18 Tips for Surviving (and Thriving) During the Holidays

Written By


Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.


Let the festivities begin! ‘Tis the season for celebration, coupled with…stress, casseroles you don’t typically eat, frets or worries over weight or holiday food, travel and “quality time” spent with the Cousin Eddies of the world, you see but once per year.


The most wonderful time of the year, right?!


While, the holidays are a joy-filled time, they can also be a stress-filled time.


In fact, statistics from the American Psychological Association reveal that they are one of the most stressful times of the year: with 67% of people stressed by the feeling of having a “lack of time”, 62% are stressed by perceiving a “lack of money”, and 51% stressed out over the “pressure to give or get gifts”.



On the self-care front, 75% of Americans also report the holiday season as a stressful time and trigger for changes their body composition—namely unwanted weight gain.


These stressors, coupled with the complete topsy turvy of your otherwise normal routine can give you a run for…the chimney (to escape on Santa’s sleigh) if you don’t have a mindset to approach your holidays with gusto!


Here is THRIVE’s Holiday Survival Guide for navigating the parties, the booze, the sugar and ultimately the stress—in order to take the best care of you, you can*


*Disclaimer: This Holiday Survival Guide is intended for individuals who battle their weight, the sugar, cravings and other issues around food during the holidays. If you are in recovery from an eating disorder, be sure to check out: My Holiday Survival Guide for Individuals in Recovery coming soon.



  1. Make a Plan. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. What do you want out of your health, your nutrition, your fitness over the next few months? Think of your top 1-3 goals; write them down, then make your plan!


  1. Meal Makeover. WOW your guests with transformations of old stand-by recipes that are not only delicious, but healthy too! (See Recipes handout). Even better? Get the fam or friends involved with holiday meal challenge of everyone to create a healthier dish to the next gathering…see what they come up with too!


  1. Bring Something You Know You Can Eat. Along the same lines as your meal makeover, at events and gatherings, bring a complimentary dish/side dish that you KNOW you can eat—no problem.


  1. Chew your food. Really well. Digestion starts in the mouth. Put your fork down between bites and chew that food until you no longer recognize its initial form. This allows for a better connection with your physical hunger/fullness cues as well.


  1. Drink water. It flushes toxins, wastes, gives you energy, regulates your metabolism.


  1. Pre-Game Snack. Before hitting the holiday party, eat a little protein or fat before heading out. By filling the tank with a snack that tides you over, you are at less risk to over-indulge when hunger strikes during party time.


  1. Make a Plate. At the gatherings or parties, instead of diving into whatever is in sight, or nibbling and noshing throughout the evening, make a plate out of what you intend to eat—and stick to that.


  1. Not bad or good. It’s the holidays! I get it. I don’t expect you to abstain from all treats and “cheats.” Instead of viewing each dessert or meal as a “bad” moment, or a “cheat” though, what if you instead viewed it as something to simply enjoy—not gorge—but enjoy what you have plated yourself? When we think of something as “good” or “bad”, we are more likely to have unhealthy behaviors and attitudes around our moments of “indulgence.” Instead, savor the tastes, experience the flavors of that slice of pie or sweet potato casserole with a bit more mindfulness of enjoying the moment.


  1. Just say no. Feel pressure by Aunt Bethany to eat a third slice of her special Jell-O mold, or family giving you a hard time about your nutrition or fitness lifestyle? This one is tough, but you just gotta let it roll! Think back to elementary school: Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you. All you have to say is “no thankyou.” Or if anything, redirect conversation, “Thanks so much-it looks great, but I am stuffed…but how about those Yankees?” Honor your body—eat for your body, no one elses; and when in doubt, deflect conversation.


