It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.
Oftentimes, it can feel as if the holiday season is at odds with a healthy lifestyle. After all, it’s the time of year for rich foods, cocktails, relaxation, and other festive indulgences. Yet, here at Cenegenics, we believe you can still enjoy all of the joys of the season without derailing your wellness progress.
Because our focus is on health optimization, and not simply reaching some short-term goals, we acknowledge the reality of temporary lifestyle changes which come up this time of year. Here, we share some of our best advice for healthy holidays.
Determine Your Pre-Holiday Starting Point
If you have healthy baseline levels to begin with, any holiday overindulgences are only likely to have a minimal impact (if any). For instance, if you’re already eating a diet filled with lean protein, healthy fats, vegetables, and few to no processed foods and partaking in regular interval and resistance training, you’re unlikely to do any damage by deviating from the norm for a little while.
Chances are, your blood biomarkers related to insulin sensitivity/resistance and inflammation are in good shape. Should you find yourself having some rich foods or sugary snacks, pouring an extra cocktail, or skipping a workout this season, you’re in good company. It happens to everyone, and with a healthy baseline, you can expect to get right back on track without any harm done. In fact, the average weight gain for healthy people during the holiday season is just one pound. 
On the other hand, if factors like recent illness, stress, or an abnormally packed schedule have caused you to fall off track a bit, there may be some biomarkers that need your attention. For example, the following blood values could be a bit higher leading up to the holidays:
Healthy Holiday Tip – Monitor Your Sugar Intake
Subsequent poor choices could set your progress back even further, and for this reason, it’s a good idea to monitor your sugar intake. While sugary drinks, candies, and baked goods are common culprits of added sugars, starchy foods, sauces, and even salad dressings can be loaded with them, too. So, prioritize the foods that are most special to you this time of year, and swap out sodas and other sources of added sugars.
Of course, no matter which scenario applies to you, it’s important to remember that the holidays are only temporary. The following tips will help you navigate them as healthfully as possible, but even if you find yourself slipping up occasionally, you can often get back on track once the festivities have passed.
Food Swaps for Healthy Holidays
Here are some healthy swaps for your favorite holiday side dishes and desserts:
Host Your Own Healthy Holiday Get-Togethers
One way to guarantee healthy holiday eating is by hosting your family’s gathering to ensure a healthier holiday meal. While it involves a fair amount of work, hosting gives you full control over the menu. This allows you to make healthy choices while still serving up dishes everyone will love.
For instance, in addition to serving a hearty holiday main, such as turkey or ham, you can also offer nutrient-rich sides, such as roasted root vegetables seasoned with your favorite herbs. Or, make simple swaps in your favorite dishes, using healthier choices like Greek yogurt in place of sour cream, for instance.
Try Eating Before Heading to That Holiday Party
Some people find themselves “saving up” their holiday calories by skipping breakfast and lunch before heading to a gathering. This can backfire, however. Not only can it significantly mess with your blood sugar levels, but it will also leave you feeling famished – and thus more likely to over-indulge once you arrive. Moreover, if you have a drink, it could wind up hitting you very quickly.
Instead of skipping meals, have protein-rich dishes before going out. Consider a smoothie with fresh fruit, greens, and Greek yogurt or milk in the morning. For lunch, have a satiating salad with grilled chicken or a similar filling yet nutritious meal. And remember, even if you’ll be eating a little bit more than you normally would later, your body still needs nutrients to function its best now.
Hydration is critically important for all of our body’s processes. Drinking ample water ensures the cells and tissues get the nutrients they need to function their best. Plus, staying hydrated can improve sleep quality, mood, and cognition.  On the other hand, poor hydration can affect workouts, cognitive functions, and even our digestion and feelings of hunger.
If you indulge in some holiday drinks, you’re more likely to become dehydrated this season. For this reason, be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Always sip water in between alcoholic beverages, too.
Are You Sticking to Your Exercise Routine This Season?
Many people find the only way to keep up with an exercise routine is to schedule workouts as if they were important meetings, or any other essential aspect of the day, such as showering or eating dinner. This mentality can help you stay on track with fitness even through the busy holiday season. Some individuals wake up a half hour earlier, or make a point to stop at the gym on the way home just to fit in a quick session.
Nonetheless, you may find that there are simply some days when workouts just don’t happen. From hosting out-of-town visitors to doing last-minute shopping, it’s completely fine for other holiday plans to overshadow a workout or two. On those days, just try to find ways to move more however you can: take the stairs instead of the escalator, park far from entrances instead of hunting for a nearby spot, or take the dog for an extra-long walk.
Wellness-Oriented Holiday Activities
Your holidays don’t have to strictly follow the mantra of, “Eat, drink, and be merry.” In fact, there are plenty of festive activities you can enjoy with your friends or loved ones, or on your own. Here are just a few ideas to consider:
- Look into holiday-themed races. Many towns host holiday-oriented 5Ks and similar activities. Even if you walk through the race, you’ll get a long cardio session in and enjoy the mood-boosting benefits of exercising outside. 
