Eleven months of the year, you may do the right thing. You eat healthy, exercise regularly, and maintain your work/life balance.
So what is it about the holiday season that seems to unravel even the most fit people? Having a full plate—both physically and metaphorically—can take its toll on your normal routine, energy, and waistline. And sometimes, even seemingly healthy habits can backfire.
Here are 21 common mistakes made during the holidays, and how to make smarter choices instead.
2 of 22Getty Images
You brush your teeth after a glass of wine
Do you rush to the bathroom at parties to scrub away red wine stains? You could actually be raising your risk for permanent staining, says dentist Gigi Meinecke, a spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry. Wine's acidity (red or white) can dissolve tooth enamel, and brushing right away can contribute to erosion.
Instead, she says, neutralize the acid by rinsing with a glass of water—and avoid staining in the first place by sipping and immediately swallowing your wine, rather than swishing it in your mouth.
3 of 22Getty Images
You eat creamed spinach
Creamed spinach, green bean casserole, and candied yams are veggies so they must be good for you, right? Not exactly: While antioxidant-rich produce makes up the main components of these dishes, they are overwhelmed with high-fat and/or high-sugar add-ons.
Creamed spinach can contain up to 75% of your saturated fat for the day; green bean casserole—made with butter, cheese, salt, and fried onions—can have up to 800 calories a batch; and candied yams have up to 38 grams of sugar per serving! (Stay away from fruitcake, while you're at it: One slice can have more than 400 calories!)
4 of 22Getty Images
You 'eyeball' the meat to tell when it’s done
Some people think that it's possible to judge whether meat is cooked through by checking its color or the juices dripping out of it. "Old cookbooks say to ‘cook until there's no pink meat remaining, or until the juices run clear,'" says Ben Chapman, PhD food safety specialist at North Carolina State University. "But there's been quite a bit of research done on both poultry and meat that shows that these are not good indicators of whether they have reached a temperature that's considered safe."
Instead, to reduce your risk of foodborne illnesses that can linger on uncooked food, you should use a meat thermometer and make sure you're cooking poultry to 165, and red meat to 160.
5 of 22Getty Images
You wash bagged lettuce ... again
You need a salad first course for your holiday feast, so you pick up a ready-to-serve bag of greens at the market. The package says they're twice washed—but it can't hurt to give them one more wash, right?
Actually it can, says Chapman. "A national microbiological safety panel looked at those bags and they concluded that even if you wash them again, you're unlikely to remove any type of pathogens that are still hanging on."
By touching the lettuce with your hands and tossing it in a colander, however, you do run the risk of introducing new pathogens, he adds, especially if you've recently been handling raw meat, as well. "The best thing you can do is open the bag and dump it right in a salad bowl, ready to eat."
6 of 22Getty Images
You don’t eat before a party
If you know there's going to food and drinks at the office party tonight, you may think it's best to skip your healthy afternoon snack beforehand. Another bad idea, says J.J. Virgin, certified nutrition specialist and author of Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy.
"It makes sense to arrive at a party a little hungry, but to come starving means a glass of wine and appetizers will lead to one big caloric nightmare," she says. "Besides, parties never start when they're supposed to, and you know there"s going to be some gooey, crunchy appetizer that will be your undoing." Solution: Taper your appetite by popping a handful of raw almonds before you leave your desk.
7 of 22Getty Images
You plan your post-holiday cleanse
Advertisements for New Year's cleanses and detox diets will promise to rid you of your holiday weight gain.
The problem is, severe calorie restrictions and juice-only plans can keep you from getting the vitamins and nutrients your body needs, and, because they cause the body to burn large amounts of fat, they even have the potential to create new toxins. If you're looking forward to a fresh and clean start in the new year, consider a diet full of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains instead.
8 of 22Getty Images
You skip red meat, but scarf down chicken and fish
"Red meat has the most saturated fat, but skinless chicken breasts are not far behind—and actually have more cholesterol than red meat," says Dana Simpler, MD, internal medicine doctor at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.
Watch out for salmon, as well, which is full of healthy fats, but fats nonetheless. Even though they're healthy choices, they don't give you a pass to pig out. With all sources of animal protein, keep serving sizes in mind.
9 of 22Getty Images
You stick with your regular workout
This may seem like a great way to combat excess holiday pounds, says Jessica Smith, coauthor of The Thin in 10 Weight-Loss Plan. "But it could backfire if you find yourself running ragged trying to get everything done and then getting to the gym on top of it all," she adds. "If your to-do list is already overflowing, don't add stress by forcing in a long workout that may interrupt more important health habits like getting enough sleep."
Instead, Smith advises, consider breaking up your usual 45-60 minute workout into split sessions—try a 15-minute strength routine in the morning before you hit the shower, a 15-minute walk at lunch and a 15-minute yoga flow to help relax you at the end of the day. You may find you are less stressed and still burning as many (if not more) calories than with your usual routine.
10 of 22Getty Images
You vow to join a gym in January
The new year is a time for personal reflection and setting goals for self-improvement. It also happens to be when gyms are most crowded, and the staff is busiest signing up new members. If you've been thinking about joining a fitness club, why not use a few of your days off in December to shop around?
"It is always wise to visit a gym to make sure it will work for you," says Randy Crawford, an exercise physiology technician at The Ohio State University Center for Wellness and Prevention, and you may get a better feel for the facilities during quieter hours, when you're not rushed to make a decision. "Make sure the hours work with your schedule and the facility has the amenities—like child care, a family discount, a pool, or personal trainers—that you desire," he says.
