How to Survive the Holidays…for those who are trying to be healthy

januaryDoes your year go a little something like mine?

  • January 1:  start the year off with a bang!  All the fitness and health goals are listed and will be accomplished this year!  We aren’t even joking right now…the gym and the workouts ARE a priority!  It is gonna happen THIS year!
  • February: well, actually, even before the holiday of hearts and chocolate arrive, the candy is in the aisles.  The smell of chocolate is already out and the stores might even be putting fans in their air ducts to spread the smell…because you have to eat some.
  • March/April:  Easter.  We might as well just say that this is the time of year where chocolate bunnies arrive and mysteriously poop eggs all over the yard…that are full of candy.  I have never seen an animal that poops out chocolate.  In my town we even have a candy drop from a hellicopter.  Yes, candy really does fall from the sky here in Rochester, MN.  My challenge this season is the Cadbury eggs.  O.M. Delish!  I love how there are chocolate crosses now in the mix of bunny type of Easter candy…because…well…pretty sure Easter wasn’t made because of a bunny.  This is also the time of year when the majority of people have given up on those January resolutions…or at least until “things have slowed down and I have more time.”.
  • May:  Weddings, graduations and Memorial Day…oh my!
  • June/July/August:  Of course there is the 4th of July but along with that is a weekend of camping or outside fire here and there and with that…more chocolate to go along with the marshmallows that got burned in said fire.  You could be like me and just eat the chocolate along with a graham cracker and call it good enough for a s’more.
  • September:  No holiday that consumes chocolate BUT…it is back to school.  Which means it is just more stressful for us moms, for the kids…and the bribing starts.  Parents…teachers…not sure which is worse.  Pretty sure that in the first 2 weeks my son was more excited about a package of Oreos that he saw his teacher put in his desk than he was about anything he was learning.
  • October:  Pumpkins.  Costumes.  Need I say more?  The amount of candy that is consumed on 1 particular day is unreal and ridiculous.  According to USA today, about 4% of all candy is consumed on this one scary day.
  • November/December:  Here we are…2 days before we celebrate with turkey, mashed potatoes filled with butter and some other creamy sources that are usually from the dairy family and…pie.  Oh, the pie.  We have family members in different states so we are basically traveling the end of November until the end of December, so let’s just combine the two because we really won’t have a break from eating all the bad stuff between what people bring in at work, the lovely treats that we make for family and what we need to leave out for Santa.

When we lay the year out like this we can see how the bad foods really stack up and how some months just get too busy to even think about starting new things or changing up our schedule…or habits.  We like familiarity and comfort.  We like our special foods and holidays.  If you haven’t taken a look…the numbers of Americans that are obese are astounding…more than 1/3 of Americans.  Kids today are expected to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents because of health issues.

I was one of those obese people.  If I would have stayed on the path that I was on I was destined for diabetes, heart problems, stroke and some types of cancer, just like the obesity statistics indicate.  Guess how many of those 4 things are in my family currently or in the past?  3 out of 4.  My chances were pretty good that I would be getting one or more of those illnesses.

eat all the foodQ.  But, Jessica, can I eat what I want on holidays and special occasions?  Sure you can!  I’m not saying that you can’t eat.  Eating is important in order to live actually…but we can live better than we are right now.  Grabbing a piece of pie and enjoying that on Thanksgiving is one thing.  There is nothing wrong with enjoying some good food on a day with family.  I plan on it…but I know that I will also have some healthy items that will be going in my body and that I don’t need 3 piles of mashed potatoes to make my taste buds happy.  3 years ago my plate would have shown you a different answer but I was also in that obese category at that time in my life.  😉  Eating pie on Thanksgiving isn’t going to keep you in that obese category.  It is one day.  Enjoy it with moderation and if your tummy is full…don’t eat any more and you probably should have quit eating 10 to 15 minutes earlier (that’s about how long it takes our brain and stomach to communicate that we are at our fullness level).

Q.  How can you make traditional meals healthier?  There are a lot of great ways to change things up to make it better for your body.  We can substitute ingredients for something more natural or healthier or just change things up entirely.

