Nothing fills us with universal dread the way an announcement that "There are only a certain number of shopping days until Christmas" does. Yet, while most folks worry about finding enough time to make their list and check it twice, those of us with a dieter's mentality fear that the visions of sugar plumbs might lead to the kind of overindulgence that could result in our waistlines (as opposed to the Grinch's heart) "growing three sizes that day."
But fear not, little elves! The holidays do not have to be a recipe for disaster when it comes to staying healthy, keeping fit and looking divine all the way through New Year's Eve and beyond. In fact, if you follow these simple tips as a general rule throughout the next several weeks, you'll be giving yourself a gift that keeps on giving.
Curb hunger before you dash out the door
Whether attending a holiday party, a special dinner or even a cookie exchange, have a snack before you go. I'm not saying not to eat at the event, but I am saying to arrive without feeling starved so that you're not tempted to make like a Thanksgiving Turkey and stuff yourself. Healthy pre-event snacks can include 1/4 of a cup of raw cashews or almonds, a piece of fruit or even a few slices of low-fat cheese. Munch on those just before an event and you'll arrive with socializing on your mind instead of filling up on the wrong foods.
Indulge like a supermodel would
Successfully navigating holiday eating doesn't mean giving into avoidance or denying yourself your true desires. It means indulging in a healthy and sane fashion. Want it? Taste it. Enjoy it. But stop there. You don't have to have more than one cookie, more than a few chips or more than one helping of each dish during dinner. Pretend you're being followed by TMZ cameras (and why shouldn't you be?) and that you're showing the world that you can eat anything (in proper portions) and look and feel fabulous at the same time. And by not denying yourself, you'll be less tempted to cheat when you get home from an event or outing.
Eat, drink and be wary
Don't forget that those holiday cocktails can be loaded with more calories than the snackaroos. A good general rule for women is to limit themselves to one alcohol drink a day. Men can usually go for two drinks, depending on their individual weight. But drink sensibly -- not just because you don't want to be the one at the party wearing the lampshade, but because you don't want to be the one in January wearing a moo moo. (For a holiday cocktail calorie count, click here.)
Home, sweets home
If you're someone who's more tempted to overindulge at home, when in private, then don't feel like you have to do any holiday baking. Instead, stop by your local store (preferably one like Whole Foods, which is known for using healthier and more natural ingredients) and pick up any baked goods you want to give as a gift. And do so when on the way to an event. This way you not only don't have to have the baked goods in your home tempting you, but you don't have to deal with seeing your cabinets stocked with the tempting ingredients (bag o' chocolate chips be gone!).
Make time to exercise
There are no excuses when it comes to moving your body. It must be done -- even if you are running all over town like a renegade reindeer. The trick is to actually do the running -- or walking at the very least. If you're spending an afternoon at the mall, make a few more rounds than you have to, take stairs instead of escalators and park far away (which you'll probably have to do anyway) in order to enjoy the lengthy walk to and from the mall entrance. And when you can, get your butt to the gym. Or, if you're truly pressed for time, around the block. Even when incorporating the tips above, you're likely to still be consuming more calories than you normally would over the next several weeks. So walk like you mean it (suck in that tummy and pump those arms). For nine ways to exercise at the mall, click here.
Become a track star
By track, I mean tracking! In other words, make sure you keep a food diary during the holidays. Write down everything you consume -- even the handful of raw cashews recommended above. Studies suggest dieters who keep a food diary are not only more aware of what they're eating, they're also more likely to take off and keep off the excess pounds. So when in doubt, write it out. For a handy food diary you can print out and use anytime, click here.
Last but not least, enjoy yourself
While the season at hand obviously introduces some added stress into all of our lives, that doesn't mean we should make like Ebenezer Scrooge. So take a (mental) load off and be gentle with yourself. We're often our own worst enemies when it comes to critiquing ourselves. The fact is, even for all the great reasons we have for losing weight, we are good enough and hot enough right in this very moment (you're being followed by TMZ cameras after all, remember?). So add a little of your own joy to the world -- and to yourself -- while living through and hopefully enjoying the season at hand.
For more by Gregg McBride, click here.
For more on personal health, click here.