* Don't wait. Leave the December binge/January purge cycle behind. If you tend to blow off moderation in favor of "treating" yourself and justifying poor choices, it's time to reframe your approach. Vow to conquer the holidays in healthy ways. Start by taking the initiative to cook holiday meals so you can prepare healthy options, and during the party circuit, don't succumb to the pressure to indulge. "Learn to say no thank you," says Tom Nikkola, director of nutrition and weight management for Life Time Fitness. "Not 'No thank you, I'm on a diet,' or 'No thank you, I'm trying to stick to my nutrition plan,' because friends might give you a hard time and egg you on."
Keep in mind that the satisfaction of any cookie will only last until you swallow it. "Chances are one cookie - which often leads to several cookies - won't be worth the frustration, or failure, you might feel for hours or days afterward," Nikkola says. "Plus, when you make good decisions you'll feel more empowered. In effect, you remain in control, not the food."
* Find a community. A fit lifestyle is a family and friend affair. So are the holidays. Take the initiative to bring them together. Suggest that your family start a tradition to head out on a pre- or post-meal hike. Recruit a friend to adopt one new healthy habit in December (it takes approximately 28 days for a habit to stick). Sign up for an athletic event in 2012, that will motivate you to keep moving in December - such as one of the 67 indoor triathlons hosted by Life Time.
Katie Sloan of Chicago is recruiting friends and family to gather at the Santa Hustle 5K. "Growing up we had so many family traditions especially around Christmas," Sloan says. "What better way to make sure we spend time together as a family and commence the holiday season?" She has convinced 25 loved ones that a 5K is the perfect mix of exercise and holiday fun. "Whether the race is completed in 24 minutes or 2 hours, it is something we get to do together," she says. Spending time with people you care about, she added, is what makes the holidays meaningful.
* Take what you can get. Sure there will be days when the holiday rush feels overwhelming. That's no reason to skip exercising altogether. Even if you have just 10 minutes for a brisk walk, or can only manage a set of pushups as your morning shower heats up, your body will appreciate that small deposit toward your overall fitness. Jake Booth, a personal trainer at Life Time Fitness Omaha, says that any workout, no matter the duration, will keep burning calories once you go back to sitting at your desk. "Even a short burst of exercise - even 10 minutes if that's all you have - is shown to increase metabolism for up to one hour," he says.
A short workout will keep the mental momentum going, too. After all, if you skip one day, what will keep you from skipping the next day too? And we all know how stressful the holidays can be. "Exercise increases energy and individuals usually experience better sleeping patterns," Booth adds. Stepping away from the seasonal stress, he says, will also help you return to your task at hand with more clarity and focus.