Tips for a healthy holiday season
For so many of us, the pattern is predictable. We spend spring, summer and fall determined to eat healthy, exercise and get plenty of rest so that we can control our weight and feel better about ourselves. Our clothes fit more comfortably, we sleep better and have more energy during the day.
And then the holidays arrive and it all collapses like paper dominos.
Perhaps we sip eggnog at breakfast, enjoy a slice of pecan pie at lunch, down that heavy turkey dinner covered in gravy with a little too much wine, and then top it off with Christmas cookies. In the meantime, we’re going 24/7 as we try to do all those extra things that are required during the holidays.
It requires discipline to maintain a healthy lifestyle during the holidays. Here are a few tips, with help from Amy Rose Sager, a registered dietitian at Cape Cod Healthcare’s Visiting Nurse Association, who also runs her own Leap Into Wellness program.
Veg-Out and Slow Down
Holiday meals are usually stocked with a table-full of sweets that are not exactly low in calories or fat. But usually, there’s a plate of vegetables. “Eat those first,” Sager said. “Otherwise, they can slide to the side and be forgotten. If you’re making a dinner, maybe roast the vegetables to make them more appealing.”
If you’re the cook in the kitchen, consider fiddling with recipes. For instance, replace sour cream with yogurt, and trade mashed potato with mashed sweet potato. Instead of heavy dips like blue cheese, go with hummus. And opt for cottage cheese over blue or cream cheese.
Sager also recommends having a nutritious snack before indulging in a sweet treat.
“That way, you’ll be sure to maintain a balanced diet and you won’t feel the need to eat as much,” she said.
But you don’t need to deprive yourself. “Give yourself permission to have a treat,” she added.
Health experts have also said that it’s important to slow down your eating, which allows your brain to let you know when you’ve had enough. Finally, don’t feel like you have to sample everything that’s on the table; choose only what you most enjoy eating.
Don’t Skip Meals
Passing on breakfast or eating a light lunch isn’t the answer to maintaining a healthy weight during the holidays, Sager said.
“That’s the worst thing you can do,” she said. “At night, your body is going to want to make up for the lack of food, and that’s when you get into ravenous eating." Sager also recommends avoiding daily trips to the scale to keep track of your weight.
“For many people, it will just stress them out. Remember, it’s just a number. Your weight doesn’t define you,” she said.
The holidays are no time to skip your daily walk. In fact, it’s a good time to increase your level of exercise.
“Exercise is a great way to relieve stress,” said Sager. “Even a light stroll after eating is very beneficial for digestion. Exercise also helps your immune system.”
Exercise will relieve anxiety and burn calories. A regular workout schedule of at least three hours of moderate-intensity physical activity per week will not only help relieve stress, it will lead to better weight regulation during a time when calorie-dense foods are the norm.
Practice Good Hygiene
The holidays are typically a succession of kisses, hugs and handshakes, which often lead to the spread of germs resulting in colds and flus. While social distancing is paramount this year, due to COVID-19 protocols, always keep a bottle of antibacterial gel on hand.
“Make sure to wash your hands regularly, and avoid touching your eyes and nose,” Sager said.
Get Those Zs
A good night’s sleep is always important, but especially so during the holidays.
“Sleep plays a major role in our immune system, our heart and so many other health factors,” she advised.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Services, most adults require seven to eight hours of sleep each night. A good night’s sleep will lower your risk of becoming ill, help you stay at a healthy weight, and reduce stress.