Now that Christmas is over, we’re almost to the end of what I often call the “season of overindulgence.” So many of my patients come to me after the holidays feeling lousy, and it’s not even a mystery why. They know they’ve let healthy habits slide, particularly around food. Since Halloween they’ve been loading up on sugar, carbs, alcohol and other unhealthy foods – and it’s taking a toll!
Somehow, despite promising themselves it wouldn’t happen this year, they landed right back in the middle of bad habits they thought they’d left behind. These women are bloated, tired, anxious, and sometimes a few pounds heavier than they were in September. Recently I saw a meme online that read “I swore I’d lose ten pounds this year. Only 15 left to go.” It’s supposed to be funny, but for so many women those extra pounds are no laughing matter.
Women come to me looking for a way to break out of the unhealthy patterns they’ve fallen into so they can look and feel great again. They know they want to get back on track, but they’re not sure how to go about it. If this sounds like you, I have good news for you; it’s not as difficult as you think!
The Myth of “Holiday Weight Gain”
It’s a fairly common misperception that people will gain between 5 and 7 pounds during the holiday season, but there’s evidence that the increase is actually much smaller. A 2016 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that the average weight gain for nearly 3000 participants was actually 1.3 pounds during holiday seasons.
An earlier study determined that weight gain averaged only 0.8 pounds from mid-November to January, rising to 1.1 pounds by March, then holding steady until the next September. So the actual gain isn’t the real problem – it’s what happens if you don’t change your habits and your weight creeps up year after year. Luckily, it’s not as hard to turn things around as you might fear.
What Do I Need to Do to Get Back on Track?
There’s no single “right” approach to regaining healthy habits. You have to find what works for you – and that might not be the same as what works for your friends and family. There are a few things that we know help keep all women healthy; eating well, plenty of quality sleep, and physical activity are all important to good health. But you are a unique individual, and for you, “eating well” might look very different than for someone else. Keep trying until you hit on the plan that’s right for you.
One of the first steps in building healthy habits is to assess what’s going on for you. I ask my clients a lot of questions to get a sense of where they are to begin with, and then make recommendations based on what they tell me. Sometimes, these come easily; if a woman has persistent digestive issues, I’ll always recommend she take a high quality probiotic to balance out a system that may have been out of sync for years.
Sometimes, we have to dig deeper. I often have women try an elimination diet for common sensitivities – sugar, gluten and dairy are the biggest culprits. Cutting these out of your diet one at a time can give you good information on how your body reacts to it. This information gathering process might take a while, since it’s more important to discover what is causing the problem than simply finding a temporary fix for symptoms.
You Must Be Prepared Before You Take Action
Once you have some good information, it’s time to get prepared. It’s unlikely that you’ll jump into and maintain healthy habits overnight – especially if you haven’t made the proper plans to keep you on track. Some of the steps below will help you with this step, and some women find it helpful to set a target date to begin. Give yourself the proper time you need, but don’t put it off too long!
After you’ve formulated a plan, it’s time to take action. Start small, with the steps I’ll give you below, and work your way up to the healthy habits you want to achieve. It’s difficult to eat only healthy choices all the time if you’ve had an “anything goes” attitude for months, but you can begin by adding an extra helping of fruits or vegetables, and work your way up from there. This is true for any healthy habit you want to build — you have to be patient and give yourself time to change course. Maintaining good health is a marathon, not a sprint. And remember, any time you make a good choice over an unhealthy one is a win!
Start the New Year Right with These 7 Healthy Habits
The following tips can help you lose any holiday weight you may have gained, but even more importantly, they can make you feel amazing! Move forward at your own pace, and remember it’s better to start slowly, with one or two suggestions, if the idea of doing them all at once causes anxiety or stress.
1. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!
I’m sure it’s no surprise that I’m telling you how important drinking enough water is to your health. But it’s worth repeating, since so many people fail to do it! Staying properly hydrated helps regulate your body temperature, keep your joints lubricated, protects your spine, and helps eliminate waste.
A lot of the weight gain that results from overindulging around the holidays is due to water retention. High sodium foods, in particular, can prompt your body to hold on to water, making your holiday weight gain seem much higher than it actually is.
