Staying Healthy During the Holidays
Despite the challenges, healthy eating and physical activity are possible during holidays and other social events. The key is to plan ahead.
Many people find it hard to eat less and stay active during holidays, vacations, and special events. That's usually because:
1) Holidays, vacations, and special events are often social events. Social events often include lots of eating! Good food and good times just naturally seem to go together. And/or
2) We don't feel we have time. Or rather, there's too much to do in too little time. Yet by planning ahead, you can anticipate issues and avoid or reduce their hold on you.
Mind Over Matter
First, pretend it is 1, 5 or 10 years from now. You are thinking about how you spent holidays, vacations, or special events during this time. What would your most cherished memories be? What about the most meaningful and enjoyable? (There are no right answers. What means the most to you may be different for someone else.)
List activities and traditions that are not so meaningful or enjoyable to you. (For example, you may send holiday cards every year but not find much meaning or enjoyment in doing so.) These activities could be reduced or eliminated altogether.
Lastly, how important is staying healthy in terms of being able to enjoy your future holidays, vacations, and special events?
With these answers in mind, you can build health into your holidays in several ways.
Make Healthy Food Choices
Social eating can be a special challenge for all of us. We all have favorite, one-time-a-year foods. Some food traditions are difficult to change. Low-fat food options can be limited, making it hard to choose foods that fit within your goals. We also don't want to offend family and friends by not eating certain foods.
Cook a healthy holiday menu and fill your plate with healthy foods. Choose green beans instead of green bean casserole, and corn instead of candy corn. If you know that healthy dishes will be scarce at your family meal, bring a salad or a vegetable tray. Have pumpkin pie instead of pecan pie: even with a dollop of whipped cream, you'll cut calories and sugar by at least a third.
If you're concerned you may overeat around the holidays, think about how much food you're going to eat before you start eating, and then stop eating.
It's easy to neglect physical activity during the holiday season. Yet being active is your secret holiday weapon; it can help make up for eating more than usual. Exercise also reduces levels of the body's stress hormones, and stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body's natural painkillers and mood elevators. Some ideas to prioritize physical activity and fit it into your schedule:
- Put it in your calendar.
- Start your day with a walk or other physical activity of choice.
- Break physical activity up into smaller chunks, like walking 10 minutes several times a day.
You'll feel good the whole day, thanks to those endorphins.
Schedule "Me" Time Everyday
Speaking of scheduling, be sure to take time for yourself. Schedule some "me" time every day. Take a nap, go for a walk, or take a hot bath to get your energy back for the next celebration.
Start New Healthy Holiday Traditions
Why not start some new healthy holiday traditions of your own? Invite family and friends to join you. Go for a walk after the holiday dinner. Plan an annual Black Friday hike. Throw a football in the back yard. Go for a group bike ride, or walk around the neighborhood and sing carols.
Most of all, remember what the season is about—celebrating and connecting with the people you care about. When you focus more on the fun, it's easier to focus less on the food.
Eating well and staying active – not just during the holidays but throughout the year – will reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some kinds of cancer.
The YMCA's Diabetes Prevention Program can help you develop lifelong healthy habits. Eight YMCA locations in the state of New Hampshire – and 200 other Ys around the country – help thousands of people reduce their risk for developing type 2 diabetes. This small-group program helps people with prediabetes to eat healthier, increase their physical activity, and lose weight, which can delay or even prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes. Call 603.232.8668 or visit our website for more info and to sign up for a program where you live.