Ep #22: How to Eat, Move, and Think Your Way Through the Holidays 

Strong as a Working Mom with Carrie Holland | How to Eat, Move, and Think Your Way Through the Holidays
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The holidays are upon us, and while for many of us this is a wonderful time of year, for others it can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety around losing control of our routines. With all the parties, celebrations and food and drink that we’re not usually around, the holidays can feel like a real challenge and we find ourselves just relinquishing control, giving in, and then beating ourselves up for not sticking to our plan come January 1st.

There are so many opportunities to eat and drink more than we intended around this time of year, but instead of declaring that all bets are off between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, it is absolutely possible to stay on track. So as we get ready to enter these last few weeks of the year, I’m taking the opportunity this week to talk about the holidays, how to manage them, and how to keep perspective through them.

Your holiday season does not have to be a wash. You are not doomed to eat more than you want and come out the other side feeling awful by the time January 1st rolls around. Tune in this week to find out how to finally start getting different results around the holidays, without sacrificing your enjoyment of them. I’m sharing some effective tips you can use over the holidays to feel exactly how you want to feel at the end of them, and some tips to help you eat, move, and think your way through the holidays.

If you like what you’ve been hearing, please review the show. Your suggestions have inspired episodes and will help me make this show better for you. Want to get the word out to other working moms who want to feel strong inside and out? Share this podcast with a friend by texting a show link, sharing a screenshot, or posting a link on your social media, and help other busy working moms feel better and change things up.

Be sure to tag me on Instagram or Facebook so I can follow along and engage with you!

What You Will Discover:

  • The importance of not beating yourself up when you slip up.
  • How to apply what I’m teaching you this week to any time in your life when you veer away from routine.
  • A mantra you can apply around exercise whatever your life looks like.
  • One of the most common dietary hiccups I see when people are trying to lose weight.
  • Why you can get a pretty solid workout done with your body weight alone.
  • Some important concepts for you to remember over the holidays.
  • How to eat your way through the holidays.

Listen to the Full Episode:

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Featured on the Show:

Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast, Episode #22. Are you ready to eat, move and think your way through the holidays? I’ve got some tips to make it easier.

Welcome to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. If you’re balancing career, family, wellness, and some days sanity, you are in the right place. This is where high achieving, busy working moms get the tools they need to eat, move, and think. I’m your host, physician, personal trainer and Certified Life Coach Carrie Holland. Let’s do this.

Hey, how are you? What’s new, what’s good? So, it is mid-November here, and in the U.S., we are staring down Thanksgiving. And then, the rest of the holiday season. Our boys are most definitely excited to have some time off from school. We just got an enormous dump of snow here, in southwest Michigan. And while I really dislike winter, I am practicing being grateful for my space heater.

As we get ready to get into these last few weeks of the year, I thought this would be a good time to talk about holidays; how to manage, and certainly keeping some perspective. And because I love to talk about eating, moving, and thinking, that’s how I’m going to approach today’s episode. We’re going to talk about how to eat, move, and think your way through the holidays.

So first, here’s just something to think about: In the U.S., the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is about 35 to 40 days, give or take, say 40 days; that’s 1/9th of the year. And while it may be really easy to shrug your shoulders and sign off for those 35 to 40 days, think about it just a little more.

Depending on what holidays you celebrate, and the number of holiday parties you attend, how many of those 40 days, or to be even more specific, how many of those meals are spent around foods or drink that you don’t normally eat?

The reason I bring this up is this: Instead of throwing your hands in the air, and simply declaring that all bets are off between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, it is absolutely possible to stay on track with both your nutrition, your exercise, your life plans; even during the holidays.

If you look at it from a math perspective, and again, if you know me at all by now, you know that I love math and I love data. If you look at it from a math perspective, it may be 10 or so meals that are different from what you’re used to; maybe less, maybe more.

But beyond those special occasion meals, you have lots and lots of other meals that can be your usual. Every meal between now and January 1, does not have to be a holiday feast. And as I’m talking about math, let me add this: You’ve probably seen this before, but there are so many estimates about weight gain over the holidays. I’ve seen numbers of six pounds or more, depending on where you look.