- If there aren’t any races in your area, make a playlist with your favorite upbeat holiday songs and power through a cardio workout outside or at the gym. It doesn’t have to be on the treadmill; the elliptical and spin bike make for excellent low-impact cardio sessions.
- Host a holiday scavenger hunt for your children, nieces or nephews, or grandchildren. Hide items strategically throughout your yard if the weather permits, or consider getting local businesses involved.
- Instead of driving around to check out holiday lights in your town, consider walking around the blocks to gaze at your neighbors’ light displays.
- Chop down a real Christmas tree. Chances are, you’ll do a fair amount of walking on the Christmas tree farm, which certainly makes for a healthy holiday activity.
Tomorrow Is Always a New Day
Oftentimes, we tend to feel guilty for enjoying all of the indulgences the holiday season brings. Yet, research suggests that actually taking the time to mindfully indulge in your favorite foods is the key to minimizing holiday-related damage. Engaging your senses to fully experience your food allows you to slow down and appreciate the meal or snack, the company you’re in, and your environment.
Plus, this gives your brain time to register that you’re full, which can take 20 minutes.  So, instead of rushing through a “bad” food and feeling guilty about it afterwards, allow yourself to immerse yourself in the experience.
And, the fact is that you always can start a new day tomorrow, or once the holidays have passed. Adherence to an overall healthy lifestyle the majority of the time allows for leeway from time to time. Part of health optimization is granting yourself permission to experience the richness of life.
Healthy Holidays Are In Your Grasp - In Conclusion
While moderation is key to keeping biomarkers within healthy ranges during the holiday season, there will be times when you may eat or drink more than you had planned. If this happens, allow yourself the peace of mind of knowing that your Cenegenics age-management team is here waiting to help you get back on track.
From personalized nutrition to tailored exercise recommendations, our clinical team guides you towards the choices that allow you to optimize your health, not just after the holidays but year-round.
If you’re interested in exploring the benefits of Cenegenics, learning more about what Cenegenics costs, and discovering how we can help you pursue the healthiest version of yourself, contact us to schedule a phone consultation.
Also, see what our patients are saying about the success they are experiencing on the Cenegenics program on our Cenegenics Reviews YouTube channel.
Next Steps - Holidays Don’t Have to Mean a Step Backward
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About the Contributors
Global Director of Nutrition & Exercise
Rudy Inaba is Cenegenics’ Global Director of Nutrition & Exercise. He is a recognized fitness and sports nutrition consultant with nearly 15 years of experience in clinical exercise physiology and lifestyle management. After pursuing his Master of Science in Clinical Exercise Physiology at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, Rudy joined Cenegenics where he leads 20 clinical locations nationwide in their advancements in kinesiology, nutritional biochemistry, and their analyses of industry research & market trending.
Joshua D'Alessandro - MS, CSCS, CISSN
Nutrition & Exercise Counselor at Cenegenics New York City
My name is Joshua D'Alessandro and I am an Exercise and Nutrition Counselor for Cenegenics in NY. My passion for fitness began at a very young age and has manifested into a career filled with possibilities. The countries largest epidemic, and quite possibly the root cause of most issues, is diminishing health. In my career, I hope to do everything and anything I can to improve the well being and lives of the people around me!
This guide was produced with contributions from the following key resources:
The Cenegenics Education and Research Foundation
The Textbook of Age Management Medicine Volume 1: Mastering Healthy Aging Nutrition, Exercise and Hormone Replacement Therapy
Jeffrey Park Leake, M.D., CPT
Dr. Jeffrey Park Leake is a Partner and Director of Education at Cenegenics Elite Health specializing in age management and wellness. Having trained hundreds of physicians worldwide, Dr. Leake is also the Director of Education for the Clinical Strategies for Healthy Aging course at AMM Educational Foundation.
Todd David Greenberg, M.D., CSCS
Dr. Todd Greenberg is a practicing physician with a broad range of expertise, including wellness, exercise, sports injuries, and MRI of sports injuries. He is a Radiology Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Washington.
 The Skinny on Holiday Weight Gain; Parker-Pope, Tara. Retrieved from: https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/11/22/the-skinny-on-holiday-weight-gain/
 The Importance of Hydration. Retrieved from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/the-importance-of-hydration/
 Get Out! 5 Benefits of Outdoor Exercise; Graham, Kelsey. Retrieved from: https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/6360/get-out-5-benefits-of-outdoor-exercise
 How Not To Feel Guilty During the Holidays; Beheshti, Naz. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/nazbeheshti/2018/12/18/holiday-indulgences-dont-have-to-make-you-feel-guilty/#48328d723e30