If you find it difficult to drink enough plain water, remember that you have options. Herbal teas and green teas are a great choice, as are flavored seltzer and water infused with fresh fruits.
2. Get Moving!
I have written several recent articles about how exercise and physical activity promote good health. Movement is vital for your body, and increases cardiovascular health, improves mood, and can help you achieve your weight loss goals.
You don’t have to work out every day, or hit a gym, to incorporate physical activity into your life. Start small — try to fit ten minutes of movement into your daily activities, even if it’s just taking the stairs instead of an elevator.
When you’re ready, try yoga, dancing, walking or running, a spin class, or a new outdoor sport; just a day or two a week can make a huge difference. And you might just discover that you feel so good you want to do more!
To hold yourself accountable to moving more, keep a fitness journal to track your activity. Seeing what you’ve accomplished in writing can act as a great motivator to keep on going!
3. Clean Out Your Kitchen
This is one of those planning steps I was talking about. If you have a kitchen full of unhealthy choices, it’s extremely difficult to keep yourself out of them. Ditch the holiday treats that aren’t part of your regular routine. Clear out leftovers – especially desserts!
Once you’ve cleared your refrigerator and cupboards of those unhealthy choices, fill them with delicious alternatives. Stock up on fresh organic fruits and vegetables, lentils, whole grains, nuts, and lean meats, so when you go looking for a snack, all you have are healthy choices!
4. Make Small Changes in the Way You Are Eating
So many women go on fad diets, and then feel discouraged when they don’t work. So many of those diets limit your choices so severely that it’s no wonder they aren’t sustainable! An extreme overhaul of what you are eating lends itself to giving up; try small changes instead.
Boost your intake of fiber rich foods, which make you feel more full and offer plenty of nutrients. Eat some protein at every meal or snack. Try that elimination diet I talked about earlier to identify underlying food sensitivities. Avoid processed foods whenever possible. Peruse the produce section at your supermarket and pick up one new fruit or vegetable to try each time you’re there.
5. Don’t Skimp on Sleep
Sleep deprivation has such an impact on health! If you aren’t getting between seven and eight hours most nights, you could be sabotaging your own health goals. Proper sleep gives you the energy you need to get things done, and it can also help you stick to healthy eating goals.
Try to get to bed at the same time each night – having a routine can help you stick to the plan to get more sleep. Modify your pre-bedtime activities to reduce or eliminate screen time. Read a book, meditate, or take a relaxing bath to help you wind down and get ready for sleep.
6. Be Prepared
I know I already mentioned this, but being prepared is vitally important in maintaining healthy habits. During the busy holiday season, you might have relied to heavily on eating out, and you’re not sure how to get back to healthy meals at home. Eating well is much easier if you have what you need on hand.
Make a meal plan weekly, and shop for everything all at once to avoid multiple trips to the supermarket. A solid plan and a good list will also reduce impulse buys at the store. Prepping a large batch of soup, daily salad portions, or a breakfast casserole ahead of time can also be helpful. If it’s all made ahead, it’s harder to justify grabbing some take out on your way home.
Planning for snacks – especially if you’re on the go constantly, is important too. Nuts and fruit travel well, and they’ll keep you going far longer than a candy bar!
7. Support Your Body as You Regain Balance
It’s tough to focus on healthy goals when you feel lousy, and if it takes too long to feel better, you might want to give up. Giving your body a boost with some targeted supplements can help keep you on the right path. Getting all the nutrients you need from food is difficult, and a high quality multivitamin like my Multi Essentials can provide the essential vitamins and nutrients your body needs. A probiotic can boost the beneficial bacteria in your gut, and help eliminate digestive issues more quickly. And my adrenal health products can help give you the energy you need to stay on track.
Building Healthy Habits Can Help You Be Your Best Self This Year!
After the hectic holiday season, it’s not uncommon to feel exhausted and like you simply can’t face another task. But building healthy habits is one of the best ways to rid yourself of that feeling and thrive! That’s why I’ve offered these simple steps for you to consider. Take it slowly, one step at a time, and find your way to the person you want to be – whoever she is!
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD