As you get ready to enjoy this festive time of the year, we are all well aware of how easy it is to let bad habits come creeping back in. The truth is it can be hard to get through the holidays without giving in and approaching the season with a plan will keep you focussed on you and your wellness goals.
The good news is I have some simple steps you can take to actually get (and stay) on your path.
1. Avoid the food pushers.
Your well-intended aunt insists that if you love her, you can only prove it by having a serving of her famous maple pumpkin custard pie. You want to make her happy, yet you also know one bite is certain to become two whole pieces. During the holidays, sugar pushers come out in full-force. Be true to you. It is okay to say no. The ‘pusher’ may seem offended but will most probably forget your resistance relatively quickly and move right on to the next ‘victim’.
2. Enjoy three polite bites
By this I mean what you would eat surrounded by the finest of company, not an 11 p.m. fridge raid. Do your best to step away from the dessert. If three bites easily become three servings, it is definitely not worth it to begin to poke that bear. Remember too that if you have food intolerances, even a little dairy, gluten, and other problematic ingredients could create reactions which could leave you feeling awful and derail your true enjoyment of the festivities in the following days.
3. Lateral shifts
Dutifully abstaining as your family indulges in green bean casserole just leaves you feeling deprived. Offer to bring a dish and prepare a more compliant version of your family favourite. Be creative. It can be just as delicious. No need to make a big deal about it being healthy!
Get rid of the all or nothing mindset which leaves you feeling restricted and deprived, setting you up for throwing caution to the wind and indulging way more than you need. Moderation, although truly not my favourite word, is a great mantra for the holiday season, for all aspects of life. Keep eating healthy and exercising – it’s not a vacation from everything!
Sleep deprivation seems to be common over the holidays. This is problematic because studies have shown that poor sleep can increase appetite and caloric intake because it increases insulin resistance and blood sugar – even to the levels of a diabetic. Even a single night of poor sleep has been shown to increase appetite the following day. Sleep away your holiday or at least ensure you can schedule enough time to both celebrate and sleep.
6. Maintain your Weight
Trying to lose weight during the holiday season is setting yourself up for disaster; instead try to maintain your current weight. You want to relax and enjoy the holidays but think twice before you overindulge.
Be aware that half of annual weight gained in North America occurs during the holiday period. This weight also tends to stay on indefinitely! People often drop a little of this gain in January when the holidays are over, but the rest of it is more often than not here to stay.
Here are my favorite eating tips for the holidays:
o Set an intention that morning of how you want to feel and what you want the day to be like for you. It is important to eat breakfast and not go through your day or to a function starving.
o Stay out of the kitchen – If you have to be in the kitchen to cook and help, keep grazing to a minimum. Wait to sit down and truly enjoy the full meal ahead. Make this pact with yourself now!
o Eat until you are satisfied, not stuffed. Savor your favorite holiday treats while eating small portions.
o Stay hydrated – Often times we mistake thirst for hunger. Water also helps to register how full you are and gives you breaks between bites.
o If you overeat at one meal go light on the next.
o Don’t put foods on your plate that you don’t like very much. Save room for the foods you really like. This does not mean avoid the veggies in favor of pie!
o Desserts – If it’s not a “Hell Yes, it’s a Hell No!” I love this because you should really love the dessert you are having. Be present, take your time with it and enjoy it!
o Wear form-fitting clothes so you’re more aware of how full you are. Elastic waistbands are out!
7. Mild Exercise
Schedule a time for exercise. Exercise helps relieve holiday stress and prevent weight gain. A moderate and daily increase in exercise can help partially offset increased holiday eating. Exercise reduces levels of stress hormones and helps to digest all that food. I recommend daily short walks or light movement classes at the very minimum.
8. Stick to Whole Foods
When visiting family members who may not be so health conscious, the food choices can be rather shocking. I have gone over to family member’s homes for holiday meals and am saddened at what is being served – MSG, preservatives, pesticides, GMOs, industrial seed oils, gluten and sugar. Delicious! Lecturing or preaching rarely has a positive outcome. Navigating this nutritional minefield as best as one can is, however, important. Here are my tips:
o Stick to whole foods – avoid the chemical-laden foods.
o Avoid foods you know came from a box, package or can.
o Bring your own healthy dish to a holiday gathering. This way there will be at least 1 thing you can comfortable eat!
o Avoid casseroles with cheap cream of mushroom soups that have MSG, gluten, preservatives and thickeners.
o Avoid bright colored foods you know have artificial food coloring).
o Avoid butter substitutes or anything made with margarine, like the plague – only eat butter. It tastes better anyway!
o Commit to eating some of the toxins and clean up your diet after the holidays. This is more akin to most people’s plan.
If you are planning on having a few drinks there are some better choices when it comes to alcoholic beverages.
Red wine. The antioxidants found in red wines boost many body processes but are particularly revered for improving heart health. The belief is that the antioxidants found in red wine, particularly flavonoids and resveratrol, are the key ingredients in improving health by:
o Fighting dangerous inflammation in the body
o Lowering bad cholesterol levels
o Fighting free radical damage with high levels of antioxidants
Dark beer. Polyphenols in dark beer help the body lower cholesterol, fight cancers, and kill off daily virus threats. High folate levels in dark beer lower homocysteine levels, which is good for heart health. Beer does, however, contain gluten which is problematic in itself
Clear spirits tend to be easier for the body to process. Be sure to avoid the sugar-laden mixers and additions that often accompany these beverages.
This does not mean that red wine or dark beer is akin to drinking liquid vitamins. This is also not a license to over indulge. Studies show that the beneficial effects of alcohol quickly diminish after one serving. This means two or more glasses can be detrimental to your health. Alcohol can also lessen inhibitions and impulse control and induce overeating.
10. Gratitude and giving
The holiday season is about giving and being thankful for what you have. Studies show that i how you feel about what you have, rather than what you have, that makes the difference. Be grateful for what you have a remind yourself of what you have in a daily gratitude journal. A five-minute a day gratitude journal can increase your long term well-being significantly. Gratitude has causes you to focus less on things that matter very little, like making money and acquiring ‘stuff’, and more on the things that are truly important, like my family and helping, supporting and loving each other.
Embrace the spirit even further by giving to others. The holiday season is a particularly opportune time to reflect on good fortune and do things for other people. Doing service can require very little time. Bake some special (healthful) treats for your neighbour, help shovel snow from someone’s driveway or give someone a nice compliment or a smile. The holidays can be a lonely time for many, so what better way to brighten another’s holiday than inviting them to your family’s holiday dinner?
How did you feel come January 2nd of previous years? If all that bad food from holiday treats made you feel stuffed and fatigued, there is no need to let it happen again. Give yourself and your loved ones the gift of health.
Resolve to make this holiday season your healthiest yet, with more energy and vitality. With a few simple steps you can come through the next few weeks looking and feeling your best!