At Lark, we believe living a healthy and balanced lifestyle is the key to long-term, successful weight loss. The holidays offer a lot of joy, as well as some challenges for health and weight loss. It is possible to get through the holidays healthy and happy, and that is why we have put together this survival guide with tips, recipes, and super strategies for eating well and managing stress this year. Wishing you happy holidays from the team here at Lark!
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Table of Contents
Setting Yourself Up for Success
Go into the holidays with a plan for success, and you can find it! Here are a few tips for making it easier to lose weight and stay healthy during the holidays.
- Modify your weight loss goals. You might aim to lose at a slower speed. If you usually gain weight over the holidays, you might make it your goal to maintain your weight this season. You can pick up the weight loss again in January.
- Don’t give up! Forgive yourself and look ahead whenever you eat a little more than you think you should. Remember that it takes 3,500 calories to gain a pound; an extra slice of pie has about 500. That means that a single dessert or meal won’t affect weight loss, so do not get down on yourself. Your best bet if you fall off the plan is to pick yourself back up and get right back to it.
- Keep up your consistent healthy habits. This time of year may be hectic, and exercise, healthy eating, and sleep are just as important now as they are the rest of the year. They are not only important for weight control, but also for managing stress during this time.
- Use Lark! The more engaged you are in your health, the more likely you are to be able to stick to your healthy intentions.
- Weigh in weekly to hold yourself accountable.
- Log your food and activity daily to get feedback and bonus tips.
- Log into the app often to talk to Lark. Your health coach is ready to chat when you are!
- Today, not tomorrow! Don’t put it off until the New Year. A single party or family gathering will not put a dent in your weight loss, but a month of bad eating – from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day – will!
Holiday Dinner and Party Prep
Whether formal at work or casual with friends and family, holiday parties are sure to have one thing in common – lots of food. You can still ace your party, though!
- Only eat sitting down at the table, not standing up in the kitchen or at a buffet.
- Bring an easy, healthy dish to share with the host. A green salad with dressing, raw vegetables with dip, and chicken or shrimp skewers are all low-calorie ideas. It can also be helpful to bring a large fruit salad to serve with dessert so you can munch on fresh fruit instead of whatever high-calorie desserts are also present.
- Don’t go into your party starving. Eating a high-protein breakfast, such as an egg white omelet with vegetables, and having a light snack, such as raw veggies with a half-ounce of nuts, before the party or event, can keep you from being so hungry when you arrive that you reach for the highest-carb, fattiest food you see.
- Cap the alcohol. Those drinks have calories and often sugar and can lower your willpower inhibition so you eat more and eat more junk.
- At the buffet:
- Sit or stand far from the buffet table or bar so temptation is further away.
- Walk around with a glass of sparkling or ice water in your hand instead of a plateful of food.
- Take a smaller size plate, such as a dessert or appetizer plate, if you have a choice instead of a large dinner plate.
- Survey all your options before taking anything.
- Fill at least half your plate with raw or non-fried (e.g., steamed or roasted) veggies.
- Best case: fill your plate with lettuce/green salad before adding anything else. That way, you won’t have much room on your plate for extras.
- See if there are any “must-haves” and plan to have a couple bites if there is a dish you really love.
Quick Swaps to Avoid Sneaky Calories!
Watch out for shockingly high-calorie or unhealthy foods, and make simple swaps to feel better.
- Mulled cider (200 calories) vs. apple cinnamon tea with cloves and a cinnamon stick (10 calories)
- Cheese and crackers (300 calories) vs raw vegetables and hummus (100 calories)
- Chocolate-covered almonds (17 grams of added sugar) vs cocoa-dusted almonds (0 grams of added sugar)
- Turkey with skin (190 calories) vs skinless turkey breast (120 calories)
- Apple pie (400 calories) vs. baked apple with cinnamon (90 calories)
Friends and Family
Healthy Ways to Spend Time Together
Healthy time with family and friends means being happy and not eating too much!
Fun with Friends
- Meet for coffee or tea (unsweetened!), to walk, or to shop.
- Put together holiday bags to take to a homeless shelter. They could include essentials such as mini soaps and shampoos, washcloths, and packages of facial tissue, and fun things such as hair ribbons and nail polish.
- Walk together in the mall before the stores open.
Indoors with Your Family
- Watch movies or play board games.
- Make holiday cards for friends and family or to send overseas to troops.
- Sing Christmas carols or Hanukah songs.
- Make and/or put up holiday decorations: banners, ornaments, place cards, or centerpieces.
- Make a delicious casserole to take to an elderly neighbor.