However, as recently as 2019, there was an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, and this is a high-powered journal, that suggested the average holiday weight gain was more like one to two pounds. So, when you look at it that way, not horrible.

The problem happens when those one to two pounds never come off, which happens for so many people. Do that over a decade, and you’ve got an added 10 to 20 pounds, just from holidays alone. So, here’s the thing, your holiday season does not have to be a wash. You are not doomed to put on weight, be a slug, and feel gross by the time January 1 rolls around.

There are most definitely ways to come out of the holidays feeling good, and feeling proud of the decisions you made. Whether it’s related to food, exercise, dealing with your in-laws at holiday parties, you name it.

So, let’s take this one step at a time. Okay, starting with moving: Some of you have asked me about this and I want to help you out. This applies to holidays, vacations, travel, really anytime you are out of your routine; it is entirely okay. And, the wheels are certainly not going to fall off if you do not keep to the same exercise routine that you typically do at home.

If you’re at a super fancy hotel that has loads of great equipment, rock on, take advantage. But if you’re not, let me share with you the mantra that applies to exercise once you have puppies, kids, shiftwork, holidays, really anything, “Something is better than nothing.” Meaning, if you cannot do your typical routine, get something in. If you have a body and you can count, you can get something done.

So, here’s what to know: You can get a pretty solid workout done with your body weight alone, ask my husband. We were on vacation in Florida a few years ago, in the summer, and it was hotter than stink, by the way. We didn’t have a gym, but we did go to a park that had a playground. The kids, they found the equipment. We did a 30-minute circuit, that I wrote out for us, using nothing more than our body weight and a picnic table.

If you prioritize exercise over the holidays or during travel, while you are out of your element, you will find a way to do it. If you don’t prioritize it, you won’t. You can keep this super simple. I’m gonna give you one of my most favorite exercise schemes, for when you’re on the road and have nothing more than your body weight. You don’t even need a lot of space for this, either.

It’s a pyramid: So, you’ve got squats, lunges, and push-ups. Start with 10 squats, 10 per side lunges, 10 push-ups. You rest for a minute, then do 9 squats, 9 per side lunges, 9 push-ups. You keep going until you get to 1 of each.

If you’re feeling extra saucy, you can certainly go back up to 10, but the point is, this should not take you long. It will work your legs and your booty, which are the largest muscle groups of your body, as well as your upper body. You can top it off with 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off, of planks for 2 minutes, and you’re done.

Or, if that is not possible for you, how about a walk? Take your entire team, your entire family, and go for a walk after you are full of turkey. Don’t just head to the couch, just get moving; seriously, something is always better than nothing.

Here’s another really, really important concept to remember: Your turkey trot does not cancel out your half of a pumpkin pie, okay? So, I am not railing on turkey trots, or the turkey burn, or the turkey whatever’s. But hear me out, you are unlikely to break even by amping up your exercise around the holidays, and that is entirely missing the point.

I will, again, put this on a t-shirt, but you know what I’m gonna say; do not exercise to lose weight. I can add a caveat here for the holidays, and add; do not exercise to cancel out your Christmas cookie. Okay? This math most definitely does not work out; it really does not. And it only leads to resentment towards exercise.

So, the 320 calories, of your one piece of pumpkin pie, is not going to be burned off by your 100-200 calories burned in your 30-minute walk. Again, that is not the point. The point of rounding up your family and going for a walk, is that, yes, while it is really great for your body, it is so much better for your mood.

And for some of you, the holidays can be stressful. Whether it’s because of end-of-year work stuff, family drama, or I could go on here, exercise because it calms you and it feels good. Not because it is supposed to cancel out your eggnog. Okay?

My point about moving during the holidays, is this: Don’t overcomplicate it. And, do not go all-or-nothing on me here. So, don’t tell me that just because you can’t do your usual 45-minute Peloton® HIIT & Hills, there is no point. No. Don’t let the fact that you’re in a hotel, or at your in-law’s house, or not in your home, keep you from doing something.

