The holiday season is one of quality time, laughter, and merriment – ‘tis the season to be jolly, after all – but it’s also an occasion when relationships are tested, routines fall by the wayside, and overindulgences occur more often than you might like to admit. Maybe your relatives drive you crazy and you cope by upping your alcohol consumption, or maybe your busy schedule makes it seemingly impossible to hit the gym with any sort of fervor. To help you combat that easy-to-fall-into cycle, we’ve talked to experts in nutrition, medicine, and mental health to provide 12 tips for staying healthy this holiday season.
Nurture Your Nutrition
The holidays are the most delicious time of year. You have your grandma’s famous figgy pudding, your aunt’s to-die-for sweet potato casserole, and a bevy of other tasty treats. People enjoy indulging so much during this time of year, that some reports suggest Americans gain a pound during the season, while others estimate it’s significantly higher – as much as seven to 10 pounds. This winter weight gain is also notorious for staying with us throughout the following year, rather than disappearing once we’re back on our normal schedules.
This year, fight the urge to overindulge by following these nutritional tips, courtesy of Pamela Kelle, registered dietitian and licensed nutritionist.
1. Always Volunteer to Bring a Veggie Plate
Kelle recommends taking a vegetable tray to every food-related holiday event you attend. “Be creative and make it fun by mixing different raw veggies or cold, roasted vegetable platters. Everyone will benefit, and you can ensure that something nutritious, low-calorie, and healthy will be available to munch on.”
2. Fill Half Your Plate with Colorful Vegetables and Lean Protein
There’s nothing wrong with having some of your favorite treats this season, but be intentional with your serving sizes. “Fill half your plate with lighter options such as green beans and other vegetables, salads, and vinaigrette-based coleslaw,” says Kelle. “Serve the other part of your plate with small amounts of favorite holiday dishes you rarely get to enjoy. It is easier to resist seconds of calorie-dense casseroles if you’ve filled up eating the lighter foods first.”
3. Enjoy Every Bite of Your Meals with Full Attention
Mindful eating can help you recognize when you’re full. “Don’t forget to put the fork down and enjoy the food and the company,” says Kelle. “Slowing down allows you to taste the food instead of simply anticipating your next bite. After your meal, you’re more likely to feel full and satisfied, as opposed to stuffed and bloated.”
4. Don’t Drink Your Calories
Seasonal cocktails are fun, but be cognizant of what you’re drinking. “Holiday cocktails are a part of the season, but with them comes extra calories and usually an increased risk of loss of control when it comes to eating high-calorie foods. Make sure you have plenty of water, or make mocktails using sparkling water with cut fruit or diluted juices,” suggests Kelle.
Focus on Your Physical Health
Whether traveling, catching up with out-of-town friends and family, or attending holiday parties, there’s a lot of fun to be had during the holidays. However, it’s also a season filled with nasty cold and flu germs. To keep yourself healthy, follow these tips from Dr. Jacqueline Gentry, family medicine physician with CHI Memorial Primary Care Associates – Atrium.
5. Give Elderberry a Try
Elderberry is a plant with effects that are known to reduce the severity of cold and flu, and it’s available in syrup form. “Research shows that elderberry boosts our immune system by increasing the production of cytokines, and it may stop upper respiratory viruses from attaching to our cells,” says Dr. Gentry.
6. Don’t Forget to Exercise
It’s easy to become a bit lax in your exercise routine, but fight the urge to skip the gym. “Exercising four days a week can rev up your immune system along with your energy level,” says Dr. Gentry. “It works because it improves circulation, flushing toxins out of your airways. It also slows down the release of stress hormones to protect your immune system.”
7. Go for Immune-Boosting Roots
Some foods are not only delicious, they have impressive health qualities too! Dr. Gentry recommends adding ginger and turmeric to your drinks and dishes this season. “Ginger and turmeric are tasty ways to add flavor to your holiday dishes and fight off viral cells with their antimicrobial properties,” she says.
8. Get Your Flu Shot
You’ve likely heard it a dozen times by now, but that’s because it’s hugely important! Getting your flu shot can protect not only you but others around you. “In the U.S. alone, 85,000 people died from the flu last year. This virus is not to be taken lightly,” Dr. Gentry explains. “While healthy diet and exercise can go a long way to preventing or limiting the course of illness, don’t forgo getting vaccinated.”
Mind Your Emotions
For many people, the holiday season brings stress, guilt, and sadness. Focusing on your nutritional and physical health can help reduce these feelings, but really delving into why you’re feeling the way you are can make a noticeable difference. Julie L. Brown, a licensed professional counselor and mental health service provider with Creative Psychotherapy, recommends the following tips to help you mind your emotions this season.
9. Nurture Yourself
About midway through the holidays, you’re likely running on fumes – don’t forget to take some time to nurture yourself each day. “Take a bath or relaxing shower. Get out in nature for a mindful stroll. Cozy up with a loved one, a pet, or a good book. Get a massage. Listen to music you love or a soothing meditation on the Insight Timer or Calm app,” recommends Brown.
10. Set Boundaries
Avoid conflict with family and friends by setting boundaries. “Set and maintain boundaries with your time, finances, and subjects you discuss at gatherings,” says Brown. “Be especially kind to yourself by knowing when to exit a conversation with integrity or leave a gathering. During an event, you may need to step outside for a breath of fresh air or walk into another room for a moment alone.”
11. Be Cognizant of How You Perceive People
Everyone has that one family member who said something to them years ago that they didn’t agree with and can’t get past. Brown recommends approaching these folks in a different way this year. “Be aware of the stories you may have created about the people in your life – especially those individuals you don’t see often. Try to enter with a sense of curiosity and an intention to be kind. Remember that being compassionate to yourself and others is the best preparation for enjoyable interaction with others.”
12. Be Aware of Your Feelings
Focusing on your feelings is the best way to mind your emotional health. “Take a breath to notice what you are feeling and offer yourself kind understanding. Remember that we all feel this emotion or dance of emotions,” says Brown. “We try to push aside our difficult feelings by getting busy, reaching for food, alcohol, etc., but what we resist gets stronger. If you allow and gently accept your emotions with kindness, you’ll notice that they ebb and flow. This nimbleness will help you be more present, respond with less reaction and more wisdom, enhance your experiences of joy and gratitude, and deepen your sleep.”