‘Tis the season of parties, presents, and holiday cheer. But for some it can also be one of tiring trips to the mall, sometimes stressful interactions with others, skipped exercise sessions and a few too many holiday treats.
But the good news is you can enjoy the season without the weight worries and transform your stress into success. In fact, while the media each year has us believing that we are destined to gain significant weight over the season to be jolly, research suggests the reality is far less grim. And while health clubs and gyms will implore us all to renew our commitment to slimming down those thighs by slimming down your wallet in membership dues, you really can get through the holiday season in good shape mentally and physically without too much fuss.
More good news: according to research we may not gain as much as the media has us believe over the holiday season—the fabled, dreaded 5-15 pounds you often hear. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed individuals gained an average of only about 1.2 pounds from September until the New Year.
The not-so-good news: once gained, we aren’t taking it back off—so the average 1.2 pounds turns into those 10-12 pounds per decade that is increasingly reported today.
So what can we do? Plan for success and take small steps.
As many of us know, a lack of planning is one major obstacle in the pursuit of healthy habits—one that may not only hurt the waistline but may make a dent on your mood, immune system and overall wellness. But another obstacle is the belief that you have to make huge steps and overhaul your lifestyle in order to be healthy. This is a major myth! You have the ability to practice some simple strategies. . . and small steps really do pay off. If you practice a few small strategies, you can sail through the holidays and even make some positive strides with your health, too.
Here are ten healthy holiday strategies for not only surviving but thriving health-wise during the season.
1. Snack Smart. Don’t go to a party starving. A small, healthy snack—trail mix, apple and peanut butter, or a glass of 1% milk—can boost nutrition and keep grazing at bay. Drinking a glass of water about a half-hour before a party can help, too. You can make a homemade Holiday Trail Mix by combining green pepitas (raw, hulled pumpkin seeds) with dried cranberries.
2. Visit with people, not food. Don’t hang around the food table at a party. Pick a central location—away from food—to catch-up with friends. A beautiful display of food can be tempting and if you’re too close, you may do some unconscious nibbling while chatting away.
3. Every step counts. . .Keep up your exercise program–even if it’s just 15 minutes a day. Set reasonable goals and get your exercise regimen on the calendar as a commitment. Aim to maintain your weight, not to make any drastic reductions during the holiday season that can often lead to frustrations. Use a pedometer to track your steps and set some daily and weekly goals.
4. Tea time for you time. A little bit of stress management can do wonders for the mind, mood and overall health. Take a small break for 10-15 minutes everyday to enjoy a cup of tea and a ‘breather’. Flip through a magazine and get an antioxidant boost with a cup of green tea.
5. Shop smart to manage your stress, ease the budget and get your errands done. Make a healthy shopping list and stick to it. And as always, avoid shopping when you’re hungry. Ease stress and add steps by parking further away from the commotion nearer to the entry. Take advantage of large indoor spaces like malls and warehouse stores and start out a shopping trip with a brisk 5-10 minutes walk before you actually start shopping.
6. Maintain a balanced eating program to keep your metabolism up and your ‘healthy decision-making cells’ firing! Don’t skip meals, but eat light portions consistently. Focus on the nutrient-dense but lower calorie fruits and vegetables on a regular basis to provide great nutrition, energy, vitamins and plant nutrients essential for metabolism, weight maintenance and good health. Holiday eating is as much about what you should eat as what you should limit.
7. Watch the drinkable calories. Alcohol contains many calories, and at 7 calories per gram, it offers no nutrients. If you drink, choose wine, a wine spritzer, a 12-ounce beer or low-sugar drinks that include sparkling water. Stay hydrated with low or no-calorie beverages like water, sparkling water, green and herbal teas, and food sources of water like soups, broths and salads. Try a lower calorie, festive holiday drink like Red Alert made with antioxidant-rich tart cherry juice, electrolyte-containing and refreshing coconut water and sparking water.
8. Dress for the occasion! Wear something that’s fitting and fabulous that you feel attractive and healthy in. You may even want to wear a belt or outfit in which you can gauge your level of satiety. By all means, try to avoid fit-figure fashion enemy number one: the elastic band that expands!
9. Eat the unusual, not the usual when it comes to richer, holiday foods. Skip the higher calorie foods that are available year-round. Instead, if you’re going to have a treat, have a small portion of something seasonal or unique.
10. Glistening and glowing is for you, not just the decorations. When it comes to keeping your skin vibrant all winter—keep up your beauty routine: antioxidant-rich products and moisturizers on the outside and antioxidant-rich foods like fruits, veggies, beans, nuts and seeds on the inside. And stay hydrated by consuming plenty of water, tea, soups, and again, those fruits and veggies. This strategy is an important part of wellness—whether it’s an ‘at home’ routine or a day at a spa, keeping healthy is about these self-care elements that make you feel good and look good, too.
If you’re like most of us, you consider foods—even certain foods—to be an important part of your holiday seasons and celebration. With some mindfulness and creativity (and some movement and down-time!) we can find it easier and more enjoyable to stay healthy and have fun with the holidays, as well.
Incorporate one or several of these tips into your routine and you’re certain to receive the gift of better health this season. Happy, healthy holidays!
2 oz. tart cherry juice
4 oz. coconut water
2 oz. club soda
Pour ingredients into one 8 oz. glass, Stir to combine and serve. Multiply recipe to make a whole pitcher. Garnish glasses with a bamboo skewer with an orange wedge and frozen or dried cherries.
Yield: 1 serving
By Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RD
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