, rather than slowing it down during periods of “mini-starvation.” Always have breakfast, eat every 3 to 4 hours, and try to schedule meals at the same time every day. Your metabolism will work faster and more efficiently. You will lose weight, have more energy and feel better.
  3. Eat before you go. I will often eat before I go to an event. I am happier, have more fun, and can enjoy talking and interacting if I don’t have to focus on eating.
  4. Load up on real foods first. Stick with whole fruits, vegetables, non-gluten grains, healthy fats and wild-caught fish or other animal protein. These foods signal your brain to stop eating and you’re less likely to reach for sugary processed foods and dessert.
  5. Watch out for sugar pushers. Every family has one of these. They give you a guilt trip about not trying their special pie, persuading you to “Live a little.” If you must sample their creation, having a few bites will usually appease them. Just be careful that a few bites don’t become two pieces.
  6. Make family and friends, not food, your focus. The holidays are about giving and celebrating with those we love most. Food usually becomes the center of attention during these social situations. Remember to shift your focus on what really matters rather than making a beeline for the buffet.
  7. Bring an emergency pack. If you are not sure what the food choices will be, then be prepared. Having your emergency life pack is a great backup. You can always have something before you go in and after you leave if you are still hungry. Over time you will find your favorite version of the life pack, but here’s an example of what you could include:
    1. A small bag of raw almonds, walnuts or pecans
    2. A small bag of cut carrots or cucumbers
    3. A small container of hummus (try Wild Garden single-serve packets)
    4. A can of wild salmon
    5. A can of sardines
    6. A container of chickpeas with olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper
    7. A healthy whole-food protein bar
  8. Have a potluck get-together. You can do this at your office. Have coworkers share the responsibility of making lunch for the group once a week or every two weeks. Or create a holiday dinner and request everyone brings one dish. Coordinate those dishes ahead of time so you know everyone brings something different and that every dish will be healthy.
  9. Watch your alcohol. Among its problems, alcohol depletes mood-boosting B vitamins1, is a brain toxin and slows down brain metabolism. It also makes you uninhibited around food.  If you drink at parties, stick with a dry wine or tequila. Whatever you do, avoid eggnog and other sugary alcoholic drinks. Also remember to stay hydrated during the event.
  10. Be aware of food sensitivities. Dairy and gluten are the most common triggers of food allergies, and they appear often during the holidays. For patients who have trouble losing weight, I often recommend a short elimination, like the one in The Blood Sugar Solution. Both dairy and gluten are linked to insulin resistance and, therefore, weight gain. This one move may be the single most important thing you can do to lose weight.
  11. Just relax and eat. Eat things that nourish you such as meat, fish or chicken. Ask for extra vegetables or a second salad. Or just do your best and relax and have fun – you can always get back to your routine in the morning.
  12. Don’t skimp on sleep. Sleep often takes a backseat during holiday festivities, but getting sufficient amounts becomes even more important among what can sometimes become stressful, frenzied days. Take a little “holiday” in the two hours before bed. Creating a sleep ritual, a special set of little things you do before bed to help ready your system physically and psychologically for sleep, can guide your body into a deep healing sleep.
  13. Workout before you go. Exercise is the only thing besides eating breakfast that has been correlated with long-term weight loss.   You don’t have to exercise to exercise. Instead of going to the gym, try going for a brisk walk, ice skating, playing with your kids or going for a hike.
  14. Bring your supplements. Just because you eat a big dinner doesn’t mean you should neglect crucial nutrients you might not be getting in your food. For almost everyone, I recommend a multivitamin and mineral supplement; calcium and magnesium with vitamin D; and omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil) as foundation nutrients.
  15. Journal your experience. One study published in Kaiser Permanente Research found people who recorded what they ate lost twice the amount of weight as those who didn’t journal. Writing down everything – including what you eat, your exercise and any emotional or psychological experiences that might become relevant – can help you pinpoint what may have gotten you off track.

That period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s can also be a very stressful time. We often soothe our stress with endless desserts and other processed, sugary foods that are everywhere during the holiday season. In this blog, I focus on strategies to calm the mind. Two of my favorite ways to manage stress involve taking an UltraBath and doing a “Take 5” breathing break. I also encourage you to do yoga, meditation or any other relaxation technique.

If you are looking to get healthy and stay healthy through the holidays and need extra support, I encourage you join my 10-Day Detox Diet Challenge beginning on December 4.  Click here to learn more.

Even with an arsenal of smart tactics, bypassing the plethora of holiday food temptations can become a challenge. That’s where I need your help. What one strategy would you add to my list? Share yours below or on my Facebook fan page.

1Volkow ND1, Hitzemann R, Wang GJ, Fowler JS, Burr G, Pascani K, Dewey SL, Wolf AP., Decreased brain metabolism in neurologically intact healthy alcoholics. Am J Psychiatry. 1992 Aug;149(8):1016-22.

Mark Hyman MD is the Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine, the Founder of The UltraWellness Center, and a ten-time #1 New York Times Bestselling author.

If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.