Fitness Experts' Sound Advice on Dining & Drinking During the Holidays

Shred415 instructor/personal trainer Mark Beier. (Photo: Shred415)


You’re pretty disciplined with diet and exercise most of the time, which may tempt you to slack off during the holiday season. But a few fitness experts around town advise that while it’s okay to treat yourself occasionally, don’t allow the indulgence to completely throw you off your plan.


Further, recommends Flywheel Chicago instructor Antonia DeSantis, eating healthier on your own when you’re not at holiday gatherings is more important than ever.


“Make sure you are eating extra clean when you aren’t celebrating,” DeSantis says. “Your daily food intake should remain healthy to offset the heavier foods at the parties.”


That’s some pretty solid advice! Here are some additional tips from DeSantis as well as other fitness experts on what to eat and where they enjoy wining and dining in Chicago:


Flywheel instructor Antonia DeSantis. (Photo: Antonia DeSantis)


Antonia DeSantis, Flywheel Chicago instructor.


Top Tips:

  1. Schedule time for exercise around the holiday festivities. Stick to it because something is better than nothing—especially now.
  2. Allow yourself one party/gathering a week where you indulge a bit. It will help you show restraint at other times and feel like you haven’t completely denied yourself.
  3. Hydrate, hydrate. Half the time you think you are hungry, you are really dehydrated. Water is your friend. It will help you feel more satiated and it does wonders for your skin! It also helps to flush out the extra sugar and salt you will be intaking this month.


Antonia likes Ada Street’s share-able dishes like the grilled octopus with cannellini beans and Tabasco mash. (Photo: Ada Street)


Favorite Restaurants/Bars:

  • Ada Street. This restaurant is a cool, hip place that is great for a few drinks and food. They serve their food tapas style, so the portions are smaller, but really flavorful and filling. You don’t feel as bad eating them because they are smaller portions. The vibe also reminds of NYC—where I’m originally from—so I was instantly drawn to it.
  • Brunch. I’m a huge brunch fan! I think it’s because it’s usually after a workout, so I don’t feel as guilty eating. They have great omelets, delicious pancakes and muffin tops and the service is wonderful.
  • Hubbard Inn. I love the decor that lends itself to a cozy, friendly and laid-back atmosphere. You always end up starting with a few drinks and then staying for some food. The place is always full too; lots of people to watch and meet.


Personal trainer Mark Beier. (Photo: Shred415)


Mark Beier, independent personal trainer, Shred415 instructor and creator of the quinoa-fueled performance Mark Bar.


Top Tips:

  1. Salad dressings are the biggest “hidden” calorie bombs on the menu. You order a nice, healthy salad to help curb that appetite and what do you do next, pour 350 calories on top of it by ordering blue cheese dressing. While vinaigrette dressings are, in general, healthier because they are made with vegetable oils and contain healthy fats, they are still very high in calories. Ask for the dressing on the side when you order, dress your salad with only as much as you need to get the flavor and then ask them to take away the dressing so you are not tempted to use more.
  2. If you’re going to have a dinner out, why waste a bunch of calories on bread? Each piece of bread at a restaurant can range between 80 calories to 150 calories, not including any butter or other spread in which you might indulge. A few pieces of bread with butter can add up to 400 calories to your meal. A great way to avoid it is to simply tell your server that you don’t want the bread service.
  3. Ask the kitchen to avoid extra salt on the food. Salt will make you thirstier and make you want to drink more. That’s why a lot of bars serve pretzels and peanuts.


Mark is a big fan of Tavern on Rush’s bar. (Photo: Tavern on Rush)


Favorite Restaurants/Bars:

  • Girl and the Goat. The first place my wife and I dined after we had our first child was Girl and the Goat. It was around the holidays, the decorations were up, the wood-burning oven was on full blast and it was dark and really cozy. It was just what we wanted for our first night out without the baby.
  • RL. This is another place that’s been around for a while, but it seems to get better with age. I like to go on a Friday during the last few weekends before Christmas for a late afternoon lunch. It’s got great service and it’s a great place to take a break from the shopping.
  • Tavern on Rush. It’s quintessential Chicago. They have one of the best bars in the city with some of the best bartenders. They also have great oysters.


Chicago Athletic Clubs instructor Dana Anderson. (Photo: Dana Anderson)


Dana N. Anderson, AFAA certified group fitness/dance instructor, Chicago Athletic Clubs.


