Holy Eating: A Personal Trainer’s Guide to Eating Gracefully during the Holidays


1: holy day
2: a day on which one is exempt from work; specifically: a day marked by a general suspension of work in commemoration of an event.

Webster’s Dictionary Online

Definition #2 is very functional. It describes from a practical point of view what a “holiday” is.

Definition #1, however, is the one I’m really focused on. A holiday is a holy day. Not necessarily in a religious sense(though often it is that too) but holy as in extra-ordinary, magical and full of special traditions.

To me this attention to a holiday season being extra-ordinary, magical and full of special traditions really gives a clear framework for applying my desires to live a healthy, energetic and positive lifestyle.

We often go into the holiday season with overwhelming lists of should’s and should not’s. I should buy Great Aunt Betty a nice present (even though I haven’t seen her since last Christmas and she seems to still think I’m 12yrs old). I should not drink the special eggnog drink that we only have at Christmas because it’s REALLY bad for me.

How can we approach this time of year with more compassion towards ourselves and maybe even allow ourselves to celebrate food?

1. Plan your Holiday Eating

Can you imagine climbing into your car without any maps or your smartphone and heading off for a month long road trip with NO planning?

Most everyone I know follows a plan even just when driving their kids to school or stopping off at the grocery store. What if we put some forethought into our holiday consumption?

2. Healthy Eating at Holiday Parties

When you show up at a party that has a beautiful spread of food, stop for a moment to really admire the spread.

Really look at all the options. Which options are the most mouth watering? Which ones don’t look that appetizing?

Then choose from the most delectable, recognizing that you might come back for more so you only really need a small portion of each to start. Now make your way AWAY from the food table so you can spend some time enjoying these goodies and reconnecting with the friends and family who originally brought you to this party.

3. Plan the Flow of your High Calorie Days

Planning our consumption can happen on a daily basis. You know you have a holiday party after work today so consider using skim milk instead of cream in your coffee but DON’T skip lunch.

It’s a great time to grab the veggie snack option instead of the pastry so that when you get to the party you can choose to eat the tasty looking desserts and not feel the need to deprive yourself.

4. Plan the Flow of your High Calorie Weeks

Desserts and drinks are a wonderful part of holiday celebrations. They are also high in calories and low in nutrients, which is why they are considered special treats. Sometimes our holiday treats become such a regular occurrence that they lose their uniqueness and we gain pounds.

Look ahead at your upcoming week of events which one has the best treats, which one has the best drinks? Recognize that one drink often leads to two which inevitably leads to more and more food. Maybe you pick a party where you have no more than one drink?

5. What Foods are an Important Part of my Tradition?

Are there some foods that you always make but don’t actually love? I realized a couple years ago that I don’t really like having dinner rolls with Thanksgiving dinner. So if I’m in charge, I don’t make them and if someone else is in charge, I politely decline eating them.

Do you bastardize your favorites in order to make them low calorie, low fat and/or high fiber, and then feel totally unsatisfied by how they taste? Let holiday food be sacred. Give it your full attention, enjoy every bite and then most importantly stop when you are full.

6. What Shouldn’t I Eat?

Don’t eat the foods you don’t like! (except veggies of course). Most of the time I encourage people to try different kinds of foods, to expand their palates. But holiday parties aren’t necessarily the best time for this. Pay attention to what foods you really love and then pay even closer attention to when you are full.

7. Do I have to Keep Exercising through the Holiday

Here are some of the side effects of exercise…..

  • improved mood
  • improved energy
  • improved quality of sleep
  • increased caloric burn
  • decreased weight gain
  • decreased chance of getting sick
  • decreased stress

So is it worth it? Particularly at a time when social stresses are high it seems to me that the emotional benefits alone should keep you exercising through the holiday.

8. How do I keep exercising through the Holiday?

Start with 5 minutes. Go for a walk or run, spend 5 minutes going up and down your stairs at work or at home, or 5 minutes of those exercises your trainer gave you as homework.

Many times once you’ve done 5 minutes you’ll decide you might as well do a few more, but even if you stop after 5 minutes you’ll get to pat yourself on the back for doing SOMETHING instead of berating yourself for doing nothing. And after 5 minutes I’ll bet you’ll already be feeling much better.

9. What do I do with holiday food gifts?

It depends.

Do you love this treat? Is it something you look forward to all year? Then enjoy it – maybe not all at one sitting. If possible you can separate it into smaller containers and then eat it only at special times. My dad’s Christmas baklava is eaten only after dinner with a small glass of wine – (not at lunch, dinner, with coffee and with a few samples each time I walk by).

If it’s not your favorite kind of food, can you re-gift it or bring it to a food shelf? There are many people who might love this particular treat and you can make their holiday brighter by sharing.

Thanks for reading!  I wish the best of luck in having an absolutely delectable holiday.


Photo Credits:

Holiday Tree by “Brilliant Hues”.  Source.  No modifications made.  Baklava by Quinn Dombrowski.  Source.  No modifications made.