Just the Essentials: 7 Strategies to Stay Lean & Healthy During the Holidays

Close-up of a back massage.“The enemy was at the party last night, and I succumbed,” my friend dramatically declared over brunch recently.

“You mean that catty receptionist you’re always complaining about?” I asked innocently, vividly imagining an ensuing catfight with my friend. “It was your office party. Of course she would be there.”

It turns out the enemy wasn’t a person; it was apple spice cake, a dessert my friend had loved since childhood. “I did so well all day,” she said, sighing, “and yet one bite of that cake and I was a goner.”

Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail

Why does that time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day somehow give us mental permission to indulge in every gingerbread cookie and pear-pecan tart that comes in our path?

Pick your enemy: a favorite food that usually proves your downfall. Whether you’re mingling at your annual office party or stranded at your in-laws for an early-Christmas visit, all bets are that enemy will be there.

You know the old cliché: fail to plan, plan to fail. That goes double over the holidays when you’ll have numerous opportunities to indulge. Even when your willpower has become zapped and resistance is futile, these seven strategies can help you survive the holidays with your dignity and waistline intact:

1. Start every morning with a protein shake. Skipping meals is a giant no-no for fat loss. Stop with the “I’m saving calories” nonsense: the ensuing hunger and cravings only set you up for failure. A protein shake can help curb your appetite and avert temptation when you don’t have time to sit down and eat. I’ve had clients do nothing else and still get amazing results by ditching their carb-bomb breakfast for a fast, easy protein shake. I blend The Virgin Diet All-in-One Powder with freshly ground flax seed, frozen raspberries, raw kale, and unsweetened coconut milk for a fast, filling meal that keeps me focused no matter how crazy my day becomes.

2. Meet your sleep quota. “Who has time to sleep among shopping and all those parties?” someone recently asked me. You do. The hormonal whammy of even one night’s poor sleep can leave you engulfing a low-fat muffin with a soy latte, further stymying fat loss. One study found quantity and quality count, so aim for 7 – 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. Prepare for sleep an hour before you hit the sack by turning off electronics and taking a hot bath with chamomile tea and maybe a trashy novel. Grab my top sleep tips here.

3. Drink up. We like to talk about eggnog and other sugary holiday concoctions, but nobody wants to discuss the most important drink of this or any other season: water. Ideally I want you to drink half your body weight in water ounces.  If you weigh 150 pounds, that’s a minimum of 75 ounces per day. Start with a big class upon waking, and carry a canteen to sip throughout your day. One study at the University of Washington found everyone who had a tall glass of water before bedtime curbed nighttime hunger. The only time I don’t want you drinking liquid is during meals, when excess amounts can dilute stomach enzymes that break down protein. Otherwise, drink up!

4. Step up your fiber. Fiber is my number-one fat loss aid that helps balance blood sugar and curb cravings. One study found even with no other dietary modifications, people who added 14 grams of fiber lost an average of four pounds over as many months. I recommend gradually working up to 50 grams daily. Easy fiber sources include raw nuts and seeds, raspberries, non-starchy veggies, and avocado. If getting that amount from food becomes a challenge (hey, we’ve all had those days!), Extra Fiber can help meet your quota.

5. 15 minutes and you’re done. Gyms are teeming with new members in January, but by early March it’s crickets as the dedicated few remain. If a gym isn’t your thing or you know you’re not going to make the time or commitment, you can get excellent fat-burning results with burst training and weight resistance. I combine both types of exercise in my 4 x 4 Workout, which you can do in less time than it takes to find a parking space at the mall during the holidays. Grab a free 4 x 4 Workout here.

6. Keep your enemy out of the kitchen. Never mind the parties; anything lurking in your cabinets or fridge is fair game to devour during a momentary lapse of judgment. Even healthy foods can become unhealthy when you eat too much. (Note to self: a few tablespoons of almond butter are perfectly fine; devouring half the jar is not.) Keep trigger foods – even healthy ones if they become a problem – out of the kitchen and you’ll be far less likely to succumb when temptation strikes.

7. Schedule in bliss time. Do you really need studies like this one that spanned five years and concluded stress, including “perceived stress and life events stress,” could make you gain weight?  Our fast-faster society encourages over-doing, and the repercussions are showing up around our midsection. Stress management is not a luxury, so schedule time for a massage, coffee date with your girlfriend, or even a leisurely walk around the neighborhood with your terrier.

Additional References

University of Washington Study. 2002. Reported in Integrated and Alternative Medicine Clinical Highlights. 4:1(16).

© 2013 JJ Virgin & Associates, Inc. Celebrity Nutrition & Fitness Expert JJ Virgin helps clients lose weight fast by breaking free from food allergies.  She is the bestselling author of Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy, a Huffington Post blogger, creator of the 4X4 Burst Training Workout & co-star of TLC’s Freaky Eaters. Her latest book, New York Times Bestseller The Virgin Diet: Drop 7 Foods, Lose 7 Pounds, Just 7 Days, is out now. Learn more at

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  1. Eggnog was my downfall last year. I was on another diet program and had lost 100 pounds and thought, “one little sip of eggnog won’t hurt”. Well, I wound up devouring the entire quart! And that just led me down the road for more unhealthy foods. Then it became habit; it was my coping mechanism for dealing with stress – NOT good. And of course, anything sweet will get me started, too.

    I’m on day 3 of the Virgin Diet….can’t wait until the nausea, tiredness and slight headache goes away. Strange, I didn’t have any symptoms the first 2 days. And I’ve never had neausea with a healthy eating program. I’m assuming I am detoxing BIG time.

  2. GREAT tips … Starting the day with a protein shake is a great idea for many reasons. I’ve been doing it for years!

  3. How do I maintain weight . I am fading away even though I have my shake every day and a good meal at night with a light lunch. HELP.
    Encouragingly my daughter and her mother-in-law have lost 20 kg each in the last 6-8 mths and and my daughters father-in-law has lost 5kgs in 1 mth and his blood sugars are finally stabilising with his diabetes.

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