Top Tips:

  1. Work out the morning of a holiday party. You'll give your metabolism a jolt so you can burn more calories throughout the day.
  2. Eat a snack before you head to the party. Veggies with hummus is a great one. The water in the veggies will make you feel full. Mom always told me not to go to someone's home hungry; that's a great rule of thumb for parties.
  3. Graze. Put little tastes of several buffet offerings on your plate. Not only are you using portion control, but you're satisfying your need to have some of everything. You may only feel the need to go back for dessert.
  4. Avoid sugary cocktails. Keep spirits neat, on the rocks or with low-sugar/low-calorie mixers. At bar and restaurant parties, go for six ounce pours of wine, then sip slowly and savor. For house parties, bring your own “skinny” cocktail recipe and ingredients as a share.
  5. Be a social butterfly. Move around the party, get in a little dancing and be active.

Dana enjoys Mastro’s for its prime-cut steaks and dry-ice martinis. (Photo: Mastro’s)


Favorite Restaurants/Bars:

  • Mastro’s Steakhouse. My male besties and I have had a holiday outing here for the last couple of years. We love the dry-ice martinis, the superior service, the oysters, rich sides, prime cuts and the butter cake, of course. Mastro’s is the cheat meal of all cheat meals.
  • Maya del Sol. This place wins on so many levels. The cocktails are amazing and so is the wine list. They also have beers from Central and South America that you won't find anywhere else. We meet up in the bar area on nights they have live music, order a bunch of apps (ceviche, guac and chips, crab-stuffed avocado, grilled calamari) and let their awesome staff shake us up some of the best margaritas in Chicagoland. They even have a vegan menu, which has been a real pleaser for several of my friends.
  • Ovie Bar & Grill. We had a Thanksgiving run of fun at this place and now it's a go-to destination in my circle. My friends live all over the ‘burbs and city, so this location has been great for us. We can fill up on some of their small plates and wines by the glass, then send friends off safely on the train. They can even grab some champagne from the grab-and-go side of the restaurant for the long train ride home. I really like the bartenders here. They are really proud to make martinis and cocktails with spirits from local vendors.


Flirty Girl Fitness “Booty Beat” instructor Victoria Knox. (Photo: Victoria Knox)


Victoria Knox, "Booty Beat" instructor at Flirty Girl Fitness and personal development coach.


Top Tips:

  1. Avoid big meals. Instead, graze on small meals throughout the day, including at the holiday event. You will burn more calories and boost metabolism eating smaller meals and moving around than shoveling down three plates of food and sitting still. The average holiday meal is about 3,000 calories per plate.
  2. Veggies rule! The standard American diet is full of carbohydrates, meat protein and a few vegetables. Reverse this and have more vegetables on the plate and enough lean meat to fit in the palm of your hand, or a carbohydrate. Try to avoid packing all three in the same meal. Doing so usually leads to the sluggish feeling we sometimes have after eating, as the body is overexerting itself to break down the meal.
  3. During the holidays we are bombarded with rich foods laden with extra fat, sugar and crèmes. Many of these are processed and chemical-based foods that the body doesn’t recognize. When the body doesn’t recognize something, it either rejects or stores it. Rejecting means you become sick or develop allergies. Storing means it lives rent free, becomes fat and may cause major health problems.
  4. When shopping, park farther from the door and walk a few extra steps. Also consider taking a dance class (You may become a hit at the party while burning calories!) or skating. Every little bit counts. Get in about 30 minutes to two hours of exercise at least four times a week. Vary the routine to avoid a plateau. Buy a scale and weigh yourself frequently. Sometimes it helps to see a few pounds gained in order to motivate us to be more cautious. It’s a lot easier to lose five pounds than 25.

Carnivale’s Spumoni cake is a big hit with Victoria. (Photo: Carnivale)


Favorite Restaurants/Bars:

  • Carnivale. I love that Carnivale offers classes to make its famous drinks and certain foods, which is a nice diversion from the typical date night. During the holiday season, you’ll find a very festive Latin menu, but the Spumoni ice cream cake tower can’t be tackled alone, so bring a friend or two or three!
  • Sepia. It’s a hideaway with the feeling of a family home with room for friends. I love the salmon, creamy banana cake and the old-fashioned cocoa with the brandied cherry at the bottom.
  • The Walnut Room. The Walnut Room takes you back in time with classic holiday décor and delicious food to match. My favorite dish is the strawberry chicken salad with strawberry champagne vinaigrette.



For more about Chicago Steaks see:  CHICAGO’S BEST STEAKS & STEAKHOUSES