How to Maintain Habits During the Holidays

Upper left fruits and vegetables, upper right clock and bed, lower right woman with exercise equipment and mat, lower left water vase with text: How to Maintain Habits During the Holidays

As temperatures drop, you may drop good habits for nutrition and health and settle into winter hibernation mode. Add a few holidays to cold and wintry weather, travel and social events on a busier calendar, and you can quickly break from your routines around eating and exercising. Maintaining habits during the holidays can be challenging, especially if you’re traveling or visiting family. Your routine is your habit and your habits today shape your tomorrow.

Research shows most people gain weight in the fall each year between October and December. This is due to a tendency to reduce exercise and overall movement combined with an increase in food intake. So, what can you do to avoid the holiday gain? First, keep your habits! Keeping this consistency will do wonders for your health and your mood as well.

If you don’t already have great habits in place, consider starting now. Starting a new habit when you are busy can be challenging, but at the same time, if you can find a way when you are busy you are more likely to continue with it when life becomes less hectic.

What Habits Do You Need?

To keep yourself in optimal health, you need some foundational habits. These include getting an adequate amount of rest, drinking water, eating appropriately and moving your body. These changes can be small independently. When you consistently apply these habits together, you can transform your body and your mindset.

If you’re looking for ideas on how to give yourself the rest and care you need, check out our post Self Care Isn’t Selfish!

Sleep and Rest Routines

The amount of sleep each person needs varies. Most adults benefit from between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. Making sleep a priority will make cultivating all the other habits listed below easier. We feel and perform better when we are well rested. What you may not realize is that oversleeping can be just as detrimental as not getting enough rest.

Sleep habits often change when life becomes busier, when you are traveling, or when you are experiencing a lot of stress (positive or negative). Holidays can increase the number of events on your calendar. Pressure or worry or excitement may be experienced related to family gatherings. You may travel for vacation or to see family and friends. Maybe you overworked yourself in order to take the break, and now you feel exhausted and feel the need for extra sleep.

Often sleep is disrupted during these events. You may stay up later enjoying the company of the people you are with. You may be attending an event that keeps you out later than usual. Or, you may be in an unfamiliar location that impacts your ability to relax and instead of sleeping you toss and turn. When you don’t get enough sleep, you create a sleep deficit that won’t necessarily be fixed by sleeping in late. It is much better to maintain a regular sleep schedule if possible.

Opened book on table with glasses and phone

If keeping your sleep routine is not possible, you can allow sleep to come more quickly by:

  • Setting aside ten minutes (or more!) to read or meditate before you turn in to bed.
  • Turning off electronic devices several hours before sleep if possible. Giving yourself quiet time before sleeping can also improve the quality of your sleep.
  • Avoiding large meals right before sleep. The time of your meal is not as important as your overall calorie intake each day; however, large meals can create discomfort that prevents your body from relaxing. Conversely, not eating enough can create hunger that makes sleep difficult.


Water is one of the foundations of life. Your body is over 60% water! Lack of water, or dehydration, can lead to fatigue and keep you from being your best. Water also plays an important role in internal processes like moving nutrient and waste. It does amazing things for our outside, like our skin. Water hydrates our skin and helps us sweat when we exercise, which flushes unwanted bacteria from our skin and pores.

Pitcher of water with lemon and lime slices, mint leaves

Here are a few ways to drink enough water each day:

  • Start water intake early. Begin the day with a glass of water before any food or coffee.
  • Make it a habit to keep a water bottle with you. Refill it as needed and sip throughout the day.
  • Plain water may not be your drink of choice due to lack of flavor. Herbs and citrus are good add ins for flavor without added calories or salt.
  • Water is the best choice, but any liquid counts to help with hydration. You also get some hydration from juicy fruits and vegetables.

Eating Patterns

Here are a few simple tips and tricks to make sure you still enjoy your favorite holiday dishes without sacrificing your health:

  • Try substituting ingredients like lean meats, whole-wheat flour, and low-fat dairy products into your favorite holiday recipes.
    • One swap that reduces the fat content in recipes with little change in taste or texture is to use applesauce as 1:1 substitute in place of oil. You can also try out Greek yogurt as a swap by using half as much oil as called for (if it says one cup oil, use 1/2 cup yogurt instead).
    • To maintain a goal of adequate protein intake, you can swap flour for protein powder, such as pea isolate or plant protein blend, in baked goods. There are many options, try and see which you like!
  • You can offer to bring a dish to a potluck or dinner party. Great ideas include bringing a protein or vegetable packed side dish. You would be surprised how often people are happy to see green vegetables at holiday gatherings! Bodies that are in sugar and fat overload, at least those that are used to eating differently most of the year, will often crave the balance of simple salad.
Salad greens in large glass bowl surrounded by smaller bowls of vegetables, nuts, berries and other salad additions
  • Stick to smaller portions of high-calorie dishes and fill up on healthy sides like veggies, fruit, and salads.
  • Look for options like grilled or baked dishes instead of fried foods when eating out.
  • Don’t show up hungry and thirsty! Drink plenty of water throughout the day and have a snack that includes fiber and protein before you go.
  • When hosting, you have the ability to offer a variety of food options, including ones that fit your own needs. You can include unsalted nuts and fruit as snacks instead of sugary treats.
  • Practice mindful eating by taking time to enjoy your food and savor each bite.
  • If you overeat at one meal, don’t skip the following meal to “make up” for it. This can lead to feeling deprived and create a cycle of overeating and undereating.

Movement Practices

You need to keep moving your body! Exercise improves and supports our physical and mental health. If you can keep your exercise routine in place, do it! Even if it means you have shorter or less intense workouts, maintaining the process will make a return to “normal” once the holiday periods are over a bit easier. But if you aren’t able to exercise like you normally would, all is not lost!

Lower body view of person walking in fall with leaves on ground
  • The best way to make exercise happen is to make room for it on your schedule. Mark a slot to exercise on your calendar – even if it is just a ten minute walk.
  • Engage in body weight exercises if you are traveling and don’t have access to a gym. These can maintain muscle mass until you are able to resume strength training.
    • Options include pushups, squats, lunges, planks, crunches.
    • You can get creative and do bicep curls with some canned goods or other similarly shaped items for a little extra weight!
  • Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), which is simply your everyday movement, makes a huge impact on your weight and energy expenditure. Take a brisk walk or do a few minutes of stretching after meals to help manage your weight.

Seek support

You do not have to do it all yourself! Find a friend to take a walk and feel the support of nature. Spending time in nature can help reset stress. And if you need a break from human interaction, even furry friends can be supportive, and sometimes more so during the a challenging holiday season.

Plant adaptogens can be especially helpful as well. Adaptogens are plants that are known to assist with the body’s processes. Specifically, they can assist with your body’s ability to manage stress or to support metabolic processes. Lemon balm, chamomile and mint are all supportive herbs that can help you keep your calm and handle periods of increased stress.

Following these tips can help you stay on track with your fitness and nutrition goals and still enjoy the holidays.

Have a happy and healthy holiday season!

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