Hack Your Holiday Season



by Hailey Brady, BS, ACSM-CPT

It’s that time of the year again. The holiday season is upon us and while it’s certainly a wonderful time to celebrate with family and friends, there can also be some downsides. The professionals at LifeStart are here to help you have a healthier, happier, holiday season. Even though this season comes around every year many still struggle to adhere to their normal sleep schedule, dietary habits, and workout program. Whether it be the stress of a busier schedule, the temptation of easily accessible treats, a lack in motivation due to the colder temperatures and shorter days, or anything in between. LifeStart Health and Fitness Professionals share how they "Hack" their Holiday season!

1. Plan Ahead

Hailey Brady, LifeStart 311 and 100 S Wacker
Plan ahead, if you know you have a Holiday party every weekend in the month of December be prepared for too many desserts, drinks, and food for your own good. Drinking that extra beer or glass of wine multiple times a week alone can increase the likelihood of weight gain (not to mention all of the dinners/desserts). Have a game plan going into the evening in order to set yourself up for success.


  • Fill your plate with half salad and veggies to be eaten first. Then focus on protein, and carbs. Split dessert with a friend or family member.

  • Don’t get down on yourself if you don’t see the number on the scale decrease. Focus on maintaining your strength and achieving different goals like ‘hold a perfect plank for 45 seconds’ or ‘complete 5 perfect bodyweight pull-ups’

  • There will be treats at the majority of holiday events. If you have one or two events per week for the next 2 months, it adds up! Be selective. Don’t just eat because it’s there.

Jamie Regan, General Manager, Michigan Plaza

Every Sunday, I write down my workouts and any important meetings/events for the week in a journal. I will look at my schedule a week ahead so I can schedule workouts accordingly. Sometimes life happens so I adjust as needed. I found writing down and creating my daily workouts into a checklist has really helped with my accountability. For my members I always encourage them to get plenty of sleep, make healthy choices, drink a lot of water and sweat everyday! Starting November 20th through January 1st we are running a challenge at my wellness center. The challenge will reward members for coming to the fitness center, taking group exercise classes, wearing their MyZone heart rate straps and for bringing a buddy to a workout.

Ashley Schroeder, Fitness Director, 150 N. Riverside

Meal prep during the week! The holidays get busy and it can be hard to plan healthy meals on the fly or choose healthy meals at parties and restaurants. Keep your weekday meals on point. This way, when you attend a party or event over the weekend, you can enjoy a treat knowing you had a successful week. Practice moderation, ESPECIALLY with sweets and treats.

Angela Lopez, General Manager, 1 N. Franklin

I recommend clients to print out a social calendar for November - early January. With the holidays, there are more social events and theses usually come with increased eating and drinking. By knowing when your events (family gatherings, company holiday parties, traveling, etc) are scheduled, you will get an idea of times you might be splurging and celebrating. With these dates in mind, you can plan to be more mindful or schedule an extra workout on the days leading up to, or following said events.

Breana Veckov, Lifestart at Sheetz Shwellness Fitness Center

One way that I stick to my health and fitness goals over the holiday is to schedule exercise sessions on busy days. If I don't plan a time for exercise, it easily gets pushed down on my priority list. When I schedule a time to get a workout in, I am more likely to stick to it and get it done before the hectic holiday plans begin.

2. Focus on maintenance and consistency

Lauren Floyd RD, LDN, CHC, LifeStart at Gym Gallagher

Over the holidays I usually tell people it might be harder to lose weight, so we focus more on maintaining.  If they have a holiday party or event to go to, try to get even a short workout in that day if possible. Otherwise, it all comes down to choices. Always start the day out with a good quality protein. Don't save up all your calories for later in the day. Try to focus on the quality of your meals during the day leading up to scheduled events. Drink lots of water. Keep pre-dinner snacking to a minimum or focus on the veggie tray. This will help satisfy some of your hunger while sneaking in an extra serving or two of veggies!  If you’re dead set on dessert be mindful of portion size. The first bite is really all you will remember. Have a taste and ask yourself if you truly need the whole thing. No need to overdo it.  In the end, all of the little things add up!  If one meal isn't that great, it's ok, don't dwell on it.  Just try to make your next meal better and get back on track.

Christine De Souza, Fitness Director, 125 High Street

This isn't really a hack, but I try my best to encourage anyone trying to lose weight to begin before the holidays.  Be in some sort of accountability program through the holidays. They may not lose, but likely they will maintain and strengthen their good habits and minimize the bad.

3. Practice moderation and mindfulness - be selective

Katie Schwartz, General Manager, 2001 Butterfield
We know we are going to have holiday parties and family gatherings that will be flooded with unhealthy food options. The key isn't necessarily to not imbibe at all, but to just do so in moderation and make up for the extra calories with your workouts if possible. Whether you are on a strict eating plan or not, there will be moments we fall off the wagon. If you plan for these slip ups and know its ok just hop back on the wagon and keep pushing then we can avoid the disastrous 2lb downward spiral. The stress of the holiday season and time management can get tough, but it's not impossible.

Chris Graves, General Manager, 155 N Wacker

During the holiday's I always struggle with the temptations of desserts, drinks, and eggnog lattes...so I try to pack all of my lunches and make much more of my dinner's as opposed to going out. I know I will likely indulge if I go to a party or someone brings in treats. I’ll allow myself to enjoy the meal, dessert, or drink without being so hard on myself. Often times when people do allow themselves to indulge, they overindulge and get so down about it. This triggers a vicious cycle of overeating/overindulging, feeling guilty, and feeling out of control .Knowing I ate well during the week for the majority of my meals gives me confidence when trying to maintain during the holiday's. Mindset is key.  In my opinion,  if people can give in to temptation (in moderation) without adopting a negative mindset, they will likely be less inclined to over do it .

