Some advice on how to stay fit and healthy for the Holidays

Jessica Townes served up a variety of holiday appetizers for guests at the annual Holiday Soiree at the Daniel Fisher House Friday. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Without a game plan, it can take as little as one holiday party to sabotage the best health and fitness intentions. It can be difficult even with a strategy, but knowing how to circumvent the temptations does give you a fighting chance. Two Island professionals, Prudence Athearn Levy, MS, RD, of Vineyard Nutrition and Max Sherman of Max Fitness provide ideas for getting through the holidays without deep-sixing your healthy lifestyle.

Prudence and her husband, Josh Levy, MS, RD, have been consulting on all things wellness since 2004. They purchased Vineyard Nutrition from long-time owner Denise Guest in Feburary of this year.

Max is a personal trainer at the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard (and other venues) and is a wellness consultant under the banner “Max Fitness.” His website,, comprises a listing of ongoing Island classes and other fitness information.

These two experts generously offer the following tips for conquering the evil influences of the holidays:


Don’t skip meals. Imagine walking into a potluck at the Chilmark Community Center and seeing tables piled with food. You haven’t eaten since lunch. It would take preternatural willpower to not stack your plate with more than a little bit of everything.”Never arrive at a holiday event hungry,” Ms. Levy cautions. “If you know you’re headed to a big event, don’t skip a meal ahead of time.”

Surround yourself with vegetables. “Fill up with vegetables before the party, at the party, or bring them to the party yourself,” she says. “Fill up half your plate with unadorned, non-starchy vegetables.”

Watch liquid calories. “Alternate alcoholic drinks with glasses of water. If you’re going to drink, choose wine or light beer over eggnogg, punches, or other mixed drinks. Slow down your drinking. Focus instead on the conversation.”

Keep moving. Max Sherman recommends not sitting down. “Walk around,” he says. “Be social. Don’t sit on the couch.” Besides taking your attention off the food and drinks, it burns some of the calories you’re consuming.

Bring a healthy dish. Prudence recommends that when you’re invited somewhere as a guest, bring along a lower calorie, healthy dish so you know there’s at least one thing there that you’ll be happy eating. Bring a big salad, roasted vegetables, or a crudité. Think of it as your safety net.

In general

Preplan meals and snacks. The shopping, wrapping, scheduling, and planning inherent in the holidays add to the everyday stress. Ms. Levy recommends that you know what you’re going to have for dinner each night of the week and try to keep one (preferably two) dishes in your freezer. “When you come home from busy days, all you have to do is heat and serve.”

Sit down and use a plate or bowl for every meal or snack. Your dishwasher (whether human or mechanical) will hate you, but you’ll eat less. “Mindful eating,” Ms. Levy calls it. “We think if we just have a bite here or there it doesn’t really count. Our goal is to make it count. You’re actually taking less food than you would choose. You put away the package, it’s done, it’s in the cabinet and you’re sitting down. You’re removing yourself from that temptation, so you can enjoy every bite.”

Up your exercise. “In addition to your regular exercise, start to go from two- to fifteen-minute walks,” Ms. Levy counsels. “Then go from one to three times a day doing something extra – sit-ups, push-ups, squats. You’ll have that boost when you know you’ll be eating more and it also helps with holiday stress.”

According to Mr. Sherman, it can be even simpler than that. “When you sit and stand at work, that’s squats! When you start to leave your desk, sit down and stand up ten more times before walking away. That’s exercise!”

Don’t set unrealistic goals. Many of us resolve, often while imbibing at a party, that we’re going to work out to lose those extra calories. Mr. Sherman says that that’s just fine, “but don’t go overboard.”

If you’re not working out regularly, don’t decide that you’re going to do two hours at the health club every day. Ease into it. Work up to it. Find the fitness routine that works for you, and vary the routine. “Play tennis, hike, swim,” Mr. Sherman recommends. “There’s fitness for everyone — and it’s not all in a gym.”

Forgive yourself. If you’ve been eating a healthy, thought-out diet and find you’ve blown it on last night’s celebration, or if you’ve been working out regularly and missed your last two sessions because of holiday shopping, go right back to it. But don’t overdo.

“Go from that point forward,” Mr. Sherman counsels. “It’s like sleep: you can’t get two hours of sleep one night and expect to make it up the next with ten.” Go back to your regular routine. You’ll catch up.”