Whether you’ve embraced it or not, the holiday season is upon us. This time of year can be a wonderful and indulgent break, but it can also be hell. On top of the blatant consumerism, rushing around, and stressful family dynamics, we often overindulge and neglect exercise. I’ve been a victim of too many hours curled up on the couch with a Bailey’s and book in hand (don’t get me wrong, that is a wonderful thing)… But, the sluggish feeling and extra body padding come January are less welcome. This year, I’m planning ahead to find a balance between holiday indulgences and feeling energized and healthy. In this spirit, Public Health Perspectives today offers a guide on staying health over the holidays.
First, a disclaimer: I am not a registered dietician. But, some things are just common sense and we’ll talk about those. Also, this is written with North American Christmas in mind, but I think it remains true for anyone trying to eat well and exercise during this season.
Problem 1: I have a major sweet tooth.
I know, me too. One of my usual rules is that homemade treats are an acceptable treat, due to their relatively rarity and use of whole ingredients. Processed and packaged sweets are not. At this time of year though, if your holiday experience is anything like mine, homemade goodies are almost everywhere and you simply can’t follow this rule. There is no one way to eat that works for everyone, but I always go for quality over quantity. Eat the sweets that you absolutely love and can’t get at any other time of year. For me, these are pecan butter tarts, soft ginger cookies, and pumpkin pie. Skip the ones that are just ‘ok’ or that you can have anytime. Don’t anything packaged when there are better,homemade treats available. Don’t eat sweets within one hour of a meal, and as always, don’t eat so many that you feel ill!
Problem 2: I want all of the things at Christmas dinner… and beyond.
Like with sweets, quality over quantity is key. Eat those foods that you love, that are well-prepared, and made using high quality ingredients. Are there instant mashed potatoes and gravy? Skip it. Has your aunt prepared a sweet potato casserole from scratch with glazed nuts on top? Go for it. However, don’t forget to fill half of your plate with vegetables first. Brussels sprouts, green beans, and carrots are all wonderful. Don’t forget that parsnips, potatoes, and sweet potatoes are carbohydrates that will spike your blood sugar (so go easy on the sweet potato casserole, although you should eat some, by all means). White meat is lower in fat than brown meat, and you don’t want it swimming in gravy. Go for a lot of variety on your plate, and don’t overdo it with any one dish. Pace yourself… after you’ve finished, wait 15 minutes, take yourself away from the food, and mindfully decide whether you are actually still hungry or not. And save room for dessert!
Problem 3: I have no time or means to exercise.
This one depends on your regular exercise routine. If you never exercise anyway, I don’t really know what to say to you. It’s not easy to take up exercise over the holiday season, but everyone should be active to a level that fits in their life, so think about starting in the New Year. For the rest of us, the holidays often disrupt routine in a way that makes exercise difficult. For those who go away to visit family, lack of access to a gym or a good running route can pose a problem. Quick, indoor workouts can be a nice way around those problems. Even 15 minutes of high intensity cardio – use a skipping rope and do burpees – can be a great boost. You can find many home workout videos on YouTube (I’m a fan of the Jillian Michaels series), including yoga and Pilates. An after dinner family walk around the neighbourhood is a great way to help a heavy dinner digest and get some bonding time in. Take the dog out, if you have one. Of course, winter sports like skiing and snowboarding are great if you have the means to do it. If you live a snowy climate, get outside for some snowman building, snowforts, and tobogganing. Having youngsters in the family helps!
And, finally, the bottom line is don’t be too hard on yourself. We have the holidays for a reason. You should relax and indulgence. The trouble is when we tip the balance to fall so hard of routine that we don’t feel well. Don’t forget to slow down and de-stress if the holidays are a busy time for you. No matter what, keep your body active and metabolism healthy to keep yourself going in the New Year.
Happy holidays from all of us at Public Health Perspectives!