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  • Writer's pictureJackie

Indulge Intelligently This Season

Have fun and peace of mind as holiday celebrations upend routines.

Do you ever suddenly get that sinking feeling as you’re living it up in late November and through December? Maybe you’re dreading a party because you’re sure it will “undo” all the workouts and healthy meals you managed to accomplish this week. Perhaps you’ve had just one more cocktail and experience immediate regret. Or you’ve suddenly just found yourself eating Christmas cookies in the middle of the day and realize you hadn’t even tasted them.

We’ve all been there, and there’s no reason to berate ourselves. Our best bet is to bring these potential situations into the foregound of the mind and plan for them. In some situations, like a huge annual party that you count down to each year, the plan may be NO plan. You may just opt to completely ENJOY. In most situations over the next six weeks or so, though, not every circumstance will be so special, and over indulging could impact health, leave you feeling sluggish and skipping exercise, and/or waking with reflux and missing out on solid sleep, among other not-so-great outcomes. On most days, we’ll want to remember which potential obstacles may pop up and remind ourselves of the strategies we decided to lean on this holiday season.

Here’s an overview of some of three possible pitfalls and then a list of tactics to use as a jumping off point for your own holiday season:

Sugar, sugar everywhere

Sure, it’s obvious that most of our favorite holiday treats contain tons of sugar. What’s not so obvious to most folks is just how LOW the recommended threshold for daily sugar intake is. In 2015, the WHO recommended that people ingest no more than roughly 25 grams (6 teaspoons) of sugar per day, which may sound generous. Now consider that a single can of Coke contains 9.75 teaspoons of sugar, which equates to 39 grams of sugar! Keeping this in mind can motivate us to discriminate a bit when faced with those trays & tables full of goodies.

And lots of “unhealthy” fats as well

Saturated fats taste really good to most of us. Think Beef Wellington, sugar cookies, chrusciki (little nod to my Polish grandma), egg nog, and the like. And again, while it’s fine to indulge in moderation, curbing these fats helps protect health. The American Heart Association recommends aiming to eat no more than 5% to 6% of calories from saturated fat daily. If you ingest 2,000 calories, for example, then the saturated fat limit would be about 13 grams. That aforementioned, delicious Beef Wellington contains about 11 grams of sat fat, and that’s if you skip going for seconds and stick to the portion size of approximately 4 ounces.

Alcohol packs more than one negative punch

Of course, we need not teetotal, but moderation serves as an excellent strategy for numerous reasons. Diet-wise, alcohol contains seven calories per gram (versus, for example, 5 calories in each gram of carbs). A 12 ounce can of beer racks up about 145 calories and a 5 ounce serving of wine about 125 calories, which might sound reasonable until we start totaling the evening’s beverage count. In addition, contrary to popular conceptions, alcohol can interfere with sound sleep, lowers inhibitions which can cause us to eat more, and might leave us feeling so yucky the next day that we forego workouts.

Celebration represents a really important amd healthy facet of human life. Don’t restrain so much that, come January, a feeling of having been cheated takes over. What a sad start to a new year! Instead, consider the following super basic techniques. I think of them as “Three P’s and an R.”


Rank holiday gatherings in order of heartfelt connection and treat yourself accordingly. Maybe you eat super sensibly at the company party but spoil yourself when the whole family gathers for the only time this year. Rank indulgences, too. Know what you truly love to eat & drink and skip the rest. For example, over the years, I’ve reined in cookie baking to just a couple of beloved varieties, including iced sugar cookies, a tradition that consumes time & results in fewer treats hanging around.


Enough said, right? Don’t bring a food scale to the party, but do aim for one scoop, one slice, one glass, etc. Think about that: If you’re prone to seconds and you hold back, you’ve just moderated your potential calorie intake to half for that meal.


One of the quickest ways to hamper a fun holiday season is to start berating ourselves the minute we eat or drink more than we think we “should.” It also gives us a speedy path toward ditching our plans to balance blow-out celebrations with our usual routine of eating sensibly. So, listen to what you say to yourself this season, nix the negative self talk, and reassess. You may choose to forget about “strategy” until January, and that’s okay—just own whatever choice you make and move on.


What? Rest during the holidays? Technically, a holiday implies rest, but many people experience stress instead. It’s important to remember that sleep drives health in just about EVERY way. For our purposes here, I’ll mention that in studies, sleep deprived subjects eat more and make different food choices (taking in slightly more fat and less protein). Lack of sleep will also lower mood and increase irritability & stress. Of course, sleep also zaps energy levels, again leaving us susceptible to upending our healthy routines of exercising, grocery shopping, meal planning, cooking, and the like.


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