12 Days of Fasting & Wellness
Here are a dozen healthy mindsets to adopt throughout the holiday season.
We all could identify some habits that could be improved upon during the holiday season, like eating healthier, drinking more water, stressing less, exercising more, and getting more sleep. But if you need a kick-start to help you hone in on a few areas of your healthy lifestyle that fall by the wayside as the end of year approaches, we have you covered. And while the ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ technically doesn’t start until Christmas Day, we hope you’ll incorporate some of these practices into your daily routine this season. Focus on one wellness day at a time and give yourself the present of presence and better health by 2021.
Day 1: Decide on a goal for the next 30 or so days.
Many of us think weight gain is inevitable during the holidays and it’s just not true. “I think a smart goal is to maintain your weight this season,” says Carolyn Williams, Ph.D., RD, author, and culinary expert. “You can focus on losing after the holidays. That’s my goal and I find that it takes a lot of pressure off. Maintaining means I’m not going to be perfect every day but I’ll try to eat healthfully most of the time. I’m going to enjoy the holidays, but I’m going to have enough balance where hopefully by January, I haven’t gained weight.”
Day 2: Adjust your fasting times to work with special meals.
You might normally start a time-restricted eating (TRE) fast at 6 p.m. and not eat again until 10 a.m. the next day if you’re following a 16:8 intermittent fasting plan but, if you are having a late dinner with family or plan to eat dessert, move your fasting time around to accommodate those choices. You could decide to break your fast later that morning or, prolong the fast the next morning. That’s the beauty of fasting! You can still celebrate and have fun and make the plan work for you.
Day 3: Stick to your morning routine.
If you stayed up late shopping online or wrapping presents, it’s tempting to hit your alarm and get more sleep the next day. “I found one thing that is really key to my success during the holidays is keeping my morning routine,” says Williams. “It’s easy to get out of your routine this month, and I have found that if I can keep my morning routine—particularly my morning workout—that it really sets the tone for my day.” She says it helps her make better food choices, improves the consciousness of what she’s eating, and helps her manage stress the rest of the day. “When I’m a stickler for sticking to this, the rest of the day falls into place.”
Day 4: Start a fitness challenge.
This can be a great motivator to help you work in some daily movement every day, says Stewart. It can be anything you want it to be! You could do a daily plank challenge, pushup challenge, squat challenge, or join a community walking or running challenge. Search for programs and guides on social media platforms (like #30DayChallenge) and consider posting your daily workout for encouragement and accountability. No matter your fitness level now, you’ll be stronger by the end of the month.
Day 5: Make an effort to get more vitamin D.
Many of us start our days before the sun is up and find ourselves working or commuting home until well after the sun goes down in the winter. A vitamin D deficiency—which can occur from a lack of ultraviolet B rays that we get from the sun—is associated with depression and mood disorders. Ask your doctor about taking a daily vitamin D supplement to ensure you’re getting enough and try to take a midday walk for some fresh air and sun exposure.
Day 6: Don’t think of the holidays as a six-week free for all.
Depending on which holidays you celebrate between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, tell yourself that you don’t need to indulge or eat celebratory food every day for the rest of the year. Decide which days are the ones you’re going to enjoy the food at—maybe it’s the first night of Hanukkah or Christmas Eve dinner—and then stick to your regular daily diet the rest of the days. Stick to your fasting windows if you’re following a time-restricted eating plan. Plan a “reward” or gift you’ll buy yourself in January if you only indulge on those special days. Find out how the body reacts to one-off overeating.
Day 7: Find healthier versions of your favorite drinks.
The holidays are a popular time for drinking specialty-sweetened coffee and tea drinks, eggnog, mulled wine, seasonal beers, high-calorie alcoholic drinks. Determine which drinks are special to you that you’ll be less likely to enjoy the rest of the year and make room for them in your meal plan. If your mom’s eggnog is a Christmas Eve tradition that you look forward to all year, then go ahead and have it on that day. Toast the family, sip it slowly and bask in the moment with loved ones. Look for recipes on how to make low-calorie or no-calorie versions of some of your favorite holiday classics so you can feel good about your decisions while celebrating.
Day 8: Stay hydrated.
You might be over caffeinating in order to work your way through your to-do list—and to help you get through a fast—but remember to guzzle water throughout the day, too. Being hydrated will help you feel fuller so you’re less likely to mistake hunger for thirst during fasting hours. Research from Virginia Tech showed that when dieters drank two cups of water prior to eating, they lost more weight than those who didn’t fill up on H2O ahead of time. Stay hydrated during get-togethers by drinking sparkling water in a nice glass in between alcoholic beverages.
Day 9: Ask for help.
Find an accountability buddy to rely on in social settings or when you’re working from home to keep you in check. Tell them your fasting plans and health goals and ask them to help make sure you don’t eat unhealthy foods just because they’re around. A study in the journal Obesity showed that people who joined forces to lose weight had significant influences on each other’s weight loss.
Day 10: Don’t arrive at a party feeling too hungry.
“I always recommend not starving yourself before attending a get-together—whether you’re fasting or not,” says EA Stewart, MBA, RDN. Eat something beforehand with protein and fruits or vegetables. That way you’ll have fiber and satisfying protein to hold you over, so you’re not hangry (over hungry plus angry) when you get to the event and tempted to eat everything in sight. You might even want to bring a healthy dish or two that you can enjoy and share.
Day 11: Look for ways to ‘lighten’ up some dishes.
Sure, this time of year is when we tend to indulge and eat more high-calorie, high-fat dishes, but there are plenty of opportunities to make some recipes healthier. See if you can substitute the fat in some baked goods recipes with mashed ripe bananas or unsweetened applesauce. Reduce the amount of sugar listed in some recipes by one third or a half. Cutting back in these small ways can help even out the calories you’ll be taking in from special holiday recipes.
Day 12: Carve out time for self-care.
It’s easy to spend the next month thinking about the gifts you have to buy others, the special foods you feel pressured to cook for your family, those cards to write and send, and making sure you’re ending your career on a high note. But make sure you set aside time each day—or a few times a week at least—to relax and enjoy downtime. That might mean sipping tea and watching a favorite holiday movie during a fast, reading a book or article in the middle of the day that has nothing to do with work or the news, or catching up with a loved one on the phone or a streaming service. Taking care of yourself will go a long way with sticking to your health goals and maintaining a positive outlook—no matter what the season throws at you.