I’m going back to identity here. If you want to be an active person, ask yourself this question: What would an active person do over the holidays? Would she not do anything? Would she skip her workouts all together? Or, would she make the best of whatever her situation is, and resolve to do a body weight workout as soon as she wakes up, because she knows it will put her in a better mood? Would she go for a walk after her pumpkin pie?

Think about what you are living into. Who you are aiming to be? And, act accordingly. So, I really, really love this concept, because when you’re presented with a choice, you can choose to prove your identity. You can choose to prove that you are active, and live out that ‘something is better than nothing’ by going for a walk and moving your body. Alright?

So next, let’s talk about eating. We’re getting progressively more challenging as we go along here, but stay with me. So, this is stating the obvious, but for many of you the holiday season is a challenge because of the food. Between parties and gatherings on the holidays themselves, there are loads of opportunities to eat and drink more than you intended.

But here are a few things to keep in mind. I see this all the time, and please don’t do this; don’t starve yourself only to gorge later. I’ve mentioned this previously, about one of the most common dietary hiccups I see when people are trying to lose weight, and this generally backfires. It’s not wise to show up to a party, having starved yourself all day long, ready to eat your arm off.

Because generally what happens, is you show up, and then you are faced with loads and loads of rich foods that are likely much more calorie dense than what you typically eat. And then, you overdo it. Often, it comes with the justification of, “Well I haven’t eaten all day. I’ve earned this or something similar.”

If you’ve tried this, you probably know what I’m talking about. It’s a losing battle that results in unhealthy food choices. Eating too fast, and then overeating; no good. Instead, have some lean protein and veggies throughout the day. You do not need to fast all day long. So, remember, of the three macronutrients; protein, carbs, and fat; protein is the most satiating, meaning it keeps you full. If you add to that, fiber from veggies, you should keep yourself satisfied by the time you get to your party.

Next, have some of your favorite things, but know that you don’t have to have everything. So, every year for Christmas, my husband’s extended family of aunts and uncles gets together for a huge party. And now, there are so many kids, we can no longer fit into one person’s home. So, we’ve had to start going to church halls and other events, places that can accommodate all of us.

And you can guess, it is an enormous buffet of everything from beef tenderloin to potatoes to lasagna; it’s borderline ridiculous just how much food there is. Do you do this? If you have similar gatherings for the holidays, try this: Take stock of what is on the table and decide what you want. Do you really want mashed potatoes? Do you really want green bean casserole? I know, it’s not the holidays without it. But is that really what you want?

I like to take stock of what is in front of me and decide what foods I’m really looking forward to eating, and focus in on those. You can bet a nickel that there will be at least, a halfway plateful of salad. That’s what I’ve decided ahead of time; that’s what I stick to. And, I know that I will be just fine without green bean casserole.

So, as an aside, I know it’s a thing, and we had it every year growing up, and maybe that’s part of it. But I just cannot do green bean casserole anymore. Whoever invented cream of mushroom soup, props to you; I just can’t. Okay, so we’ll come back here. My point is, you do not have to eat every single thing on the buffet table. Choose what you’re really excited to eat, have a sensible serving of those, and be done with it.

On the flip side, if you are someone that absolutely has to try everything, simply be mindful. Do you really need two huge scoopfuls of sweet potato pie, and two huge scoopfuls of mashed potatoes, and stuffing, and a dinner roll?

As I mention all of those things, think about color. So, when you’re building your plate, think about color. Now, I joke about this all the time, but while beige is a fine color for your walls, it is really not the best color for your plate. Meaning, if you walk back from the Thanksgiving buffet with a plate that is monochromatic beige, that usually means something like turkey gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes or roll; it’s all beige. So, instead aim to jazz up your plate with some color.

One of the things I aim to do at every meal, is fill half my plate with veggies. Remember, things like fruit and aboveground vegetables, they’re high-volume, low-calorie foods. They’re generally high in micronutrients, vitamins and fiber, and they fill you up. Contrast that to the beige foods I just listed, which are low-volume, high-calorie foods. The goal here is to balance these out.