  1. Understand what food pushers REALLY want. Simply put, a food pusher is someone who pushes food on you – someone who won’t stop trying to make you eat something even though you’ve already politely refused. Chances are, if you have to attend any kind of holiday party, you’ll run into at least one food pusher. Ironically, the real issue behind a food pusher’s behavior often has nothing to do with food. It doesn’t seem obvious when Aunt Susan is waving her tray of pumpkin spice cookies under your nose, but food is often just a proxy. Sometimes, food pushers want assurance that you like and appreciate them. This often takes the form of a guilt trip: “What, you don’t even eat Christmas pudding now? But I made it just for you! You don’t like my cooking?” This person is using food because it’s the cultural language of choice during the holidays, but really, they just want emotional reassurance that you care. Fortunately, you can address their actual concerns just as well without eating (maybe by spending quality time with them during your visits, or just by letting them know you love them), and head off a battle before it starts.


  1. Fake a food allergy. If a simple “[food x] makes me feel sick” doesn’t work, some people bring out the heavy artillery and pretend to have a life-threatening condition like Celiac Disease or a peanut allergy. Pretending to have a serious allergy when you don’t is a very controversial strategy, since many people feel that it’s “crying wolf,” making others less likely to believe people who actually do have life-threatening problems.


  1. If you are traveling, come prepared. If you’re traveling at all for the season, it’s especially important to come prepared with everything you need, since you might not have the opportunity to find much healthy food while you’re there. Plan ahead and stock up on jerky, trail mix, and other easily portable healthy snacks so you won’t be stuck without an option when you’re hungry. If you’re going to help with the cooking, try bringing your own coconut oil or other cooking supplies: most people are perfectly happy to substitute coconut for canola (or another toxic vegetable oil). If you can work out menu details with your host, so much the better – try requesting eggs for breakfast, or lots of salad ingredients so you can whip up your own lunch in a pinch. Most hosts want their guests to feel welcomed and relaxed, and they’ll be happy to make these kinds of arrangements within reason. While you’re at it, look up some of the gyms in the area or fitness options (trails and such). You can STILL stick to your routine.


  1. Keep a log. Really want to stay on track during the holidays? Simply writing down what you ate that day can be a good reality-check to what you consumed that day. No need to calorie count or become obsessed with it, but take note. Around your meals as well, note how you felt (emotionally/physically) before and after your meals, as well as rate your hunger on a scale of 1-10 before and after your meals. (1=STARVING; 10=STUFFED). Aim to eat when your hunger is at about a 3, and stop when you reach a 7 or 8. See where any ‘triggers’ or sneaky habits lie.


  1. Make a contest. Every family loves a little bit of friendly competition. Make a Health Contest this year to see: who can get the most steps in/days of exercise; drink the most water; get 7-8 hours of sleep every night; and eat the least sugar as possible.


  1. Host a Charity Party, Brunch Bunch or Healthy Holiday Treat Swap. Replace the ol’ cookie swap party with a new-flare gathering. Go shopping together for Make a Wish Angels or an adopted family. Write letters to the wives of soldiers or prisoners. Serve a meal as a group at a women’s shelter or homeless gathering. Meet up for a healthy brunch of egg and veggie omelets and fresh fruit along with a fun White Elephant game; or host your crew to swap homemade grain-free, or sugar-free grub and wow one another with your creativeness.


  1. Clear the System. See just what you are capable of; consider teaming up with Dr. Lauryn for her 28-day FUEL program; or 21-day Sugar Detox to experience the healthiest holiday you have yet!


  1. Sickness Prevention. The holidays are hard enough when you aren’t sick, but just when you least want to come down with that nasty winter cold, you’re in the ideal environment for it. During the weeks leading up to the holidays, most people spend more time than usual packing themselves into small indoor spaces like malls and shopping centers, sleeping at each other’s houses, crowding into cars for road trips to Grandma’s, and…eating sugar. Colds, flus, and nastier bugs like pneumonia flourish in that kind of environment. Fortunately, a healthy diet is a wonderful way to keep your immune system in peak condition – make sure to get plenty of Vitamin D (sunlight and supplements) and Vitamin C. In addition, sleep does a body good. It’s always tough to get enough sleep during the holidays, but sleep deprivation makes you much more vulnerable to disease, so try to get in at least 8 hours every night, or take a nap in the afternoon if you were up late.


