Hard to believe, but the onslaught of November and December holidays are nearly upon us. You might be facing the endless social events and massive amounts of food with excitement, or perhaps panic, regret, dread, worry, guilt…
And we’ve all been there: that feeling of leaving the tenth party of the season feeling a little snug in the pants and a little hazy on our count of just how many cookies glasses of Prosecco we consumed.
It can be tough to navigate a busy social calendar, end-of-year work schedule, holiday commitments and stay on top of cooking at home, eating well, hydrating and working out to your usual standard. While we won’t say that trying to maintain a little of your routine isn’t valuable—it is, and ultimately, you’ll get through the season feeling better and more confident if you can keep on top of a few workouts and a few nourishing meals whenever possible. But being super strict, super controlled and super self-loathing for the last two months of the year won’t do you any favors.
We spoke with Talia Pollock, holistic health coach, deliciously hilarious YouTuber and founder of Party in My Plants, for her take on what it means to give yourself a break during this unique time of year—and how to indulge without derailing your great work or giving yourself a guilt-riddled panic attack.
The causes of weight gain are easier to navigate than you think
If you think about holiday weight gain as inevitable, and you’re prone to worrying about this kind of thing, you might be tempted to avoid anything holiday-related altogether. After all, it can be totally overwhelming to feel like every choice you make for the next eight weeks is going to cause you to fall apart.
Hold off on the panic for a second, because there are a few key differences between this time of year and every other time of year when you somehow manage to keep your habits in check. If you can pinpoint the biggest holiday pitfalls, you can feel a little more confident that you can handle them gracefully without totally depriving yourself of the festivities.
“I think holiday weight gain is the result of the triple S’s: sugar, socializing and sweaters,” Pollock says. “Holiday eating is pretty much synonymous with sugar eating—all those cookies, pies and gingerbread lattes are just packed with sugar. And guess what: sugar is wildly addicting and will pack the pounds on fast.”
Okay, so we should endeavor to be aware of how much sugar we consume. As Pollock puts it, “Budget for a few treats you’re going to enjoy guiltlessly and savor the heck out of them. You’ll choose wisely and appreciate the chance to have these.”
This is especially true at the innumerable social events that pop up between Halloween and New Years. “We often feel guilted and pressured into eating more than usual, or sometimes the temptation of an endless buffet gets the better of us,” she says.
A couple of these events are okay, but when you’re into double-digit outings over the course of a couple of weeks, those extra nibbles and big meals can add up. Plan in advance how much you’d like to consume—yes, take advantage of a couple of treats—but check in with yourself every so often to see if you’re really still hungry. A few conscious bites of your favorite special dish won’t kill you, but mindless eating over many hours and days might make you feel not so great. Know that you have a few more dinners on the calendar and try to frame these as fun social events that revolve around something other than indulging. Good conversation, perhaps?
The third S, Pollock notes, is for sweater. “The piece of clothing that makes us feel trim even when we’re not,” she explains. “Bulky sweaters hide things and can make us forget how we’re actually doing in terms of our baseline or goals. In the summer, when we wear more revealing clothing, we’re reminded of how we’re doing. It’s easy to lose that incentive when you’re constantly hidden in big clothes.”
How refreshing! Paying attention to these three things is a lot easier than trying to manage every single tiny detail. Success here is in the bigger picture.
Stressing out about holiday weight gain won’t help you
With all of the extra things packed into your calendar at this time of year, adding stress about your food choices just makes the impact of your less-than-regular habits worse.
“Bottom line,” Pollock says, “Nothing good comes from worrying about weight gain.”
Worry is like low-grade, constant stress, and according to Pollock, “Stress makes everything worse. It impairs our body’s ability to digest and assimilate nutrients, meaning that it effectively cancels out any healthful things you do manage to do. Stress also tends to lead to more sugar cravings and unhealthy behaviors, which could actually increase the weight gain, too. If that’s all not enough, stress can compromise our immune systems.”
Feeling under the weather, relying further on less-than-nourishing foods, missing out on the tiny bit of physical activity we might have been able to work in—definitely not conducive to feeling our best. And all from stressing out about what might happen.
Reframe the worry and allow yourself to enjoy
Holing yourself up in the gym and skipping every party for fear of gaining weight entirely defeats the purpose of this special time of year.
“Holidays are meant to be a time to get together with people you enjoy, and really get to revel in one another’s company,” Pollock says. “You are in good company if you find you’re indulging more than usual or working out less. Rather than committing to the [daunting, nearly impossible] goal of staying perfectly on track, think instead about allowing yourself to enjoy, knowing you have a plan to bounce back and feel your best come January.”
This thinking isn’t meant to be carte blanche to binge on gingerbread for weeks, but it might help open a little space to get the most of your holidays and experience a little of what you enjoy most about this time of year. The trick is to know what your baseline habits are—how many weekly workouts, which foods help you feel awesome, which resources you need to keep on top of your healthiest self—and how they’ll fit into your life once the turkey and latkes have been tidied up. (As an added bonus, offer to bring a healthified treat to dinner. You’ll have something to feel great about and not feel like you’re missing out if the sugary treats get to be too much.)
As Pollock explains, “In my book, if you can avoid letting an indulgent holiday party or a few skipped workouts throw you off for weeks, you’ve succeeded.”
If you know the holidays won’t entirely derail you and you have some solid habits to fall back on, you’ll be less likely to stress that every wintery food choice (or lazy afternoon) spells disaster.
“Remember, in non-holiday times, why you eat a salad every day and why you make hydrating a priority,” Pollock says. “You value your health and feeling your best.”
You confidently make decisions every day to support your best self, and you can just as confidently make choices during the holidays to allow yourself to enjoy. A bite of Mom’s delicious pie or a few scoops of that famous family stuffing recipe—even if they lead to a little extra padding—should be cause for celebration, not guilt, especially when you know you maintain your commitment to feeling awesome the rest of the year.