Here’s another concept I read about and I like the idea, so I want to share; it’s the 1 of 4 Rule. So, of bread, booze, starchy carbs like potatoes, and desserts, choose one of those four, or two at most. Decide ahead of time; and again, notice the theme here “deciding ahead of time”, what you’re going to have and stick to it.

What I like about this 1 of 4, is that alcohol is included. So, I know you know this, but booze counts. I don’t want to spend too much time on this, but often, it’s not just the food that poses a problem at the holidays, it’s the alcohol. So, while you may not be eating that much, it may be the alcohol that is responsible for you not sticking to your goals. And is, ultimately, loading on extra calories and sugar.

Let me be clear, the 1 or 2 of 4 Rule is not about restricting yourself, but instead, constraining yourself. So, when I think of constraining, I think of giving yourself guidelines. Constrain yourself to indulge in 1 to 2 parts of your holiday meal. So, bread, booze, potatoes, or rice dessert. And plan to enjoy the heck out of those, knowing that’s what you decided, instead of going off the chain and regretting it later by stuffing yourself with all of it; with the bread, the champagne, potatoes, and tons of pastries.

This brings me to another concept to consider as we head into the holidays. And, that is the scarcity mentality. Meaning, often you justify having the Yule Log, and the sweet potato pie, and the Christmas cookies, and the eggnog because it is the one and only time of year they are available. But here’s the thing, if you really and truly wanted to have the gingerbread cookies, if you really want them, you could make them at any time.

It’s the same idea when you’re on vacation. If you really and truly wanted key lime pie straight from Key West, you can really get it most anytime of the year. And remind yourself, you can find these foods or you can make these foods anytime you want. This is the Girl Scout® Cookie mentality. I have to say, it’s really brilliant marketing on the part of the Girl Scouts.

They make it seem like it is now-or-never, in that time from January through March, where they’re first taking orders and then showing up in front of grocery stores all over the nation. I get it makes you feel like if you don’t buy the Thin Mints™ right now, you’re going to wait 365 days in order to get them again. And, this is not knocking the Girl Scouts. Okay?

But larger point here is this; you can have most of these foods and drinks any time of year. That gingerbread cookie that you see on the table, is not the last time you will ever have access to a gingerbread cookie. But so often we treat our food around the holidays in this way; it’s now-or-never, so go whole hog. But if you start to question the scarcity mentality, you may find that leaving that cookie on the cookie tray, is really not such a big deal, after all.

Next, consider how much access you want to give yourself. So, if you know that if you have certain things in the house, you are going to eat them, how much access do you want to have? Christmas cookies would be the easiest example here.

I’ve got kids, and yes, it is fun and insanely messy when we make Christmas cookies. And while it is super fun, what usually happens is that we end up with a fridge full of frosted cookie cutouts, haystacks, peanut butter blossoms, and whatever other cookies we pull up from Pinterest®.

But for me, knowing that I have a serious sweet tooth, having that many cookies in the house is a constant test. And my kids, while they like making the cookies, they often don’t eat them. So instead, we have cut way down on the number of cookies that we make every year. I also force my husband to take them to work, and he puts them in the break room.

So, the same is true for food gifts. If you’ve gone to Costco®, or if you get the Harry & David® catalog in your mailbox, you know what I’m talking about. If you have ever been the recipient of a food tower, or the Christmas edition charcuterie gift basket, what do you do with that? So, I’m totally outing myself here, but we tend to re-gift these; we’ve had them re-gifted to us.

Honestly, I think these gourmet food baskets just make the rounds from house to house every year, ultimately making their way to whoever receives them at the white elephant gift exchange, seriously. But my point here is this; if you get one of these, how much access do you want to give yourself? Can you repurpose them, in the nicest way possible without offending anyone?

I will certainly look forward to angry comments about this one. But my point is, if it is not something that you truly love, or if having six differently sized boxes of chocolate covered things in your house does not serve you or your goals, consider how much access you want to give yourself. This is engineering your environment to set you up for success.

So, the last thing that I’ll say, about your approach to eating over the holiday season is this; be mindful, but don’t wig out on yourself. Pay attention to what you’re doing. Don’t go on autopilot when you’re at your work Christmas party and just do whatever, make a plan.

