The holidays make healthy eating hard for two main reasons:
- Loss of routine and control
- Cultural norms around holiday eating
It’s just harder this time of year to make choices that provide our cells with what they need for optimal function. Then tack on:
- Increased alcohol use, which disrupts sleep
- The stress of travel and holiday expectations
- Challenges to exercising, like cold weather, busy schedules, and travel
It can be a recipe for fatigue, mood instability, weight gain, and a higher likelihood of getting sick.
So I’ve worked out my own three-step plan for staying healthy during the holidays as best I can. (All products listed are my personal favorites, with no financial relationship.)
1. Amidst holiday busyness, focus on the cell.
Become laser-focused on consuming as much healthy information as possible to feed and support your cells.
Don’t worry about the occasional holiday “indulgence,” “cheat meal,” or perceived diet “fail.” In the instances when we indulge, we are generally putting convenience, pleasure, or cultural and family norms as the priority. And that’s ok. Instead of stressing, re-focus on using other meals to get as many nutrients in as possible.
“The holidays are a marathon, not a sprint. I can’t be a part of holiday magic if my body is broken.”
So how does this look in practice?
Before the holiday event or party:
- Start the day with a breakfast high in fiber, protein, and fat, and skip refined carbs (they’ll increase your cravings). Chia seed pudding or eggs with avocado are good options, both of which yield an average of <15 mg/dL blood sugar rise based on Levels data.
- If good food will be scarce at the event, pregame with as many nutrients as possible. For example, consume a nutrient-rich smoothie before the event. Here’s my smoothie recipe, or if I’m in a time crunch, I might use a Daily Harvest smoothie as a base (this is my favorite) and add three handfuls of fresh or frozen greens. In a time crunch, just eat a handful of nuts and olives before you head out.
During the party:
Offer to bring a food item, and then bring what you want to eat. Some ideas:
- A healthy charcuterie: bell peppers, endive, cucumbers, Flackers or Ella’s crisps, olives, kale chips, hummus, guac, halved hard-boiled eggs, smoked salmon, sliced apples, raspberries, nuts, cashew cheese
- Appetizer: Stuffed mushroom caps
- Low-carb nutrient-rich entrée: Cauliflower, chard, mushroom bake
- A healthy dessert
- Alcohol alternatives: Put 1-2 tbsp of any juice (i.e., pomegranate) in a full glass of unflavored or flavored seltzer (I love Spindrift), add several dashes of bitters, squeeze in a lemon or lime wedge, serve in a wine glass. Or, bring a low-sugar non-alcoholic aperitif like Ghia or Wilfred’s that you can splash into seltzer.
After the party:
- Suggest a post-dinner neighborhood stroll or—my personal favorite—a dish-cleaning dance party.
- Mindful reflection: Take stock of what nutrients you missed and replete them the next day. If you had no omega-3s, make sure you get sardines, salmon, chia, or flax. No fiber? Go for chia, beans, lentils, and flax. No probiotics? Eat some sauerkraut or kimchi, unsweetened yogurt, or low sugar kombucha.
2. Make nutrients as convenient as possible.
The holidays are hectic. The last thing I want to do is spend a Sunday washing and chopping kale and making homemade salad dressings for the week. During the holidays:
- Just buy the pre-chopped/pre-packaged produce, like pre-spiralized zucchini noodles, and add organic no-sugar marinara sauce with beef or tofu. Get pre-cooked and shelled hardboiled eggs. Lean on frozen cauliflower rice and greens as a dinner base to avoid the hassle of fresh produce.
- Treat yourself to healthy takeout: salads or bowls from Dig Inn, sweetgreen, Chipotle, or Veggie Grill (just skip the bread, croutons, chips, or sugary dressings).
- Send a box of Daily Harvest to wherever you’re headed so that you know you’ll have access to veggie-based meals. I’ll often send a box ahead when I plan to visit someone or stay at an Airbnb.
- Keep individually portioned nuts, nut butters, olives, fish, 88% dark chocolate, and vitamins handy. More travel snacks here.
- I love to gift healthy tools and then teach loved ones how to use those tools to make a healthy meal while we’re together: For example, gift a Spiralizer + Spiralizer cookbook and show people how to make pesto zucchini pasta. Or give a mini-Cuisinart with nutritional yeast and brazil nuts, and make plant-based parmesan. Give a mini-donut pan and show your family how to make healthier donuts (swap monk fruit for sugar).
3. Do whatever it takes to motivate yourself to move.
Exercise doesn’t need to look the same during the holidays as it does the rest of the year. These are unusual times. It’s getting some movement that matters.
- Get outside first thing for a few minutes of outdoor sunlight exposure. It meaningfully helps with energy and motivation to be active. (Great podcast on this here.)
- Schedule workout classes you’ll be excited to do.
- Use an online workout program while traveling, and pull in the family to join you for a class. (Openfit and Peloton On-Demand have dance cardio and family cardio classes—anyone can do it!)
- Instead of catching up with family on the couch, always suggest a walk.
Final point: Lean on your wearables for support. If I feel overwhelmed, especially during the holidays, I always look at my data first. Is my sleep average lower? Are my glucose spikes all over the place? Has my recovery and HRV tanked from alcohol, travel, or stress? Have I gotten 90+ minutes of aerobic exercise this week (the amount associated with being protective for mental health)? Wearables uncover specific variables that impact my psychological state, removing guilt and clarifying exactly which behaviors I need to lean into—diet, movement, sleep, meditation—to get back on track.
The holidays are a marathon, not a sprint. I can’t be a part of holiday magic if my body is broken. Prioritizing my physical and mental health is an investment I’m making to support a special holiday season for myself and everyone around me.
— Dr. Casey