10 Tips for a Happy, Healthy Holiday Season

10 Habits for Happy Healthy Holiday

Winter is coming, heralded by what feels like non-stop rain and an ongoing pandemic. Soon the holiday season spanning Christmas to New Year’s Day will be upon us and we can look forward to celebrating and spending time with family and friends. Let’s take a moment to think about how we can stay healthy over the holidays and beyond.

Tip 1: Plan ahead. Holiday season comes every year and presents the same predictable challenges. It’s tempting to abandon our health goals until “after the holidays.” Instead, make a plan to get through the season. It might be as simple as limiting how many Christmas goodies you eat or exercising early in the day, so you still have time for family get-togethers in the evenings. Setting a goal may also be helpful. For example, if you plan to run a 5K on Boxing Day or New Year’s Day, you will be more likely to do regular practice runs and eat healthy leading up to it. Identify your challenges, write them down, and think about what you can do to make healthy (or healthier) choices over the holidays.

Tip 2: Focus on family. The pandemic has brought us another year of smaller, more intimate holiday gatherings. Instead of a series of parties, we have a great opportunity to focus on building memories and improving the relationships we have with close friends and family. Fill up on love instead of food.

Tip 3: Be active. While exercising is often seen as a way to burn calories, being active can be even more important as a way of building our capacity to cope with stress and depression (it’s important to acknowledge that not everyone finds this time of year to be joyful). A regular schedule of exercise (experts recommend 150 minutes of moderately intense physical activity each week) will help relieve stress and minimize any weight increases.

Tip 4: Try out a new activity. Since your schedule changes over the holidays, why not also change your activities? The Comox Valley is a beautiful outdoor playground. Get out for a walk with a friend on one of numerous local trails and walking paths, go snowshoeing or skiing, play outside with your kids or your pets, etc. If you prefer indoor activities, many venues have re-opened and you might be able to sign up for a cooking class, indulge your creative side with an arts program, or attend a concert or other event. Have fun doing something new.

Tip 5: Eat healthy before a dinner party. While you may not have a company Christmas party to attend, you might still plan to eat out with friends. Many people think that if they skip lunch, they can then eat more at dinner. If only it were that simple! In reality, when people skip a meal, they are often starving when it’s time for the next one. If your restaurant dinner includes appetizers, main meal, dessert and maybe an alcoholic beverage, you may be taking in a whole day’s calories (or more) in just one meal. If making healthy choices is a priority for you, have a small, healthy snack before the restaurant meal and skip the dessert.

Tip 6: Limit the holiday drinks. Hot chocolate, eggnog, and fancy cocktails tend to be high in sugar and calories. Examples: 1 cup of eggnog (340 calores, 19 g fat); 1 cup of hot chocolate (180 calories, 7 g fat). Fill up on food rather than beverages, and drink plenty of water, especially alongside alcoholic beverages.

Tip 7: Watch portion sizes & eat slowly. Overeating by taking larger portions or having second helpings can be a challenge at any time of the year, perhaps especially so when it comes to holiday meals. Using a smaller dinner plate (such as a salad plate) is one trick to make yourself eat a little less, since you’ll still feel like you had a full plate of food. Choose smaller portions of your holiday favorites and plan to stop when you’re satisfied, not stuffed.

It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that it’s full. Studies have linked fast eating with bloating and weight gain, and there may also be an association with development of type 2 diabetes. Take time to savour your meal. Be mindful about what and how much you’re eating. Are you still hungry? Do you actually want to finish all the food on your plate? Be sure to get enough fruits and vegetables to meet your nutritional requirements.

Tip 8: Create your own healthier holiday favourites. Many recipes can be adapted to reduce fat and sugar content. We use a blend of monk fruit and erythritol as a sugar replacement. It can be substituted equally for sugar in baking and has no after taste. Almond milk has fewer sugar carbohydrates than cow’s milk and the nuttier taste is often unnoticeable in baked goods. Unsweetened, evaporated coconut milk makes a great substitute for sweetened condensed milk in pumpkin pie. Check online for other tips that can help you to adapt your favourite recipes.

Tip 9: Allow for some indulgences. The holidays wouldn’t be the same without some special treats. Depriving yourself will just leave you feeling disappointed. Instead, allow yourself to indulge in your favourite foods or sweets, but plan for them. Eat the treats that you love, forget about the ones that you just like. Take your time and enjoy the holiday treats you love without feeling guilty. And remember, overindulging at one or two meals is not going to sidetrack your plans, but overindulging all the time certainly will.

Tip 10: Practice self-care. Don’t run yourself ragged. Get enough rest and spend some time relaxing. It’s okay to say no to attending another event. It’s easy to become stressed at this time of year, and it’s more difficult to fight off infection when we’re run down. Wear a mask and wash your hands often to help prevent the spread of germs (and viruses!). While we should all be experts at this by now, a fun rule of thumb is to wash with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (the time it takes to sing all the way through the alphabet song or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star). If using hand sanitizer, a quick spritz is not enough.

Do your best to make healthier choices and keep care of yourself this holiday season, but don’t stress if things don’t go according to plan. No one is perfect. Instead, focus on enjoying the time you have with family and friends.

Happy, Healthy Holidays!

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