  1. Remember: It’s not just about the food. The holidays, as an adult, tend to revolve around food. Parties, dinners, Christmas cookie exchanges. Remember though, food is just part of the landscape. Invest in meaningful conversation with others; serve, love and give with abundance; soak up time with family.



 Grandma’s Cream Cheese…Yum.

Healthy Holiday Recipe Makeover

 Grain-Free Pumpkin Bread


  • ½ Cup Coconut Flour
  • 1 Tablespoon Pumpkin Pie Spice
  • 1 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon Baking Soda
  • ¼ teaspoon Baking Powder
  • ¼ teaspoon Salt
  • 4 Eggs
  • 1 Cup Canned Pure Pumpkin Puree (Not Pumpkin Pie Filling)
  • ½ Cup Maple Syrup
  • ¼ Cup Coconut Oil
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 1-2 Drops Nutmeg Essential Oil (or ½-1 teaspoon ground nutmeg*)


  • Set up oven rack so that it’s on the bottom third of the oven (The rack right below the middle one.). Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a standard-sized loaf pan by greasing with coconut oil or generously spraying with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.
  • In a medium mixing bowl, whisk Coconut Flour, Pumpkin Pie Spice, Cinnamon, Baking Soda, Baking Powder, and Salt*, breaking apart any lumps in the coconut flour.
  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk Eggs. Add Pumpkin, Maple Syrup, Coconut Oil, Vanilla Extract, and Nutmeg Essential Oil*, and whisk very well to combine all ingredients. There may be a few small clumps of coconut oil that do not totally dissolve—this is ok!
  • Slowly pour the dry ingredients into the bowl of wet ingredients. Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, slowly stir until all ingredients are combined. Batter may be slightly lumpy. Do not overmix.
  • Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake for 38-45 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, or with just a couple moist crumbs attached.
  • Set pan on a wire rack to cool for about 30 minutes. Using a plastic knife, carefully scrape along the sides of the pan, around the loaf, to detach bread from sides of pan. Carefully remove loaf from pan, and allow to cool completely on wire rack before slicing, about 45-60 minutes.
  • Makes 1 loaf.

*If using Nutmeg Essential Oil in the recipe, mix it in the bowl of the WET ingredients. If using Ground Nutmeg in the recipe, mix it in in the bowl of the DRY ingredients.



Healthy Stuffing


1 pound ground pork

  •  2 cups diced onions
  •  2 cups diced bell peppers
  •  4 cups (about 1 pound) diced mushrooms
  •  2 cups diced apples
  •  8 oz fresh cranberries
  •  1 cup toasted chopped pecans (optional)
  •  ~ 2 T duck fat, bacon fat, butter, or coconut oil. (I used duck fat)
  •  1 T fresh rosemary, minced
  •  1 T fresh thyme, minced
  •  2-3 leaves fresh sage (or 1/2 t dried)
  •  sea salt
  •  4 eggs
  •  1/4 cup chicken or turkey stock
  •  2 T coconut flour


  1. Melt about 2 teaspoons of your fat of choice in a large cast iron or stainless skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the pork and cook until it just browns, 3-4 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and remove with a slotted spoon and place in a large bowl. Pour off excess liquid from your skillet and add another teaspoon of fat.
  3. Turn the heat down to medium and add the onions. Saute until golden brown and soft, 6-8 minutes. Add to the bowl with the pork.
  4. Add another teaspoon of fat, and saute bell peppers for 4 minutes, stirring often. Add to the bowl with the other ingredients.
  5. Throw in yet another teaspoon of fat, turn the heat up to medium-high, and add the mushrooms. Saute for about 3 minutes, stirring often. Add to the bowl with the other ingredients.
  6. To the large bowl, add the apples, pecans, cranberries, herbs, and a good pinch of salt.
  7. In a medium bowl, beat together the eggs, chicken or turkey stock, and coconut flour. Add a pinch of salt if you’re stock isn’t salted.
  8. Pour the liquid into the large bowl and mix.
  9. Pour the whole thing into an oven safe casserole and bake for one hour.
  10. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before eating. It will firm up a bit.