11 of 22Getty Images
You give yourself a cheat day ... or days
Maybe it starts with doughnuts at your breakfast meeting, or a cookie swap among coworkers. Then comes the holiday luncheon. By the time dinner rolls around, you figure you've already done enough damage—might as well finish the day off with the richest item on the menu, plus dessert. "It's not just the calories that are the problem here," says Virgin. "You're also psychologically allowing yourself future food deviations and setting yourself up for failure."
Letting yourself splurge at truly special events—like enjoying your sister's stuffing and your mom's pies at Christmas dinner—is one thing, but don't allow yourself to make excuses for each and every mini holiday celebration. "Have a plan and don't deviate," says Virgin. "If you absolutely must have a dessert, follow my three polite-bite rule: three bites and step away from the cookies"
12 of 22Getty Images
You go crazy with the olive oil
Olive oil is full of healthy fats, and has no cholesterol and saturated fat the way butter does, so it can certainly be a healthier alternative in many holiday recipes. But before you dip another piece of bread or help yourself to another serving of olive oil-tossed potatoes, remember that it has just as many calories (120 per tablespoon) as any other kind of fat, says Dr. Simpler.
Two tablespoons a day may lower your risk for heart disease, but more than that could contribute to weight gain.
13 of 22Getty Images
You cook (and eat) lots of “light” recipes
If you can stick with a single serving, using lower fat or sugar can be a good way to keep your calories and fat count low when enjoying holiday treats, says Smith. "The trouble is, many people think to themselves, 'It's healthier or lower calorie, so I can have two or three ... or five of these.' They often end up eating as many calories as they would have if they had stuck with a smaller serving of the real deal."
Knowing that piece of pie is rich and full of calories may make you more likely to enjoy every bite of a smaller serving, Smith suggest, instead of going with a much larger portion of the 'lighter' version.
14 of 22Getty Images
You buy an "all natural" ham or turkey
There may be nothing wrong with meat labeled "all natural"— but unlike "organic" or "antibiotic-free," all natural simply means that your turkey, for example, doesn't contain artificial ingredients or colors, and has been "minimally processed." This term is open for interpretation; for example, poultry can be injected with sodium and water, and still be labeled "natural." (Check the fine print.)
If you're concerned about finding meat from an animal that was raised humanely and not treated with antibiotics or hormones, look for a certified organic label—or educate yourself about companies' farming practices and choose a brand you trust.
15 of 22Getty Images
You swear you’ll have "just one"
You know the scenario: Your favorite coworker brings in fresh-baked gingerbread cookies and, to be polite, you have one. An hour later, as your blood sugar crashes, you visit the copy machine … and have another cookie. And the pattern continues, all. day. long.
"The commercial had it right," says Virgin: "You can't eat just one. But if you do breakfast and lunch right, you won't get those mid-morning or mid-afternoon cravings. If you need something to munch on mid-day, keep little baggies of raw almonds or apple slices with almond butter at your desk."
16 of 22Getty Images
You obsess over (or avoid) the scale all month
So much food over the holidays may cause you to step on the scale several times a day—or to slide it under the bed and swear off until the New Year.
Both policies can be detrimental to your weight and to your emotional wellbeing, studies show: If daily weigh-ins give you anxiety, consider cutting back to once a week.
And to make sure your results are consistent, try to weigh yourself on the same scale and at the same time of day.
17 of 22Getty Images
You overbook and stay up late
Parties, shopping, baking, and travel add on to our already packed schedules during the holidays, so it’s easy for active, healthy go-getters to fill up their calendars—and then some.
Staying up late and waking up early may help you get everything done, but missing out on sleep can lower your immunity and affect your mood and energy levels. Plus, exposure to bright light at night can raise your risk of depression.
18 of 22Getty Images
You skip breakfast or lunch
Banking your calories by skipping (or skimping) on meals so that you can eat more at a holiday dinner won't do your waistline any good; in fact, it's a great way to trigger overeating, says Smith.
Focus on eating filling, higher fiber foods at regular mealtimes—a fruit smoothie with spinach and protein powder for breakfast, for example, and a veggie-filled salad with lean protein for lunch—so you'll still be able to enjoy holiday meal (and treats!) later without going overboard.
19 of 22Getty Images
You use antibacterial soap
It's a good idea to shore up your cold and flu defenses during the winter, especially when you're in close social contact with so many friends, coworkers, and relatives who may be sick. But rushing off to wash your hands with antibacterial soap after every handshake may not protect you the way you think: Unless you're at a hospital or doctor's office, there's no need for such extreme protection—and studies show that the ingredient triclosan, in many antibacterial products, can contribute to drug-resistant bacteria.
Stick with regular soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, instead.
20 of 22Getty Images
You get too much sleep
Sleeping in is one of the great pleasures of vacation, and if you have a few days off for the holidays it may be tempting to take advantage of unlimited snoozing.
A day or two spent catching up on sleep debt is one thing—but disrupting your normal sleep patterns for longer than that has the potential to cause chronic sleep problems. Plus, staying in bed for too much of the day, especially during the wintertime, can be a sign of depression.
21 of 22Getty Images
You save leftovers, but don’t check the temp
You may know the rule about getting leftovers in the refrigerator no more than two hours after they come out of the oven, but do you know the temperature inside your refrigerator?
Your milk may taste cold, says Chapman, but many people's fridges aren't kept cold enough to keep bacteria away. Make sure you have a thermometer visible, and that it's kept below 41 degrees.
22 of 22Getty Images
You decorate with nature
Everyone loves an arrangement of holly berries and pine cones, or a bunch of mistletoe—everyone except for the small children and pets who can choke on or be poisoned by the all-natural ornaments.
Display these plants with care, and make sure they (and anything that can fall off of them) are out of reach of anyone or anything that might try to eat them.
Watch out for real Christmas trees, too, which can be a dangerous fire hazard if they're not treated with care.