The holidays are upon us. Radio stations are playing seasonal music, the decorations in stores reflect the products on the shelves, and we’re getting set for a fun couple of months.
For most of us, right now is the healthiest we will be all year. We have spent the summer and early fall exercising outside, and the beginning of the school year brings routines – more eating at home, and less vacation travel with its high-calorie restaurant meals. What do these next couple of months mean for our health and well-being?
As we move into the holiday season, it is extremely common for us to put our health goals aside. While the data suggests that we may not gain a significant amount of weight during the holidays, weight is only one metric of health. At Harper Health we focus on body fat, the quality of our nutrition, and our overall fitness level. While we may not gain weight, how many of us look back in January the question invariably arises, “How did I allow this to happen?” More sugar. More fat. Too much alcohol. Not enough exercise. Feeling blah.
I will tell you it’s easy to fall into a trap. Not many people can say “no” when your coworker’s favorite holiday fudge recipe is right in front of you. When it’s sub-freezing outside it’s difficult to get those running shoes on. And every weekend there’s a party to enjoy with friends and neighbors.
So, what can we do? Here are a few suggestions.
You gotta want it. I often tell my patients, “If you give a half-a$$ed effort you’ll get a half-a$$ed result.“ It is critical that you feel strongly about sticking to your goals as you enter the holiday season. If you aren’t committed, when your will is weak your success will be weaker. Do you really want it? If you do, the rest is just process. My suggestion: When you wake up each morning, look in the mirror and say, “I want to be healthy this holiday season.” Then, carpe diem (seize the day)!
Make a plan. You walk into a party and there’s food and drink everywhere. If you don’t have a plan going into the evening, of course you’ll walk away at the end of the day feeling unsuccessful. What are you going to do? Prior to walking into the party have a plan for how much you are going to eat and drink. For alcohol, the healthy limit is 14 drinks per week for men and 7 units per week for women, and no one should have more than four units in one day. To stick to this plan, sip on your drink for extra long. Alternate a non-alcoholic beverage for an alcoholic one. For food, a good strategy is to commit to tracking all your calories using an app on your phone. MyFitnessPal and LoseIt are two good free resources. The more you track what you do, the more likely you are to stick to your goals.
Enlist allies. It is never easy when you feel alone on an island. It will be ten times easier if you have a partner on your journey. Your ally can serve as an accountability-partner, someone who checks in with you to see if you’re sticking with your plan. You can also turn to your partner when your will is weak, “We got to get out of here. There’s nothing but evil food here.” There are also good data that if you share your goal with people around you, you are more likely to be successful. Use your village.
Choose your beverage wisely. For alcoholic beverages, the holidays can be a disaster. A six-ounce serving of eggnog with brandy is over 400 calories, which may be 25% of an individual’s calorie goal for the day if they’re trying to lose weight. On the other hand, a 4oz glass of champagne has only 90 calories. A vodka and soda just 96. This doesn’t mean you can have four times as many drinks, what it means is you are much more likely to stay on top of your goals if you make better choices.
Avoid the Appetizers. Passed appetizers are a common sight at parties – servers walking around with their platters of bite-sized quiche, bacon-wrapped dates, and mini-spanakopita. Every one of these is trouble; these calories add up fast. What’s your best option? Avoid the appetizers altogether! If you can find a veggie platter, nosh on that.
Battle the Buffet. “This plate isn’t big enough.” Have you heard yourself saying this when going through a buffet line? Be disciplined! Another tip I give patients, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” We know you could strap on the feedbag and attack the buffet. What you should do instead is have a plan: take one pass through the buffet and make good choices when you do. Lean on veggies over meats. Go light on cream sauces. Be careful of breads and spreads – a double whammy of “bad” carbohydrates and high-calorie dips.
Keep moving! Yes life is busy. School. Work. After-school activities for the kids. Homework. Projects. Meetings. Gym? “Ha! Not gonna happen,” you say. I say, “Don’t’ give up!” You have made good gains over the summer, so don’t lose them. How? Do you have seven minutes? Who doesn’t have seven minutes? There are plenty of apps out there that can give you a good workout in seven minutes. No excuses!
Congratulate yourself: Do you remember how it feels when you reach a goal? Any kind of goal? Whether it be a weight loss goal, running a 5K, or getting the kids to school on time all week, when you reach that goal there is often a feeling of satisfaction. “I did it!” Bring this feeling to life! Every time you leave a party without it all going into the crapper, congratulate yourself. Reach out to your ally so they can do the same for you. This work isn’t easy, and when we have a small success, we need to validate it.
The holidays are a wonderful time of the year, but they can also be stressful. Don’t let your health add to the stress. Perhaps these ideas will help you hold on to your goals as we go through this crazy season.
Any tips you would add?