The holiday season shouldn’t be about deprivation or dieting. It’s a time to celebrate with family and friends and to enjoy the festivities.
The challenge is to do it without gaining weight. Am I right??
For the past several years, I have challenged myself to stick to a few simple healthy habits from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day. My own personal Healthy Holiday Challenge has allowed me to enjoy Christmas cookies and eggnog, in moderation, without waking up New Year’s Day filled with guilt, regret and an extra five pounds.
Since this technique has worked so well for me, I want to share how you can create your own mini challenge too.
(If you want a Healthy Holiday Challenge already created for you (like the one you see in these photos), complete with instructions, workbook, daily food and activity logs, journaling exercises, check out my Healthy Holiday Survival Guide.
Create your own Healthy Holiday Challenge.
A challenge is simply a short period of time (like 30 days or 90 days or the Christmas season) when you challenge yourself to make some changes.
It could be a smoothie challenge where you drink a green smoothie every day for 30 days. Or a walking challenge where you strive for 10,000 steps per day for 21 days.
Or a healthy holiday challenge where you pick a few simple habits to focus on for the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.
Calling it a “challenge” makes it fun, like a game. And there’s a little competitive element to it, even if you are only challenging yourself.
A healthy holiday challenge is NOT:
- following a special diet. No strict meal plans or “acceptable” food lists.
- a specific workout program, though movement is important.
- deprivation and never saying yes to stuffing, peppermint mochas and grandma’s gingerbread cookies
A healthy holiday challenge IS:
- a fun way to focus on not gaining weight over the holidays
- tracking a few simple healthy habits
- moving your body in some way daily
- enjoying treats in moderation with NO guilt
- focusing on daily self-care
- holding yourself accountable in a loving manner
Sound good? Here’s how to create your own Healthy Holiday Challenge.
Step 1 – Set a goal, write down your “why,” and pick a reward.
Start with setting a goal.
What do you want to accomplish with your healthy holiday challenge?
For me it’s always no weight gain. I usually don’t focus on losing pounds. But your goal is totally unique to you.
Putting that goal in writing is essential. So grab a notebook, or a Word doc, or the notes app on your phone, and write down your goal.
Next, write your WHY.
Why do you want to have a happy and healthy holiday season? It might be to look amazing in your New Year’s Eve little black dress. Maybe it’s so you don’t start January 1st with regret. Whatever it is, your WHY is unique to you. Write it down.
Choose a reward.
Sometimes it helps to have a little carrot dangling at the end of your mini challenge. How can you reward yourself? A massage? New running shoes? Scented candles from Bath & Body Works?
Choose something that will motivate you, and write it down.
Step 2 – Take your stats.
Yay, this is the fun part! Ok, not really. No one likes jumping on the scale. But you won’t know if you are successful if you don’t know where you started.
I recommend at least tracking your weight and waist measurement. If you want to measure hips, chest, thighs, arms and calves, have at it.
The best piece of advice I can give you on taking your stats is to view it is a data point. Remove any guilt over the numbers. And read this quote below and take it to heart:
Step 3 – Pick 3 or 4 habits to focus on.
When choosing my healthy habits each year I think about what simple, doable actions I can take every day that will give me the most bang for my buck – without leaving me stressed or feeling deprived. I always have an eating goal and a physical goal.
You choose the goals that work best for you but be sure they are realistic. Sticking to a 1200 calorie diet plan and running 5 miles every day are probably unrealistic.
Here are my healthy habits:
Habit 1: No eating after 8pm.
Think about when you get into trouble with food. With me, and lots of the ladies I know, it’s nighttime snacking. You know, grazing while sitting in front of the TV because YOU DESERVE IT DAMMIT. Eating in front of the TV is a habit, and it’s hard to break. So is mindlessly opening the fridge to grab the wine and rummaging through the pantry for a handful of tortilla chips.
Most of my crap eating is done at night. So, for the holidays, I resolve to not eat after 8pm.
I will honor this rule.
With one exception….if I am at a celebration.
If you’re at the office party, or the neighbor’s for drinks and cookies, go ahead and eat. If it’s New Year’s Eve I certainly going to be noshing after 8pm.
But on regular days I’ll stop at 8pm.
This one rule can make a big impact on the extra calories and holiday weight creeping on.
Habit 2: Practice mindful eating.
Mindful eating simply means paying attention and listening to your body’s signals.
- when you’re hungry
- when you’re approaching full
- what foods your body is asking for
- how certain foods make you feel
- why you want to eat (is it out of boredom? to soothe yourself? to procrastinate a task you don’t want to do? is it 5pm and that’s dinner time?)
- it could even be thinking about where your food came from, how it was grown etc.
Mindful eating is not easy, but it is a skill. You get better the more you practice it.
It’s tough to practice mindful eating if you don’t remember to practice, particularly when we are so used to just eating. I reminded to eat mindfully each time I look at my planner and when I log my food during the holiday season.
Here is a cool acronym to remember the BASICS of mindful eating:
- B – Breathe and belly check for hunger and satiety before you eat
- A – Assess your food
- S – Slow down
- I – Investigate your hunger throughout the meal, particularly half-way through
- C – Chew your food thoroughly
- S – Savor your food
I found a great PDF about mindful eating and you can download it here: Mindful Eating Basics
Habit 3: Move for at least 30 minutes every day.
Exercise? Who has time for that? Um, I do. And so do you.
Everyone has 30 minutes to talk a walk. Break it up into three 10 minute strolls if need be. Walk in place during commercials when watching TV. It doesn’t have to be formal exercise and you don’t have to go to the gym, but you do have to move. And 30 minutes is a minimum.
In my Healthy Holiday Challenge planner I’ve included several mini challenges to help get in extra exercise on some days – in a super fun way. Things like squat challenges, mini dance parties. The important thing to remember is that exercise does not need to be formal (like a class at the gym) and to make movement fun.
Step 4 – Track your progress and hold yourself accountable.
How do you know how you’re doing unless you track your progress and hold yourself accountable? You won’t.
I challenge myself to review my goals. I challenge myself to track the habits I’ve chosen. That’s one of the reason I’ve made little printable planners for the past several years. They remind me of my goals every single day. They allow me to check off whether I’m doing my habits each day.
And, when I open my planner, I am holding myself accountable.
The cool thing about tracking and being accountable to yourself is that you can see at-a-glance how you’re doing. Did I stop eating at 8pm? Yes or no. Did I eat mindfully most of the time? Yes or no. Did I exercise? Again, yes or no.
If I flip through my planner and don’t see boxes checked I know I need to either up my game or choose different habits to focus on.
Accountability is key to getting results. You don’t need a coach or a Facebook group or your spouse to hold you accountable. You can do it all on your own.
So in your notebook or planner, check off if you’ve done your habits every day. If you have trouble remembering, set an alarm on your phone. There is really no excuse.
Step 5 – Reward yourself, evaluate your challenge, and pick a new goal.
Yay a reward!
On January 1st you will have completed your challenge. Now it’s time to give yourself the reward you promised at the beginning. Be kind to yourself… perfection isn’t important, but consistency is. If you hit your habits most of the time you probably deserve your reward.
Evaluate your challenge.
In your notebook or planner or wherever you tracked your habits, take a few minutes to evaluate the challenge. Was it a positive experience? Did you track your healthy habits most days? Did you hit your goal? Would you change your habits next year? Was it a fun experience?
Also note what you would do different next year. And put a note in your calendar for early November next year to plan your next Healthy Holiday Challenge.
Pick a new goal.
Don’t let your healthy habits end on New Year’s Day. Take a few minutes to think about what you want to accomplish next.
Do you want to lose a few pounds? Stop eating junk food? Train for a 5k?
Choose a new goal and then write a plan to make it happen.
Follow the same steps as your Healthy Holiday Challenge:
- Set a goal, write your why and pick a reward.
- Record your stats.
- Select 3 or 4 healthy habits to focus on.
- Track your progress and hold yourself accountable.
- Reward yourself, evaluate your progress, and set a new goal.
See? Challenging yourself, for the holidays or otherwise, is a simple way to set and achieve goals.
If you’d like to use the planner I created, that walks you through every day of the holiday season from Thanksgiving week through New Year’s, just click the link below.
Wishing you a very healthy and happy holiday season!