I know I’ve mentioned this before, and it’s a great time to repeat it, but it is so important to make a plan for yourself, and then hold yourself to it. If you walk into the party or the buffet and decide to wing it, you generally know how that ends. So instead, make a plan to have veggies and protein. And, to keep eating on your routine as much as possible.

Think through what you want to do at the party. And if you want to drink alcohol, eat dinner rolls, or try out a really pretty dessert, this is making a plan; deciding ahead of time and creating awareness. So, at the same time, don’t wig out. Say you did make a plan for yourself and you didn’t stick to it, you don’t beat yourself up about it. Okay?

View it for what it is, a hiccup, and keep going. Do not let one carb-filled party turn into an excuse to go off the chain and say, “Forget it. I’ll start on January 1.” I encourage you to expect more from yourself, because you can totally do that.

And that brings me to thinking. So, of course, you’re not going to get through an episode without me mentioning your brain and your thoughts. And, this is no exception, so here it is. This is what I want to offer you. This is one of my most favorite tools that I use. And, I think it most definitely applies here.

Answer this question: How do you want to feel come January 1? Start there. So, fast forward to the end of the holiday season and think about it. How do you want to feel? Just take a second and answer that question for yourself. Honestly, do you want to feel bloated? Do you want to feel uncomfortable, overindulged, hungover? Or, do you want to feel healthy, proud, satisfied with the decisions that you made over the preceding 40-ish days?

Start there, start with the end in mind. I do this very often with clients; whether they are traveling for work, or going on vacation, or heading to a party. I will coach them through this and ask; how do you want to feel at the end of it? And what’s fascinating, is about 9 times out of 10, the answer will come out in this way, “I don’t want to feel overstuffed. I don’t want to feel disappointed. I don’t want to feel yucky.”

And then, I’ll say, “That’s fine. Let’s try this again and talk about how you do want to feel.” It’s really interesting. And while I do think it’s helpful to know how you don’t want to feel, I think it’s even more important to consider how you do want to feel.

So, imagine you say you want to be proud of the way you managed yourself over the holidays. Start there. If you want to be proud, work it backwards. What decisions do you need to make in order to feel proud? Do you need to decide to only have one drink at the big family Christmas party? Do you need to decide to bring a salad to your work potluck, so you know you’ve got something there to eat, no matter what?

I will say, this was generally the route I took. If ever there was a potluck, I would always sign up for the salad, because I knew I could fill my plate with something. Do you need to decide to make less Christmas cookies than you typically do? Or, if you do decide to make them, do you decide that you’re going to give the majority away, so you’re not staring at them every time you open the fridge?

You get the idea. You’re going to get very clear on what decisions you need to make, and what actions you need to take, in order to reach your goal of being proud at the end of the holiday season. So, then, keep going. In order to take those actions you’ve decided, how do you need to feel?

Do you need to feel content, relaxed, confident, centered, empowered? Whatever it is, consider how you need to feel, in order to take the actions that you have decided for yourself.

And then last, decide how you are going to think. What thoughts do you need to tell yourself, in order to feel empowered to stick to one glass of red wine at your family Christmas party? So, here are some ideas: I can have one glass of wine without overdoing it. I’m happy to have one glass of wine. I will enjoy this glass of wine and get on with the party. You decide.

I know this may seem like a lot of work for one holiday party or one glass of wine, but here’s the thing; so many of you have said that the holidays generally end the same; you start with really great intentions, and then, after a weekend where things didn’t go as planned, you give up. And then what happens, is you revert to old thought patterns that don’t serve you.

Things like this, is just how the holidays go for me. I cannot just have one glass of wine. It is impossible for me to stay on track during the holidays. And those are just a few. I share these because these are thoughts that I commonly hear from you.

But you can choose to try new thoughts, and practice thinking those thoughts instead. Because when you practice thinking, “I can have one glass of wine without overdoing it,” and thinking that way makes you feel empowered, then you can go and find evidence to prove yourself right. Have the one drink you decided, and get on with the party.

