Keeping the Holidays Healthy (or How to Keep From Hating Yourself Come January)

Holiday Weight Management
Have you spent the better part of November sneaking candy from your kids’ Halloween stash? Wondering how in the world you are going to weather Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year? Want to kill whoever thought it was a good idea to stick all these holidays together when it is freezing cold outside and your motivation to exercise is practically nil? We feel your pain.

But the good news is that we are not all helpless to the holiday cheer binge. We can celebrate the holidays without that gross, guilty feeling we get each January. In fact, by focusing on your overall well being you may find that you enjoy yourself more over the holidays.

Here are a few tips:

Less Stress

Studies show that stress creates a hormone called cortisol, which in turn makes us crave foods that are high in sugar, fat, and salt. Many people also deal with uncomfortable emotions, like anger, resentment, fear, and anxiety, by indulging in “comfort foods.”

Unfortunately, the holidays are a wonderful mix of stress, family issues, and readily available cookies that seem almost designed to sabotage healthy lifestyles. How do you break the cycle?

First, it helps to cut back a little. In our society we have a tendency to feel like we have to be busy all the time. But in reality, we are often happier when we give ourselves time to slow down and relax. Don’t try to do everything; just focus on the things that are really important to you.

Then we need to work on changing how we respond to stress. When we eat to feel better we just fuel the cycle and feel worse later. Instead head outside for a walk, pet a dog, listen to music, read, or do some yoga. And don’t forget that getting a full night’s sleep is vital to keeping your stress levels down.

Party Portions

We are surrounded by food over the holidays and it can be hard to say no. But you don’t have to avoid all your favorites entirely, just don’t eat as much. At parties grab a smaller plate so that you are less likely to load up on as much food. And then throw away your plate so that you aren’t tempted to go back for seconds.

Make a habit out of eating slowly. You can make that small plate of food last much longer than a bigger one if you just take the time to enjoy each bite. Focusing on visiting with people also helps. You can’t eat and talk at the same time—or at least you shouldn’t! Nobody wants to see you talk with your mouth full.

One of the worst kinds of holiday eating is when your inner-mother keeps telling you to finish everything on your plate. If you don’t like it, don’t eat. Don’t be afraid to sneak it into the trash when nobody is looking. Think of yourself as a food connoisseur—if it doesn’t taste amazing, it isn’t worth your time.

When getting ready to go to a party, grab a healthy snack first. You are less likely to indulge if you aren’t starving. And if it is a potluck, bring a healthy dish like hummus dip and whole wheat crackers.

Healthy Home Habits

If you are hosting the party or dinner, look at ways to replace some of your old recipes with some updated recipes that are healthier. Remember, just because it is healthier doesn’t mean that it can’t taste delicious. A good rule of thumb is to find recipes that make good use of vegetables and whole grains. And sometimes just a small change in a recipe can make a difference. For example, cutting a half cup of butter from a recipe can knock off 814 calories and 92 grams of fat.

You can also change how you celebrate the holidays. Instead of focusing as much on food traditions, create other traditions that focus more on people. Traditions like caroling, serving in a soup kitchen, or bringing Christmas to a family in need can make the holidays feel way more fulfilling and help us focus on what is important.

When you are not celebrating, focus on eating healthier. If you are eating well most of the time you won’t feel so bad about the occasional splurge. If you have a hard time resisting, keep unhealthy foods out of your home. When you do decide to indulge, just take two cookies and then put the package up out of sight. By making the cookies harder to get to, you are less likely to eat the whole package.

But with healthy foods, make them as easy to grab as you can. Keeping some baby carrots or grapes on hand in your fridge makes it more likely you will grab those instead of some chips when the munchies strike.

While shopping, pack a few healthy snacks and you will be less likely to stop at Cinnabon or Starbucks. Plus it will save you money, and you won’t be stressed about your budget as much!

Making Exercise Exciting

Busy schedules and cold weather make it really hard to stick to an exercise routine. It is hard enough to get out of bed on a cold morning, let alone get up early to exercise. If you can’t face the idea of going outside to exercise, try warming up inside a bit first or sticking your exercise clothes in the dryer. It is easier to face the cold if you aren’t already freezing. Plus your body is more susceptible to injury when you are cold.

Boredom has killed many an exercise routine over the winter, so look for ways to mix it up. You can find some fun classes at the local gym or get involved in some outdoor sports you can’t do in the summer. Cross country skiing, sledding, skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, ice hockey, and snowboarding are all wonderful activities that burn lots of calories.

Doing chores at home is also a great way to burn calories. A 160-lb. person can burn about 211 calories by doing 60 minutes of housework. The more intense the cleaning, the better the workout. For example, scrubbing your floor or shoveling snow are great ways to burn calories.

If out-of-town guests are making it hard for you to fit in your exercise, work on involving them too. You can go on a walk, play ball, build a snowman, go sledding, or have a snowball fight. Fight the urge to turn on the TV and hunker down under a blanket.

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