- Catch up on your family photo album or scrapbook for the year.
Out and About with Your Family
- Find age and weather-appropriate activities: walking, skiing, hiking, sledding, playing freeze-tag, or making snow angels.
- Serve meals at homeless shelters.
- Put up festive decorations in your yard.
- Go to a local ice rink.
After the Big Day
If one big meal is not so bad, a week of eating leftovers can be. A fridge full of Thanksgiving or Christmas leftovers – turkey, stuffing, sweet potato casserole, and pumpkin and pecan pies – or a counter piled with Christmas cookies and fudge can add pounds to your waistline. Ideally, to minimize the extra food that stays in the house, it can help to:
- Ask guests to take home extra food after the meal or party.
- Plan to give it to neighbors or friends – ask around, and you may find a lot of people who want some great-tasting, ready-made holiday fare.
- Throw away food that you do not want to eat.
Throwing away food may not seem ethical when there are starving people in the world, but throwing food into a trash can does not mean you are taking away food from those who need it – unless you were planning to give it to them. More likely, keeping the food in your fridge instead of tossing it into the garbage can lead to using yourself as a garbage can – that is, eating food that goes straight to your hips.
If you simply cannot bring yourself to throw away food, there are some options. One is to plan better so that there are fewer leftovers. Another is to give away the leftovers to party guests as they go home, or to neighbors or friends the next day.
Keep the holidays happy and healthy, not stressful!
Holiday stress can come from being too busy, feeling pressure to be perfect (think about finding the perfect gift or cleaning your home for guests, for example), and feeling pressure to put others before yourself.
- Practice mindfulness and take time for yourself every day. You could…
- Take a walk or work out.
- Meditate for even a few minutes.
- Light scented candles.
- Take a warm bath.
- Drink herbal tea.
- Try to become aware of when you feel yourself becoming mad or anxious. Breathe deeply a few times, and try to identify why you are becoming upset before you react. Often, the cause is something little that you can change easily, or something you cannot change so it is not worth worrying about.
- Keep the holidays happy for yourself. You may be trying to make them perfect for your family, but be sure to include elements that you love, whether it means singing certain carols, decorating the house a certain way, or going for a late-night walk in the neighborhood to see the Christmas lights.
It’s okay to ask for help. Here are some shortcuts for hosting parties or holiday meals.
- Buy a ready-to-eat turkey or ham, or fresh-baked bakery pies, instead of baking from scratch.
- Ask each guest to bring an appetizer, side dish, or beverage.
- Serve the meal on disposable paper plates, or ask guests to help you wash the dishes, to make clean-up easier.
- Give gift cards or ask for gifts to be wrapped in the store when you purchase them to avoid hours spent gift wrapping.
It’s okay to say, “No,” when people offer you food that is not part of your planned menu. It’s not always easy to refuse, but you can make it easier by practicing ahead of time. Here are a few possible answers.
- “No, thanks.”
- “No, thanks. I’m not hungry.”
- “How kind of you, but I already ate.”
- “Not right now, but it looks great. Maybe later, thanks.”
Bell Pepper Mini Pizza
Try this festive red, white, and green appetizer for cheesy satisfaction without the dough.
3 red and 3 green bell peppers
1 cup (4 ounces) of shredded non-fat mozzarella cheese
½ cup diced mushrooms
½ cup of diced red and green vegetables, such as red and green bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli florets, green onions, and beets.
Quarter red and green bell peppers lengthwise, spread each quarter with a thin layer of tomato sauce, and sprinkle shredded mozzarella mixed with the mushrooms above the sauce. Then top with red and green vegetables. Bake or toast until cheese is melted.
Nutrition Highlights: Per 2 pizza quarters (1/6 of the recipe): 100 calories, 7 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams protein
Skip the mayo and yolks, and add red peppers and green parsley, and your deviled eggs are going to be healthier and more festive than the usual ones, with 170 calories per 2 halves. You can turn them into celebratory New Year’s Eve appetizers by using purple or yellow cauliflower.
2 tablespoons of thinly sliced green onions
¼ cup of diced red pepper
2 cups of cooked cauliflower
2-4 tablespoons of fat-free plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
Dash each of black pepper and paprika
1 small pickle or large pickle spear, finely chopped
Parsley leaves, for garnish
Put the eggs in a pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Then turn off, let sit for 20 minutes, drain the water, and rinse in cold water. Puree the cauliflower, and mix it with the other ingredients except for the eggs. Peel the eggs, cut them in half lengthwise, and remove the yolks. Fill each egg white with a spoonful of the cauliflower mixture, and garnish with parsley leaves.