Mike Schwartz, Fitness Director, LifeStart at Gym Gallagher

  • Monitor portion control during each meal. Eat 80% the amount you normally would when at a party or social event

  • Pick only one unhealthy treat to enjoy at a party. For example, choose either Alcohol, Dessert or Soda - not all three

  • Remind yourself that one unhealthy choice won't make or break your fitness goals. With that said, don't let one bad choice turn into a whole day(s) of binge eating.

  • Strive to complete a workout the day of each Holiday. This gives you some room for error.

4. Practice healthy habits. Create a healthy tradition with friends and family

David Burnett, General Manager, 200 West Madison

My favorite Holiday Hack is planning some active-social time, usually before a family party. For example, Thanksgiving morning I will go for a run with a group of friends on the lakefront and get coffee afterward. There's a twofold benefit from doing this: first, it's a workout. I know I'm going to laze around the afternoon and eat more than normal; it's Thanksgiving after all. But I'm apt to feel better physically and mentally if I know I've put in a little effort toward my health already.

Secondly, spending several hours with family can be stressful, and stress is a great excuse to overindulge. Starting the day with an endorphin infusion and some easy conversation with friends puts me in a better state of mind. I'll employ this same strategy for Christmas, and New Year's Day. When the culture says gluttony, instead of surrendering completely, these workouts are touchstones to my long term goals of living healthy.    

Becca Egan, General Manager,  President's Plaza

Don't just eat because it's there. Be picky and eat things that you don't normally allow yourself to indulge in. For example, pumpkin pie, stuffing, grandma’s famous holiday cookies. And if there's several things you like, share with someone or minimize the portion of each treat you’re consuming. Also don't eat until you're uncomfortably stuffed (no pun intended). Eat to contentment.Talk a lot with your family and eat slowly, you'll realize you're full sooner.

Try to get some play time in with the younger kids in the family or start up a football game. On holidays when you would normally be sedentary, possibly watching football, holiday parades or specials, or just lounging with the other family members, find a way to be active. It doesn’t have to be all out intensity, just get moving!

Abby Larson, Fitness Director, LifeStart Central Park

If you know you have a sweet tooth and will be making desserts for the holidays cut back on how much you make of it. Maybe half the recipe so you don't have as much laying around as leftovers. This way it’s not out on your counter or in your fridge tempting you for days. Otherwise, share the leftovers with neighbors or family in the area. This can be applied to not only desserts but any meal you make. Try and make just the right amount. This is a healthy habit you can practice all year round.

Erin Kelly, Fitness Director, 181 W Madison

Bring a yummy healthy dish to share at your parties this year! Pinterest is my best friend. One of my favorites? Peanut Butter Greek Yogurt fruit dip! 1 5.3 oz container of vanilla greek yogurt, 1/2 cup of natural peanut butter, 3 tablespoons of honey, cut up apples! It's protein packed, filling, and healthy.


  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!  Focus on being consistent with your water intake. Challenge yourself to drink one full glass of water before every meal.

6. Stay on top of your workouts and make the most of your time spent in the gym

Brian Halling, Senior Manager, 100 S Wacker

I try to increase the duration and frequency of my workouts the days leading up to Thanksgiving Dinner and Christmas to offset the additional calories. Work is typically slower during the Holiday season, and I take advantage by making some additional time for myself to spend on workouts.

I use high volume weight lifting and HIIT cardio to deplete muscles in an attempt to help the body utilize the abundance of calories taken in on Thanksgiving/ Christmas. This is similar to how a marathon runner would carb deplete and then carb load before a race. In addition, I choose to avoid beer, drink tons of water, and load up on vegetables and lean protein appetizers. This helps to keep me in check when the less healthy foods/sweets are served.

Cara Simpson, General Manager, Club Samsung

During the holidays I always change my workout time to the morning! It gets dark earlier and with so much to do for the holidays it's easy to miss night time workouts. Waking up a little earlier to workout guarantees that I will start the day off on the right foot!

Katie Schwartz, General Manager, 2001 Butterfield

Tabata is a great way to fit in a workout even on the busiest of days to make up for those slip-ups. It is a 4-minute workout, while intense and short in duration, studies have shown it is equivalent to doing 30 minutes of a slow steady state cardio workout. This can be done anywhere, any time so there aren't any excuses why we can't get something in every day through the holiday season. It is 20 seconds of max effort of any exercise that will get your heart rate up followed by 10 seconds of complete rest, repeated 8 times through; 4 minutes later you are done, whether you use it to start your day, end your day or break it up, it's a great way to get in your workout. You could do one exercise the entire time or change up with each 20 seconds, the options are endless-- high knees, steps, jumping jacks, burpees (everyone's favorite), and the list goes on and on.

Ashley Schroeder, Fitness Director, 150 N. Riverside

Stick to a routine! Set a weekly routine for the holiday season that’s realistic for you. If you find yourself struggling to stick to your routine, modify it ! That way there's no excuses and you keep yourself on track. For example, walking or running on the treadmill 3 times a week for 30 mins and meeting with a trainer twice a week. The trainer can hold you accountable and the cardio should be a short enough commit to do on your own.

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