Top 10 Tips for Staying Healthy Over the Holidays
Are you loving these last few weeks of 2018? It’s a fabulous and festive time of the year. Unfortunately, it’s also a difficult time for maintaining healthy habits. Check out our list of the top 10 ways to stay healthy and happy over the holiday season.
1. Rethink your holiday expectations. Think about it – if you position the holidays as an exhausting test of your endurance, and holiday treats as evil temptations to be resisted with all available willpower, how will your body react? Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but many patients do come into the office at this time of the year showing signs of anxiety and tension. In fact, one study found that 90 percent of adults feel stressed over the holidays…which does line up with how joyous the holidays are supposed to feel!
These high stress levels certainly may come in part as a result of all that is going on at this time of year, and all the unique responsibilities we take on. Because we have more tasks to keep track of (even if those tasks are fun things like going to parties and buying gifts), our prefrontal cortex (in our brain) is overtaxed. This can affect our memory and overall ability to cope. Add in the extra pressure of attempting to maintain a perfect diet and workout schedule, and you have a recipe for sleep problems, digestive difficulties, and tense muscles – all of which can add to our stress. And when we’re stressed, we tend to overeat. It may be becoming clear why holiday stress often creates a vicious cycle of guilt…
Reframing our expectations of a “perfect” holiday while staying disciplined can end the frustration. So don’t beat yourself up if not everything goes according to plan. In the long run, our happiest memories are sometimes the ones when things didn’t go as we’d pictured them, or the times we slowed down to take in the moment. Letting go of visions of perfection (whether impressed on us by ourselves or others) will ultimately help our health.
2. Play games. If you get together with family or friends in the next weeks, why not introduce a low-tech way to have fun by playing board games? Board games also tend to offer cognitive benefits – not that you need an excuse to start rolling the dice.
3. Stay mindful. A mindfulness practice has obvious benefits when we’re extremely busy. Even if you’re not a regular meditator, just five minutes a day of meditation can help you cope with holiday stress. And why not share the love? Suggest a short meditation you can share with family before holiday meals, to help set the tone for a peaceful celebration. Studies show that meditation in groups can have powerful results.
4. Get moving. Fitting in some exercise can be easier when you mix it up by engaging in physical social activities with loved ones. Snowshoeing, making snowmen, skating…or if you’re not a cold-weather person, try bowling or a trip to the pool. You may not end up with six-pack abs, but it could be the start of a great, new holiday tradition. Suggesting fun activities for social gatherings also helps take the focus off food.
5. Cook up some love. Looking for a unique gift idea? Want to stay away from the mall and its atmosphere of seemingly relentless consumerism? Try baking some healthy holiday gifts. For example, put some homemade sweet and spicy holiday almonds into a fancy jar (you can find a good recipe here: https://mywholefoodlife.com/2012/11/28/sweet-and-spicy-holiday-almonds/). Or wrap up a box of vegan hazelnut cups. (This recipe is amazing! https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-16557/like-nutella-try-these-vegan-hazelnut-cups.html) or even start making some natural soaps as gifts, it’s easy, natural and fun!
6. Go green. When you’re thinking about ways to keep your body healthy over the holidays, don’t forget that the planet deserves some love, too. It’s easy to have a green holiday season (even if it’s snowing). Use recycled wrapping paper, serve food on real plates (not paper/plastic), and consider turning the heat down a degree or two for large gatherings (who knows – maybe then you’ll see some amazingly ugly Christmas sweaters!). To conserve electricity, use LED lights only, and defrost your freezer before you load it up with holiday baking.
7. Learn to say no. This is a tough one for many people; but sometimes refusing a social invitation or a request to do work is the healthiest choice for everyone involved. If you find it hard to turn down an invitation or request, remember that you don’t need to apologize. Decline right away and resist the urge to make up an elaborate excuse. Suggest an alternative activity or a later date – but only if you really want to.
8. Keep your gut healthy. Sugar laden holiday treats, cocktails and parties galore can really put a damper on your gut health. Rightfully so an imbalance of extra sugar lowers both your immune system and can lead to an imbalance of healthy bacteria in the gut. Take some high quality probiotics and some digestive enzymes prior to meals to give your gut a healthy boost and some likely much needed assistance!
9. Start some healthy food traditions. The internet is bursting with healthy holiday recipes. Think about your loved ones’ food preferences and find some yummy dishes to bring to gatherings. For example, here are some outstanding vegan dishes: https://minimalistbaker.com/christmas-recipe-roundup/. Other guests might thank you for providing an alternative to Aunt Edna’s special salad! Try replacing carb heavy side dishes with healthy ones like Rutabaga and carrot mash or creamy butternut squash and thyme! Remember it’s OK to say no!
10. Be grateful. The holidays don’t always go the way we expect or hope. Sometimes we have to go to work instead of eating great meals. Sometimes we miss people we’ve lost over the years. It’s normal to experience sadness at this time of the year. Acknowledge your feelings and be gentle with yourself. Take some time to remember and be grateful for the good things (even if they’re not always picture-perfect). Grateful people experience better sleep, more optimism, and improved relationships. And we could all use a bit of that at this time of the year.
Happy New Year from all of us! We look forward to working with you to create a fulfilling and healthy start to 2019!