Sweet Potato Casserole


  • 4 large sweet potatoes
  • 1/2 cup canned coconut milk
  • 1 Tbsp. coconut oil
  • 1-2 Tbsp. maple syrup
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • juice of half an orange

Optional Pecan topping

  • 3/4 cup chopped raw pecans
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp melted coconut oil



  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and preheat oven to 350 degrees F. While water comes to a boil, peel and dice sweet potatoes into large chunks.
  2. Add sweet potato chunks to water. Boil until fork tender–about 10 minutes.
  3. Drain potatoes, then dump them back in the large pot with all the other ingredients. Using a hand mixer, blend until potatoes reach desired consistency and flavor. (You may like to add a little more coconut milk, spices, or syrup based on your taste.)
  4. In a small bowl, combine all topping ingredients until pecans are well coated.
  5. Dump sweet potatoes into an oven safe dish and top with pecans.
  6. Bake in preheated oven until topping is browned–about 15 minutes.
  7. Serve warm.


Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Bacon


  • 1½ pounds Brussels sprouts
  • 2-3 tablespoons melted ghee or fat of choice
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 4 bacon slices, diced
  • Aged balsamic vinegar


Preheat your oven to 400°F. Trim the ends and any old outer leaves from the Brussels sprouts. Cut sprouts in half and toss them with melted fat of choice, salt, and pepper. Dump them on a foil lined baking sheet, making sure to keep everything in one layer. Sprinkle the diced bacon over everything and pop in oven. The sprouts take about 30 to 35 minutes to roast, so set your timer for 10 minute intervals to regularly rotate and flip the sprouts ‘n swine.


Green Bean Casserole


Cream of Mushroom Soup

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 tbsp of coconut oil
  • ¼lb of crimini mushrooms, rough chopped
  • ½ tsp of dried thyme
  • ¼ tsp of black pepper
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 5 cups of chicken broth
  • 4 tbsp of tapioca flour
  • ½ cup of coconut milk

Fried onions

  • 1 larger onion, peeled and sliced into strips
  • 2 tbsp of tapioca flour
  • ¼ tsp of salt
  • 1 cup of coconut oil

Green Beans

  • 4 cups of water
  • 1¼lb of green beans, trim and clean

4 strips of crispy bacon, diced



  • To make the mushroom soup in a pan over medium heat warm the coconut oil and then add in the diced mushrooms, thyme, salt, black pepper and chicken broth. Cook for 30 minutes and remove from stove.
  • Pour the soup in a blender and then add the tapioca flour and coconut milk and blend until smooth. Set aside.
  • To make the crispy onions, place the coconut oil in a small pan over medium heat. In a bowl combine the diced onions, salt and tapioca flour and toss until well coated.
  • Drop the onions in small batched in the hot oil and book until golden brown, roughly 3 -4 minutes per batch.
  • Set the onions on a paper towel to drain.
  • For the green beans, place the water in a pan and bring to a boil. Add the green beans and bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes.
  • Drain and add to a casserole dish.
  • Add 4 cups of the mushroom soup and the diced bacon and stir until coated.
  • Top with the fried onions and set the pan your oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
  • Enjoy!



Healthy Sugar Cookies




  • Do not preheat your oven. Timing is based on putting into a cold oven.
  • Grind the cashews into a flour in your food processor.
  • Next add in the coconut flour, sea salt, baking soda and tapioca flour and pulse to combine.
  • Then add the ghee vanilla, egg and honey and pulse until you have a cookie dough.
  • Roll out the dough between two sheets of parchment and cut with your cookie cutters. Place them on a piece of parchment paper and then bake at 350 degrees for 15 – 20 minutes.
  • Enjoy!


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