That will feel so very different from thinking, “I cannot just have one glass.” That is using your past to predict your future; don’t do that. If you want a different outcome, it starts by thinking different thoughts. You cannot fake yourself out on this. You can’t just say, “I’m going to go to this party, and I’m only going to have this one glass. I’m feeling empowered, and I’m gonna be all happy about it,” when in reality, you do not feel that it is at all true.

I run into this often, I will talk with the client about practicing thinking. And when I say that, it does not mean you fake yourself out. You cannot “fake it until you make it” with your thoughts. You actually have to practice thinking that you can enjoy one glass of wine and be done. And actually, feel that it might be possible for you, even if you don’t have the evidence to back it up just yet.

Practice feeling empowered, and then go do the thing; you have your one glass. You have decided for yourself what you want to prove correct, and then you go do it. Then, if and when things don’t go as planned, you practice thinking there, too.

So, the idea behind what I’m sharing, about thinking, today, is that you are planning for what you will do, and how you will think before, during and after. Meaning, you’ve decided how you need to think and feel, in order to come out of the holidays proud. And then, you have a plan for how you manage yourself after the times when you made choices that did not line up with your goal.

Ask yourself the question: How will you treat yourself, if and when you make decisions that do not make you proud? What are you going to do? Are you going to beat yourself up? Are you going to take an all-or-nothing approach, and decide that this is impossible and there is no way you can stay on track with nutrition over the holidays? So, you go off the chain, only to restrict yourself January 1.

If you’ve done that in the past, how has that worked for you? I don’t ask that to be all snarky. I ask it because I’ve seen it, and it generally doesn’t work. So again, if you want a different result, it starts by thinking something different.

What do you think you can do if you make a decision, and then eat way more than you planned? Here’s an idea: You keep going. You pick up where you left off. You don’t make a huge, hairy deal out of it. And you make your next meal, something you’re proud of.

So, remember, one greasy meal, or one missed workout, that is human. Multiple greasy meals or multiple missed workouts, is the start of a new habit. You get to decide what you make that one bad meal mean for you. The all-or-nothing approach will get you nowhere; I promise.

So, instead, if you can make it mean that you are human, and you simply ate more gingerbread men than you planned, and nothing more, it will make things a lot easier to get back on track, and get back to eating in a way that supports you. Versus, making that extra cookie mean you are doomed to failure. That you’re less than. That you are not good enough. It’s a cookie, okay?

You can just as easily make a different decision next time, that serves you better; that’s it. You can tell yourself, “That was yesterday. Yesterday is done ,and today is going to be different.” So please, if and when you start to notice yourself going down a negative spiral, please pay attention; it’s that whole awareness thing, and stop yourself.

Instead, practice being kind to yourself. I say this all the time, but you cannot beat yourself up into your next best version. And I will keep repeating it, because so many of you take one mishap and use it as an opportunity to get really down on yourself. But that doesn’t work. Take it for what it is; decide how you’re going to talk to yourself if and when you overdo it, and keep going.

And here’s the beautiful thing, the more you do this, the more you treat yourself with kindness and respect. Instead of being mean to yourself, the easier it is to make a different decision next time. It means you have your back. It starts by thinking kinder thoughts to yourself, and believing them.

Remember, you are not starting over. You are picking up where you left off; whether that is January 1 or July 15.

All right. Thank you for hanging out with me this week. Enjoy the start of the holiday season, and I will catch you again, next Wednesday.

If you like what you’ve been hearing, please review the show. I would love to get your feedback and ideas. Your suggestions have inspired episodes and will help me make the show better for you. And, share this podcast with a friend, text a show link, share a screenshot, or post a link to the show on your social media. And, be sure to tag me @CarrieHollandMD on either Instagram® or Facebook®, so I can follow along and engage with you.

This is how we get the word out to other working moms who want to feel strong, inside and out. If you know someone who wants to feel better, or eat and move differently, but she is too tired or too busy, it is time to change things up. And you know, making that change starts with how you think. And that, is what we do here on the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. I’ll see you next week.

Thanks for listening to Strong as a Working Mom. If you want more information on how to eat, move, and think, so you can live in the body you want, with the mind to match, visit me at CarrieHollandMD.com.

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