I’ve been talking a lot recently about how to stay healthy during the holiday season. That’s because every single day I talk to yet another woman who is losing sleep, feeling anxious and depressed, and on the verge of collapse. And to make matters worse, they feel guilty about feeling this way!
“It’s supposed to be the ‘most wonderful time of the year,” Cindy said, as she sat in my office with tears in her eyes. “Instead of joy, I just feel frustration. I don’t have time to do the things I really want to do. I can barely keep up with the invitations, shopping and baking!”
Cindy is definitely not alone. I was just glad she came to see me before the holidays were over. So many women wait, pushing themselves to the edge, and show up in January struggling to regain the healthy habits they’ve abandoned during this busy season.
There’s no need to wait! With a few simple shifts, I can help you stay on track and maintain good health throughout the season and beyond.
A season of joy, love…and STRESS!
Women are stretched so thin already. With the expectations so many people have around the holidays, it’s no wonder we don’t always feel peace, love and joy. We are filled with stress, whether we recognize it or not!
It’s really not surprising to me that women are stressed out this time of year. 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 take a good long look at these traditions. Are they 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 have fallen apart – regardless of how healthy they were prior to the holiday season. It starts with bite sized candy bars at Halloween and quickly spirals into “just a little taste” of everything in sight.
Holiday eating can be so hard to control – especially when treats are everywhere! Everywhere you turn, temptation is lurking: 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 gold foil wrapped chocolate coins 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!
We may not be able to avoid some of that stress or temptation, but that doesn’t mean you should just give in and try again next year. 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. Giving 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. Hunger is really the only good reason to eat, but if you choose to indulge, start with just a bite or two. Check in to see if you want more, or if just a taste satisfied your desire.
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
My friend Beth made a sweet whipped gelatin dish that she hated every single year, simply because her mother had always made it. 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 your holiday meals. 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 food is gone!
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 online shopping to help you 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. 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 Thanksgiving was overwhelming and you need to do something NOW, start with some small changes. By New Year’s Day you could be well on your way to healthy holidays in the future.
So what are some of the options for baby stepping your way towards less stress during the holidays? Try swapping out one heavy side dish for a healthy alternative; say no to at least one invitation each week between now and New Year’s Eve; 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. Sometimes a massage or pedicure helps, but you might need more – and that’s okay too! I urge women to do something that brings them joy every single day. And remember that healthy 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.
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 haven’t started yet, there’s no time like the present.
I saw Cindy just before Thanksgiving. She called me today to let me know that she’d tried one small suggestion. Instead of struggling to get three different types of pie baked, she bought them at a bakery. No one even asked if she’d made them – they were too busy enjoying them! This little victory gave Cindy the energy she needed to look at where else she could make little changes. And you can too!
You deserve to give yourself a gift this holiday season – the gift of good health!
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD