Every health and fitness professional understands that the holiday season is the most difficult time of the year for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. We bake, we feast, we travel, we party. In fact, every day throughout November and December seems like a day spent consuming more calories than expended.
We tell our clients to “indulge in moderation,” but that term “moderation” is incredibly relative because everyone has his or her own definition of what it means to be moderate. And truthfully, the problem does not lie with indulging in dessert or a night cap, but rather when we have a savory dinner, a second helping, dessert AND a night cap (and then do so a few nights per week).
Because abstaining from traveling and socializing is unrealistic during the holidays, here are some suggestions you can offer your clients that will allow them to still indulge—just a little less heavily. The following list takes a slightly different approach in that it is not a series of “eat this instead of that” recommendations; rather it is a list of strategies that will enable your clients to eat a little more healthfully while also having fun.
- Follow the 80/20 rule. Your clients have likely heard of this before, but the 80/20 rule allows them to select indulgences in their own way. The "80%" is the clean, healthy, unprocessed, high-fiber foods we should be eating most of the time, while the 20% is the junk food or cocktails of their choice. If your client plans to have “a few” glasses of wine with dinner, for example, he or she should choose something like baked fish and a salad with an oil-based dressing to go with it. If your client doesn’t drink, then he or she can order the bacon cheeseburger. The best advice is to refrain from allowing the 20% to grow to 30 or 40%. If your client has firm weight-loss or fitness goals, however, he or she may need to adopt a 90/10 approach.
- Save the 20% for the end of the week. It is possible to “bank” your junk food calories. Thus, if your client has a party coming up this weekend, he or she should consciously make better food choices during the week. For example, from Monday morning to Friday afternoon, urge your client to choose unprocessed meals, fruits and vegetables as snacks, and to not drink alcohol (think 90 or 95% clean/healthy foods). This gives your client more room to splurge on Friday night.
- Indulge on your terms. Urge your clients to eat and drink what they like—but to consume less of it. Low-calorie does not always translate to better nutrition, so encourage them to enjoy smaller portions of full-taste and full-fat foods. If your client likes dessert, then a 3” x 3” double-fudge brownie with icing and a single a scoop of ice cream is a better choice than half a pan of low-fat brownies made with applesauce.
- Exercise first. It is true that you cannot out-exercise your diet, but a few extra minutes on the treadmill will detach some of the guilt. Stress is horrible for our systems, so if your clients can enjoy food and drinks in a low-guilt/low-stress environment, they will actually be healthier. Parties and food should be enjoyed and exercise is one mode to allow for that enjoyment.
- Set the example. When your clients host parties, encourage them to offer healthy foods alongside traditional favorites. They don’t have to be “that host” who only offers snack trays of kale and blueberries, but they could place the veggie tray next to the chips and salsa. The point is to let the guests decide how they will indulge; that is, let them choose their own “20%.”
- Defy convention. Why do we eat so much pumpkin pie and homemade cookies over the holidays? Because “that’s what you do over the holidays.” This practice has nothing to do with function and everything to do with custom. Encourage your clients to start their own traditions this holiday season, keeping in mind that it’s the people—not the pie—that make this time of year special. Gifts can still be homemade, thoughtful and from the heart, without consisting of sugar, butter and flour.
Meals, snacks, dessert and alcohol should all taste good and be thoroughly enjoyed (the latter enjoyed responsibly). Yes, fresh fruit in your cocktails and avocado instead of butter in your baked goods are excellent swaps. But if long-term health and quality nutrition are the goals, then maintain focus on the process rather than the outcome. Help your clients change their mindset, not just what they put on their plates.