Family cooking in kitchen

Heading into the holidays thinking you can indulge now and pay later is a recipe for disaster. 

“All the progress you’ve made during the year shouldn’t stop during the holidays,” says Dr. Mythili Vedala, MD, internal medicine and obesity medicine physician at  

Memorial Hermann Medical Group (MHMG) Sterling Ridge. “It’s important to your health.” 

That’s not to say you can’t indulge. It’s just a matter of keeping your health in mind.

Here are tips from Dr. Vedala on how to maintain your health goals through the holiday season: 

Remember What's Important. “Losing 5% of your weight can improve your cholesterol, diabetes or blood pressure,” Dr. Vedala says. “Make your health your priority, just as you did the rest of the year.”  

Scale Down the Role of Food. “You can enjoy the spirit of the holidays without making food the biggest part,” she says. “Instead, focus on conversations with friends and family.” 

Trim Your To-Dos. Long to-do lists mean more sleep-eroding stress and being tired may lead you to overindulge. Perhaps you and your family can limit or break up your list of must-dos to save time and energy. For example, maybe spend one evening decorating the tree or the mantle and decorating the rest on a different day. 

Have a Plan in Place. If you’re traveling, bring healthy snacks with you, or decide what you’ll eat at the airport and on the plane in advance. 

If you’re holding a handful of gatherings through the holiday season, plan ahead and don’t overdo it. You’re not obligated to stuff your guests—or yourself. Also be prepared for events you’ll attend where you’re likely to be overserved. Just because you’re handed a heaping plate doesn’t mean you have to eat it all. 

“Without strategizing and prioritizing your health, you easily can end up with an outcome you don’t want to deal with after the holidays,” Dr. Vedala says.

Eat Beforehand. Don’t arrive famished, she advises. If you eat a few small meals during the day, you’ll be better able to eat mindfully.

Know Your Weaknesses. If you cannot make cookies without eating half of them, consider a different activity, such as decorating the tree or playing festive games. And if pecan pie must be served as a holiday tradition, try to limit yourself to one piece.

Offer Healthier Options. You can make a fruit salad, steamed broccoli or beans and fill up on healthier alternatives, Dr. Vedala says. That makes it easier to turn down calorie-crammed alternatives. “This is once a year, so it’s OK if it’s your tradition to cook something that’s not healthy, but you can make a small amount of that and still have healthier dishes.” 

Script It. If you know a host will push you to eat more, decide what to say in advance, such as “Everything’s delicious but I’m so full. I cannot possibly eat another bite,” she says.  

You also can blame doctors’ orders for having to watch your diabetes or cholesterol. “Make it clear it’s about your health. And if you’re uncomfortable citing your personal challenges in front of others, consider alerting your host ahead of time,” she adds. 

Move Away from the Table. “The closer you are to the food, the more likely you’ll keep sampling,” Dr. Vedala says. “Make one plate of food and don’t go back.” Portion control also can allow you to enjoy without going overboard.

Get Moving. The holidays don’t mean forsaking your personal fitness routines. You can find new ways to work off calories. “Build movement into your family gatherings, perhaps by means of a short walk after meals or activities that appeal to children and adults alike,” Dr. Vedala says.                        

Slow Down. Your brain needs 20 minutes to alert your stomach that it’s time to put on the brakes. Take your time to enjoy and savor your meal, perhaps by putting down your fork to participate in conversation.

Leave Early vs. Late. The later you stay at a gathering, the more you’re likely to eat and drink—and be pressed to take home calorie-high leftovers. “That’s not your obligation as a guest. It’s OK to say no,” she says. 

Drink Mindfully. “Drink as much water as you usually do,” Dr. Vedala says. “Alcohol and sugary drinks cannot replace those ounces.” 

Sleep On It. “Try to make sleep a priority,” Dr. Vedala says. “Lack of sleep is stress on your body and can lead to stress eating.” 

Take One Step at a Time. You don’t have to be perfect. The goal is to do better, she says. “The holidays are special, and they’re stressful and challenging enough without being hard on yourself.”  

If this is your first holiday where you’re determined to eat less and move more, perhaps focus on one change. “The next holiday you can address food and exercise, and the one after that, food management, exercise and sleep,” Dr. Vedala says. 

Also realize that just staying on course with your regular routine is a victory. That way, you maintain your momentum, and you have a great start to the new year. “It’s difficult to push the reset button, and easier to continue on the path to better health.”

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