Healthy Lifestyle Changes — Even During the Holidays

Using SMART goals can you and your patients make healthy lifestyle changes during the holidays and beyond.

We’ve made it through one major holiday that’s focused on giving thanks, celebrating with family and friends, and A LOT of food. What comes in the next month may even be worse – more holiday festivities that are often food-focused. Baking, extra goodies around the house, cookie exchanges, and holiday parties often come with many temptations for an unhealthy snack, meal, or just one more “little” bite. Did somebody say portion control?! How do we reset our minds to not over-indulge, yet let us have some holiday fun and spread that festive cheer? After all, we don’t want to be the one holding up the food line trying to decide what is the best choice, or being the only one at the table who doesn’t eat. How can we prepare for the holidays in a way that leaves us feeling happy and healthy?

healthy hoilday meal

When it comes to lifestyle modification, it’s just that – modification over one’s life. If you find yourself taking one more piece of grandma’s famous pie or mom’s yummy potatoes, then know that it’s ok to reset and start fresh the next day or even at the next meal. Sometimes we often dwell too long on the negative, “Oh, why did I eat that? Forget it, I’ll just start over on January 1st. That will be my New Year’s resolution!”, that our thoughts turn negative and cloud our judgment to start fresh. This just delays the start of a positive and healthy lifestyle change. Why wait until January 1st to reset? Reset your thinking now. Resetting doesn’t require big changes all at once, in fact, smaller, more manageable changes are much easier to attain and stick with it in the long run. Remember, this isn’t a sprint, it’s your life, and we’re planning on a marathon!

Lifestyle practices and health habits are among the nation’s most important health determinants. Changing unhealthy behaviors is foundational to medical care, disease prevention, and health promotion. Lifestyle medicine can include changes in diet and exercise, stress management, sleep habits, smoking cessation, or even reduction in alcohol consumption. Chronic diseases such as obesity, coronary artery disease, diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, and even some cancers, can be largely impacted by lifestyle changes.

Simple, small changes for a healthier you can include:

  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • When eating out, choose lower-calorie menu options.
  • Write down what you eat/keep a journal.
  • Walk 5 extra minutes per day.
  • Get up out of your chair at work and stretch at least once per hour.
  • Practice deep breathing for 1 minute.

SMART Goals for Healthy Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes such as weight loss and exercise should be approached with the setting of SMART (specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and timely) goals, and incentives when goals are met. Interprofessional team members such as nutritionists and exercise physiologists can be used to help patients to meet their goals. SMART goals can help define what you want to accomplish, as well as help you track your progress along the way.

Let’s build an example of healthy eating by walking through it. 

“Starting Monday, December 13 for 1 month, I want to eat healthier by making half (50%) of my plate at each of my 3 meals to be made up of fruits and vegetables.” 

Is it Specific? What are you wanting to accomplish? This SMART goal lays out a specific plan on when and how the goal setter will eat healthier. 

Is it Measurable? Can a number be assigned to the goal? This plan includes values that can be measured: 3 meals a day and a half (50%) of each plate. 

Is your goal achievable and attainable? Is it Action-oriented? Do you have the means to obtain fruits and vegetables from a cost and access perspective? This is an achievable goal to work with any budget. 

Is it Realistic? Is it practical to have fruits and vegetables on hand every day? To make this easier, have different fruits and vegetables on hand. If fresh fruits or vegetables are not available, frozen ones can be an alternative source, which can also be kept longer. Even fresh fruits and vegetables can be cut and frozen for easier access. If using canned fruits, choose those in their own or natural juice rather than with syrup. Rinse canned vegetables with water to reduce any additional sodium. This is a realistic goal and can be achieved with planning and meal preparation. 

Is your goal Timely? Do you have a starting date, frequency, and deadline? The starting date of December 13 is specific and timely. The frequency is 3 times per day at mealtime. The deadline is for 1 month. At the end of the deadline, goals can be revised or expanded to meet the ongoing health needs.  

The use of SMART goals can be used to measure short-term success. Goals should be written and kept in a place where they are visible throughout the day. They can be printed and taped to a mirror, the refrigerator, a door, on your computer, or at your desk. Phone alarms or calendar reminders are another way for the goal to remain visible. Sharing with a friend or partner, or having someone hold you accountable, can be another way to achieve success. Setting short-term goals can lead to long-term success. 

Nobody is Perfect

There is not a single person in this entire world that can do everything right all the time. We all will slip up, and that’s ok. At that point, it’s important to realize that the slip up can be viewed in two different ways: 1) You can view yourself as a failure, mope, complain about it and waste time doing so; or 2) Use it as a learning tool to decide how you can make a better choice or effort the next time.  

Using a Positive Mindset is Essential in Making Healthy Lifestyle Changes that Last a Lifetime 

Don’t compare yourself to others. They may not be on the same lifestyle journey as you are. Be kind to yourself. Be your own cheerleader. After all, you have a vested interest in your future – take time to invest in your healthy self now and reap the ongoing benefits throughout your life!  

Additional Healhty Lifestyle Resources

PCNA’s Heart Healthy Toolbox: Lifestyle Change Tools for Health Care Professionals and Their Patients, is a compilation of resources to support heart-healthy lifestyle education for adult patients in both the cardiology and primary care settings. The tool includes resources on motivational interviewing, healthy eating, exercise, and more.


  • American College of Lifestyle Medicine [ACLM]. (2011). What is lifestyle medicine?
  • Maher, L. L. M. (2016). Care of the obese in advanced practice nursing: Communication, assessment, and treatment. Springer Publishing. https://doi:10.1891/9780826123589

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