Team BPI Athlete, Victoria D’Ariano offers her advice to help you stay on track during the holidays:

The holidays are truly an amazing part of the year; families come together in celebration of love, laughter, and food. Food is a large part of what makes the holidays so special and what brings us together during the festive season. From your Aunt Norma’s famous stuffing to Uncle Jim’s special homemade apple pie, delicious food will be all around you. From a “normal” person’s perspective this sounds pretty amazing, but for someone who has been working hard at losing weight and making healthy food choices, the holidays can be a stressful time. The holidays are often when people fall off track and put a hold on progress or even regress.

The average person attends 4-5 Christmas dinners these days, between having split families, work parties and parties amongst friends. Last year, I counted six different family events and the previous year a whopping eight! According to ABC News, the average American eats 6,500 calories on Christmas day. Similar results were recorded by Independent amongst the British where they tallied up 5,905 calories. It’s clear that between the high consumption of food on Christmas day and the additional parties with endless food and alcohol, your fitness progress could be in real jeopardy.

As the holidays are supposed to be a time of joy and celebration, it is important not to let the stress of falling off track prevent you from enjoying this special time with family and friends. Although food might bring us together, not eating five slices of that special apple pie likely won’t cause you to break apart. The holidays are all about making smart choices and in this blog, I am going to give some suggestions (I use and find helpful) in order to help you make better choices.

As I said above, last year I had six family dinners and the year before that, eight. I ate relatively healthy at each one of these except on Christmas day, which I dedicated to having my “cheat meal.” I felt really mentally and physically great last year over the holidays. I was able to still enjoy family time and meals with everyone but without letting myself completely fall off track. Obviously, balance is a huge part of life and it should be a part of the holidays as well. For me it was important to have Christmas day as a day where I could eat as I pleased. I enjoyed extra calories and sweets and didn’t bat an eye at it. As I feel I have a great handle now on the holidays I would love to give some tips for you to also handle them well.

I find most Christmas dinners actually consist of a lot of healthy options: turkey breast, roasted potatoes, steamed vegetables, etc. You would be surprised how much food you can pack on your plate for under 500 calories. For example: selecting roughly 4-5 oz. of white turkey breast and removing the skin, a portion of potatoes (choose roasted potatoes or baked potatoes over mashed if the option presents itself), some steamed veggies and voila! A great “healthy” Christmas dinner! Some of the food might be cooked with additional oils or butters, but as long as you keep portion sizes in check it won’t be a huge deal.

If you are in charge of making the dinner, put some potatoes and veggies aside that don’t have added oils, butters or sauces. This way you can still enjoy a large amount of food but without the extra calories coming from sauces. If you are bringing a dish to the dinner, consider bringing a healthier alternative to one of your favorite recipes. It will still taste amazing and I doubt anyone will even notice that it contains a lot less of the “good stuff.”

Some things I suggest you skip from the meal would be the stuffing, gravy, and dessert. Stuffing is basically just a dish of bread, butter and turkey fat. It might taste great, but it isn’t so great for those goals of yours. Again gravy is usually made from the lard of the turkey so this is another food item I would stay away from if possible.

As I am more of a savory person I don’t mind opting out from the sweets and as they are made of refined sugars, flour, butter and creams I would suggest to limit or skip out on these also. If you are a huge sweet person have a small slice of something if you feel you can be satisfied with that. As some find that eating a little bit of dessert usually results in eating way too much, I would suggest choosing some dark chocolate (70% cocoa) over the sweets. It will satisfy your sweet tooth but with far less calories and it actually provides some health benefits. I find if I am having a “sweets” craving, 1-2 pieces of dark chocolate quickly satisfies it.

There is really no need for seconds. You might want to eat another huge plate of festive food but it’s important to be conscious of what you want and what you actually need. I think you can get enough satisfaction from one plate of food without over-doing it by going for seconds. This will also allow you to stay on track by not over-eating.

I also suggest limiting the alcohol. Alcohol contains empty calories. For example, a 5 oz. glass of Pinot Grigio contains 122 calories, a Molson Ice contains 160 calories, and 1.5 oz. of vodka and rum contain 97 calories, which are commonly mixed with pops or juices containing high-fructose corn syrup. Enjoy a drink or two if desired, but 5-6 drinks later and those calories will add up. You can’t be on point with your diet over the holidays but if you are drinking a lot at each one of these parties. Unfortunately, progress will be hindered.

Alcohol also has a direct effect on your brain’s chemistry, impacting your thought process, behavior and emotions. According to Forbes magazine, drinking alcohol will inhibit your thinking by depressing the region in the brain that is responsible for thought processing and consciousness. Along with slowing down the processing of information, it also inhibits thoughts making it harder to think clearly.

Why does inhibition of thought processing matter? Well if you are someone who is trying to be in control of the choices you make regarding food, then having an impaired “thinking system” would not be ideal. I suggest limiting drinks to 1-2 and if you must drink more I suggest having them after dinner and dessert so the impaired thinking won’t cause excess consumption of food.

Another issue with the holidays isn’t about the food but instead the busy schedules and traveling that often leads to missed workouts. I too miss some workouts over the holidays as I choose to spend time with family that I don’t often get to see. I however, do try to make it to the gym as much as I can and make the workouts I do as intense as possible. Not only will increasing the intensity of workouts help make up the fact that you might not be getting to the gym as often but also it will help utilize some of those extra calories you have been consuming over the holidays.

I also try to incorporate other means of exercise that aren’t traditional. It will allow you to bond with your family but also get the blood moving and endorphins released. Some ideas of this would be family walks or hikes, bowling, and if conditions permit, snowboarding, skiing or tubing.

Most importantly remember that you will fall off track a bit over the holidays; that’s normal. It is also important NOT to get down on yourself if this does happen. The purpose of this season is to spend time with the ones you love. Don’t let small setbacks get in the way of that. I am simply giving your suggestions to help make the holidays easier on you in terms of staying on track but am by no means saying to be super strict and not allow yourself to enjoy this special time of the year.

Happy & safe Holidays everyone!