THE BLOG
11/27/2013 01:57 pm ET Updated Jan 27, 2014

10 Healthy Tips for the Holla-days

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You've been working hard and watching your diet. You've been on top of your exercise game, hitting the gym, getting your walk on and taking your fitness classes. You've been doing your thing! Then the holiday season pops up and you go H.A.M. and all that hard work and discipline goes out the door. Sound familiar? As a plant-based, fitness-conscious family that loves to eat soul food and spend quality time with the fam, we know how it is.

Whether you personally celebrate the actual holiday season or not, the holidays are a time that families and friends come together to feast, sometimes fuss, and surely to have fun. But with all the cooking, cleaning, traveling, shopping and endless ripping and running, the holidays can also become very stressful. It's easy to feel overwhelmed and health and fitness can get pushed to the back burner. Or out the back door all together.

It really doesn't take much to put on the extra pounds during the holiday season. A traditional holiday meal of turkey and gravy, yams, mashed potatoes, greens, dressing, sweetened drinks, desserts, corn bread or rolls can easily exceed recommended daily allowances for calories, salt, fat and cholesterol. Friends, family members and co-workers often refuse to take "no" for an answer when they're offering fattening treats. Just a day here and there of co-workers bringing in baked goods and candies, a few potluck parties or good old family and friends offering an extra drink or two in order to get into the festive spirit and whoops, there it is! It only takes an extra 500 calories a day to gain one pound a week and that can be easily done with two glasses of alcohol or a couple pieces of cake or candy.

If any of this sounds all too familiar, as sure as fatback is greasy, you ain't by yourself. Millions of people are at a fork in the road between celebrating heritage and socializing during holiday season and improving their health. The good news is that you can still enjoy the soulful tradition and festivities without the side of unhealthy side effects and extra helping of guilty feelings. The holidays don't have to be a time when you fall off the wagon. Staying on your Healthy Gangsta during the holiday season is possible.

Here are 10 quick tips we've gathered over the years that give you the best of both worlds.

1. Cut the Calories, Keep the Flavor

Eat a healthy balanced meal before you go to a party to reduce pigging out. Make a healthy alternative dish similar to the kinds of foods being served at the function. For example, greens without the fatback and season instead with onions, carrots and tomatoes. Check here for a recipe. Take one small sliver of each dessert you want to try instead of a super-sized chunk. Say no to candy and bring fruit instead.

Drink plenty of water. Water keeps you feeling full and helps reduce your intake of extra salt, fat and calories. Remember calories from alcohol tend to be stored in the abdominal area. They don't call it a beer belly for nothing. People who are overweight actually gain weight easier when they consume alcohol. Replace shots of alcohol with lots of water.

2. Milk the Moment

Use non-dairy milk to replace cow's milk in corn bread, baked goods and mashed potatoes. Choose lower fat non-dairy alternatives like almond, flax or hemp milk to reduce your the cholesterol intake. Your taste buds won't miss the difference but your arteries will appreciate it.

3. Don't Get All Salty

Choose foods low in salt. Canned foods are often high in salt so choose fresh veggies instead of canned ones. Broth made from beef or chicken or bouillon cubes is usually very high in salt so choose low sodium vegetable broths or herbs and spices.

4. Whole Up, Wait a Minute

Choose whole grains instead of white rice, white bread and white flour. Examples of whole grain alternatives are brown, black or wild rice, whole wheat bread or Whole wheat stuffing.

5. Go Heavy on the Veggies

Use vegetables as seasonings. Instead if seasoning foods like beans, greens, rice and stuffing with pieces of meat or meat stocks, use vegetables and spices. Carrots, onions, bell peppers, mushrooms and sun dried tomatoes add such a wonderful flavor people won't miss the meat.

Make plant-based options. Instead having several meat dishes, have more vegetable entrees. For example, for a high protein, meat-free option, serve Creole red beans and brown rice instead of baked ham. (This and other soulful vegan recipes are available in the cookbook The Vegan Soulfood Guide to the Galaxy by Afya Ibomu at www.nattral.com.)

6. Naturally Sweeten

Replace refined sugars with natural sweeteners .Instead of cooking baked goods with highly refined processed white, brown or turbinado sugar use maple syrup, raw agave syrup or coconut derived sweeteners.

7. Make the Time

Be flexible with your regularly scheduled exercise time especially when your days get busy. You might have to change the hour of the day you bang out your training or even reduce the amount of time. Just remember that 50 percent of some exercise is better than 100 percent of no exercise. You can create a short but effective home workout routine for those times you can't make it to the gym. Crunches, push-ups, jumping rope and many other exercises can be done without any gym equipment. Check www.rbgfitclub.com for more fitness tips.

8. Get Your Walk On

Carry a pair of running or walking shoes in your bag or ride at all times, so if there is an opportunity for a run or walk, lack of proper shoes won't stop you from indulging. You can get off the bus a stop or two away from your stop and walk or run the rest of the way home. Another option is to drive to the general area where you have some holiday errands to tend to and get out and literally "run" your errands; killing two birds with one stone.

9. Celebrate Sober

Many of us feel that drinking alcohol during the holidays helps us to relax but too much alcohol will only add stress to our bodies and often times as many of us can probably attest to, a drunk relative can be a stress to the whole occasion. Instead of alcohol, provide or bring healthier alternatives like fresh juices, herbal teas or if you really want a kick try serving kombucha -- the fermented tea with a bit of a bite that you can find at health food stores.

10. Beat the Flu

In addition to the stressful aspects of the holiday season; it is also flu season and it ain't no new news that both stress and the flu can tear up the immune system. Exercise, healthy eating and rest helps strengthen the immune system! So don't skip your training just because it's holiday season. When you make the time for consistent exercise, you have fewer sick days with lots of energy and more enjoyable times with the fam. Beat the flu, before it beats you.

So, there you have it. Ten tips you can use right away to help stay on top of your health and fitness during the holiday season. Regular exercise and good eating habits are some of the best gifts we can give ourselves and our families not only for the holidays but all year round. From our family to you and yours, wishing you the best of health and the best of times.

For recipes and health tips, visit Afya Ibomu's website www.nattral.com and follow her on Twitter: @Afyaibomu.

Learn more about why Healthy Is the New Gangsta at Stic's website www.rbgfitclub.com and follow him on Twitter: @STICRBG