If you spend your days eating to fuel an active lifestyle and prioritizing fitness, the holiday season can bring on a fear that your efforts will be lost. Depending on your family, social circle, and past holiday experiences, you may force yourself to keep up with every workout and pass on the holiday fare. Or, maybe the opposite–you decide to throw in the towel and skip the rest of the week’s workouts if you don’t make the first–while indulging in every seasonal eating (and drinking) opportunity.

Both these scenarios represent all-or-nothing behavior, which is a common tendency for athletes, former athletes, and highly active individuals. A large drawback of this mentality is the stress and guilt that compounds over time. Cara Harbstreet, MS RD LD of Street Smart Nutrition  recognizes “It’s easy to stress over a few days off of training or eating differently than your ‘normal’ routine.”

Ready for a change?

This holiday season make a commitment to feel joyful and maintain your fitness and health. “If your goal is truly to maintain fitness and health during the holidays, know that neither of things disappear overnight – your body may actually appreciate the break,” suggests Harbstreet.

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Adapting Expectations

It’s helpful during busy seasons to alter expectations of yourself and develop new, more realistic plans. Felicia Porazza, owner and Registered Dietitian at Porazza Nutrition, talks to her clients a lot about mindfulness and flexibility this time of year.

“Flexibility around the holidays is key”

she says. “Not every party will have healthy options. Not every meal will be perfectly balanced. Not every plan to exercise will come to fruition with seasonal obligations.” Once you’ve accepted this, you’ll feel better mentally, being able to enjoy the seasonal dishes, and let your body rest when you didn’t fit in a run or lifting session.

Reduce Anxiety and Modify Goals

Start by developing modified fitness goals. If you’re an endurance athlete, this may mean one of your weekly training sessions becomes temporarily optional, and you cut back the mileage for your longest session. If weight training is your favorite activity, it may be realistic to drop a workout (or two) per week. Perhaps you do a body weight session at home one day to save time. If group exercise classes are more your speed, prioritize the ones you have the most fun at, and let a couple of the others go. With these new expectations, you’ll maintain your strength and endurance without the anxiety or guilt.

Mindful Eating

In addition to scaling back exercise expectations, allow yourself to focus on mindful eating experiences, and let your body guide your food choices. Many of the foods available right now only come around once a year. Give yourself the freedom to enjoy a few, rather than creating strict food rules that only make you feel guilty when you end up indulging at parties.

“The mindfulness aspect spans not just food, but also, being mindful of stress,” says Porazza. “I talk to my clients about keeping their ‘me-time’–which could just be meditating for 5 minutes. Even better is when they find a few moments per day to have an experience where they sit and enjoy the food they are eating, no matter what that food is.”

Fueling Activity

If you’re in the middle of a heavy training period or competition season, there are still plenty of holiday foods you can enjoy that fuel your activity:

“Movement and meal time during the holidays doesn’t need to be structured or planned to bring a mental and physical benefit.”

Remember to go easy on yourself and enjoy the season. Harbstreet notes, “Movement and meal time during the holidays doesn’t need to be structured or planned to bring a mental and physical benefit. Some of my favorite holiday memories include sledding, playing games in the backyard, and preparing holiday dishes. It’s an added bonus when your activities include family or friends. Remember that social connections and relationships are also a big piece of overall well-being.”

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