Nutrition highlights per 2 halves: 30 calories, 4 grams of protein, 1 gram of carbohydrates.
You can never have enough ideas for healthy party apps, and here is one more to serve at or bring to a Christmas or New Year’s party. The eggplant adds moisture and fiber.
1 lb of lean ground turkey
1 cup of cooked, peeled eggplant
1 egg, lightly beaten
½ cup chopped fresh spinach leaves
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ cup of feta cheese
24 cherry tomatoes
Mix the ingredients together. Form into 24 balls and bake on a greased pan at 375 for 25 minutes or until meat is cooked through. Stick in toothpicks with a cherry tomato for serving.
Nutrition highlights per meatball: 50 calories, 4 grams protein, less than 1 gram carbohydrates
Cranberry Walnut Salad
This healthy salad has cheerful colors, holiday flavors, and tons of antioxidants, and it is big enough for a crowd.
1 pound of spinach leaves
1 head of chopped Romaine lettuce
½ thinly sliced red onion
½ cup of goat cheese
½ cup of cranberries
½ cup of walnut halves or pieces
½ cup of olive oil
¼ cup of apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard
Black pepper and salt to taste
Mix the spinach, lettuce, and onion. Top with cheese, cranberries, and walnuts. Separately, mix the oil, vinegar, mustard, and pepper and salt. Serve the dressing on the side.
Nutrition highlights per 1/10 of the recipe: 190 calories, 4 grams of fiber.
Sweet Potato Casserole
Did you know: sweet potatoes are…sweet! They don’t need marshmallows and brown sugar to bring out the flavor. This recipe is packed with beta-carotene, fiber, and flavor. You can cut calories further, but keep the vitamin A and fiber, by using cooked butternut or acorn squash instead of sweet potato.
2 pounds of cooked sweet potatoes (or Garnet yams), peeled if desired.
½ cup of unsweetened applesauce
½ cup of orange juice
1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
Dash of nutmeg
½ teaspoon of salt
Dash of black pepper (optional).
½ cup of crushed pecans
½ cup oats
2 tablespoons of melted coconut oil
Peel the sweet potatoes if desired. Lightly puree them with the applesauce, orange juice, olive oil, egg, orange zest (if using), cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and pepper (if using). Separately, mix the pecans, oats, and coconut oil. Pour the sweet potatoes into a 9×9 inch baking pan and top with the pecan mixture. Bake at 375 for about 25 minutes.
Nutrition highlights per 1/10 recipe: 190 calories, 0 grams added sugar, 4 grams of fiber
Citrus Roasted Asparagus with Walnuts
1 pound asparagus spears
1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
Ground pepper to taste
¼ cup of chopped walnuts
Peel asparagus spears if they are thick and woody, and discard the ends. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice and add pepper if desired. Bake 20-30 minutes at 300 degrees or until tender. Add walnuts before serving.
Nutrition highlights per ¼ recipe: 100 calories, 3 grams of fiber
Creamy Pumpkin Chai
½ cup warmed original or vanilla unsweetened almond milk
2 tablespoons canned pumpkin puree (pure pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling!)
½ cup decaf green tea OR coffee
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Optional: low-calorie sweetener to taste
Blend the pumpkin and almond milk well, and heat. Mix with the other ingredients, and serve!
Nutrition highlights per recipe: 50 calories, 0 grams sugar
Alcohol: Fight This Triple Threat!
Alcoholic beverages are a triple threat for your waistline.
- Alcohol has 7 calories per gram – nearly twice as much as sugar!
- Alcoholic holiday drinks usually come in a sugary package.
- Alcohol makes you lose your inhibition, so you’re more likely to overeat and make unhealthy choices
Instead of alcohol-laced sugar bombs, you can nurse the following drinks at parties and at home.
- Use vanilla almond milk and sugar-free vanilla pudding mix instead of heavy cream and condensed milk
- Add vanilla and ground nutmeg.
- Add rum extract instead of rum.
Saves: 200 calories.
- Use apple cinnamon tea or low-sugar apple drink as the base.
- Optional: add rum extract.
- Serve with a cinnamon stick and cloves.
Saves: 150 calories.
- Use unsweetened original or vanilla almond milk.
- Add diet cocoa mix, or baking cocoa and low-calorie sweetener (such as monk fruit or stevia), instead of full-sugar cocoa mix.
- Optional: add vanilla extract.
- Pour over fresh mint leaves and garnish with another sprig
Saves: 200 calories.
For More Help
American Heart Association: Holiday Healthy Eating Guide