When we make substitutions…I gotta be honest…they don’t all taste that great.  Here are a few things that I have found that I do like and some that I don’t think are really good:

  • The good:  Sour Cream substitution.  Sour cream can have a lot of calories and isn’t great for some that are more dairy intolerant (like myself).  I have learned that plain greek yogurt works just as great as sour cream.  1 cup of sour cream = 1 cup of greek yogurt.  You can’t even taste the difference.
  • The so-so:  Rice substitution.  White rice seems to have this “bad carb” thing going with it and a lot of negative attention.  In fact, I was once in the aisle at Target and an older lady gave me the advice that I should never buy white rice because there is arsenic in it.  It was one of those “I’m going to give you helpful info even if you don’t want it” moments.  Is her info correct?  I have never died from eating white rice so I’m going to say that I’m not sure I believe her…but she was pretty adamant about her discovery.  I have started using Quinoa instead of white rice though and am starting to get used to the texture and taste.  It isn’t my favorite and sometimes tastes a bit like eating Earth but I eat it and I know I am making a better choice for my body.
  • The bad:  Pizza crust.  I like pizza and grew up with Pizza Hut and Godfathers being “the” pizza.  That is what I know and I enjoy the bread aspect of the pizza.  Pizza can have great ingredients in it but to make it healthier the trend seems to be that you make a low carb pizza crust.  Cori may disagree with me on this because she has made this and even posted about it on the blog…but my opinion is that a pizza crust made with cauliflower and/or cheese is basically barftastic.  I don’t like it.  It is gross and is not pizza.  It just isn’t.
  • 83HealthyRecipeSubstitutionsSimilar and ok:  I love a good Italian pasta and would be gaining weight like crazy if I had pasta and bread all the time…so I have learned a few things that give me similar tastes to a pasta meal.  Instead of lasagna I enjoy stuffed peppers.  I fill up a pepper with cooked beef, quinoa, spaghetti sauce and top it with cheese.  Delish!
  • A few other sites that offer some helpful hints:
  1. Healthy Recipes: A guide to ingredient substitutions by Mayo Clinic
  2. 83 Healthy Recipe Substitutions by Greatist
  3. Top 10 Food Substitutions for Healthier Cooking by Time

Q.  What about those Thanksgiving and Christmas meals?  At Christmas, you can guarantee that all or some of this will be on our table.

  • Mashed potatoes.  You gotta have them…but you don’t have to use all white potatoes.  I really like sweet potatoes but not everyone in my family does…so we will probably do a mixed variety.  1/3 sweet potatoes, 1/3 white potatoes, 1/3 cooked cauliflower.
  • Turkey.  I was once watching Oprah and the turkey they showed being made looked amazing.  I was sold and I didn’t even taste it yet.  🙂  If you are wanting a turkey that tastes great (and you are ok with a little bit of mustard taste) this is the one that you need to make.  Super easy!  Tastes awesome!!! Here is the link to the recipe: Turkey with marinade recipe
  • Pumpkin Pie.  Last year I found this recipe online for a low carb option and to be honest, I was skeptical.  I took it to Thanksgiving at my parents house and no one knew that it was supposed to be healthy…and it was a hit!  You can find the link for the recipe here:  Low Carb Pumpkin Pie
  • Sides.  Personally…I’m not one of those that likes salads with marshmallows in it.  The texture and taste of that along with fruit in some sugary sweet mixture just kindof grosses me out.  When it is green…it grosses me out even more.  This year I am bringing fresh fruit…in a bowl…nothing else.  Simple and easy and lots of it.  No sugar.  No cool whip.  Just the fruit.

What are your plans for the holidays?  Share your favorite healthy recipe with us!  We’d be glad to add it to our recipe page at The Journey.

Next Tuesday we will be back to our Small Changes Challenge!  We’ve talked about 3 changes so far to help us reach our goals and develop healthy habits.  Catch up on the reading by checking out Small Change 1, Small Change 2 and Small Change 3.

Thanks for joining us at The Journey.  Have a healthy Thanksgiving.  😉


Jessica is a mom to three kids, 1 energetic puppy and wife to 1.  She is a fitness instructor at two locations in Rochester, MN and works with women in her home with their health and fitness goals.


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