The holiday season is upon us. How are you feeling about that? The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy, connection, giving and fun, but for so many women this time of year is a lot more complicated than that. When the holidays are over, my office is flooded with women trying to regain the healthy habits they’ve abandoned during this busy season. But there’s no need to do that — I can help you stay on track with some tips for managing your health throughout the season!

A Season of Joy, Love…and STRESS!

I know the holidays are supposed to be the “most wonderful time of the year.” But for some women, that simply isn’t true. We are stretched so thin already, and there are so many expectations around the holidays. Sometimes, we don’t even realize how much the season is causing stress in our lives.

It’s really not surprising that women find this time of year stressful. Not only are we carrying on with our typical daily activities (which are often too much to comfortably deal with in the first place), but we’re buying gifts, cleaning house, throwing and attending parties, cooking elaborate meals, and bending over backwards to make sure we’ve taken care of every single detail to avoid disappointing anyone.

Because stress can be so damaging to your health, it’s even more important during this busy season to pay attention to what your body is telling you, and slow down when necessary. I promise, the world won’t end if you don’t carry on every single tradition from your childhood. Often, the pressure we feel comes from within, not from the outside. If you find yourself doing things simply because that’s the way they’ve always been done, give yourself permission to assess the situation. Ask yourself if traditions left over from long ago days are still working for you. If not, it’s okay to let them go!

Temptation Abounds This Time of Year

One of the biggest things I hear from women in January is that their eating habits – no matter how healthy they were prior to the holiday season – have fallen apart. It starts with the bite sized candy bars at Halloween and quickly turns into “just a little taste” of everything in sight.

Holiday eating can be so hard to control – especially when treats are everywhere! There are so many temptations: Leftover Halloween candy on every coworkers desk; seventeen sides (full of sugar, fat and way too many carbs) on the Thanksgiving table; bowls of candy set out for the annual gingerbread house decorating party; “signature” cocktails at holiday parties; candy canes on Christmas trees or chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil on Hanukkah; and a steady flow of champagne on New Year’s Eve. Is it any wonder you find yourself struggling to maintain healthy eating habits? You certainly aren’t alone!

Does all this stress and constant temptation mean you should just give in and try again in the new year? Of course not! There are so many small steps you can take to create healthy holidays and maintain your health during the holiday season. Let’s take a look at a few!

7 Steps Towards Creating Healthy Holidays

1. Make Conscious Decisions

So many women find themselves mindlessly picking at those bowls of candy, shocked to look down and see ten tiny wrappers littering their desk. A little careful attention to the choices you are making can go a long way towards keeping you on track. When you’re at a social event, position yourself as far away from the food as you can. Before you fill your plate or pour a drink, ask yourself if you really want it – and why. If the answer is yes, go for it — but try taking a bite or two, then checking in with yourself to see if you are satisfied.

Eat slowly and savor every mouthful. This will not only help you recognize when you are full, but it’s so much better for your digestion! Another little trick I suggest is to use a smaller plate. You’ll consider every choice more carefully when you have limited space to fill.

And remember – holidays are only one day each! So if you find yourself overindulging because it’s Thanksgiving, start fresh the next day. Don’t use the season as an excuse to “splurge” every day; it’s only a treat if it doesn’t happen very often!

2. Start New Traditions

I have a friend who for years kept making a sweet whipped gelatin dish that she hated because her mother always made it and she thought her extended family would be devastated if she didn’t carry on the tradition. One year, she forgot to get the key ingredient, so she left the dish out. Did anyone notice? Actually, yes. Her brother said “Thank goodness there’s no “green stuff” this year. I can’t stand it!” Others chimed in to agree.

We are so good at holding on to things – even those things that we should let go. Maybe this is the year you try a new approach. Cut down on the number of sides you offer at Thanksgiving. Focus more on connecting with loved ones than what’s on the table. Offer healthier food choices, and incorporate plenty of activity into your day. Take a walk after dinner, head outside to toss a ball around, or have a family dance party in the living room. These are the moments you will remember long after the turkey and stuffing are gone!

3. Delegate

Because stress relief is so vital to your health, it’s important to recognize when you’ve taken on too much responsibility. Whether it’s cooking a large meal, organizing the office party, or finding the perfect gifts for everyone on your list, it’s time to ask for help! Just because you are hosting doesn’t mean you have to do it all yourself. There’s no shame in picking up baked goods at a bakery if baking isn’t your thing, or shopping online to avoid lines and crowds in the department stores.

4. Speak up

Chances are, if you are trying to be healthier, so are some of your friends and family. When someone offers you a slice of pie or glass of wine, you don’t have to accept. Let them know you are avoiding sugar or choosing non-alcoholic options because you care about your health. The same goes for declining an invitation. Invitations are great, but you aren’t obligated to show up to everything. If you need a quiet night to yourself, say so! Your needs are just as important as anyone else’s!

5. Start Small

Drastic changes to the way you celebrate holidays could create more, not less, stress for you. But if you start now, by the end of this season you could be well on your way to healthy holidays in the future. What kind of changes can you make? Try swapping out one heavy side dish for a healthy alternative; say no to at least one invitation each month; draw names among extended family or do a yankee swap in place of a huge gift exchange; have one drink at the holiday party, then switch to sparkling water; buy each of your children one less gift this year; buy pies instead of baking them. There are so many little things you can do, and it’s likely the only person who will notice is you!

6. Carve Out Time for Yourself

I know it may seem like there’s no way you can find time to focus on your own needs this time of year. But this is when you need it most, to keep yourself healthy and thriving! Self-care is not selfish, it’s necessary. This might be something as simple as a massage or pedicure, but you might need more than that – and that’s okay too! I urge women to do something that brings them joy every single day. And remember that eating, exercise, and sleep are not indulgences – they’re necessities! It’s crucial that you allow time in your schedule to take care of these needs. Your health depends on it.

7. Good Nutrition is Your Best Defense

Remember, food is the best medicine we have. That’s why I think it’s so important to choose a variety of whole foods rich in minerals and vitamins (organic when you can); eat plenty of healthy fats; and limit processed foods, sugar and alcohol as much as possible. Getting the right nutrients can keep your hormones balanced, ward off stress, and help you feel your best. It’s tough to get all the nutrients we need from food alone, so making a high quality multivitamin part of your daily routine is something I recommend for all women.

Healthy Holidays Can Help You End the Year Feeling Great – No Resolutions Necessary!

Why wait until New Year’s Day to pay attention to your health again? If you’ve built some healthy habits already, use the tips above to keep them going. If you’re just starting now, there’s no time like the present. Give yourself a gift this holiday season – the gift of good health!

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Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD