Staying Healthy and Sane this Holiday Season

Written by Lindsey Arevalos, MHA, MS on in Health & Wellness

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! I truly love the Christmas season: the cold temperatures, the lights, the activities, time with family, the feeling that comes over you when you think of and give to others.

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! I truly love the Christmas season: the cold temperatures, the lights, the activities, time with family, the feeling that comes over you when you think of and give to others.

Yes, the holiday season is also about the food eaten while having a merry ole time with friends and family. Temptations to overindulge are everywhere. I hope one of these tips will help you through the holidays while staying healthy and sane.

1. EAT TO NOURISH.

With balance and moderation, you can absolutely enjoy the holidays in a healthy way. I strongly recommend you NOT skip meals in order to ‘save’ calories and indulge later in the day. This strategy never ends well. Instead, start your morning with a nutritious, protein-powered, fiber-packed breakfast such as eggs and oatmeal, Greek yogurt with fresh fruit and chia seeds or eggs with sliced tomatoes and 100 percent whole grain toast. Be mindful of your choices.

Also, be aware of how the food you choose makes you feel and perform during the day. For example, are you bloated? Are you tired and/or do you have a headache? Or do you have more energy, less fluid retention and better concentration/mental clarity throughout the day? Your food choices can make a major difference in the outcome of your day.

2. WANDER IN NATURE.

Spending time outdoors lifts mood and boosts creativity. Fresh air and sunlight are essential in helping fight winter depression, also known as a seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D.) as well as improving your mood and self-esteem. Reconnect with your family and friends by taking a hike; going for a bike ride; kayaking or even gardening. If you’re away for the holidays and near snow, try ice skating, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. In any type of weather, consider getting caught up in a walk instead of over lunch. Get caught up on good times while giving your heart a healthy work-out.

The key is to set the intention to make physical activity happen on a regular basis, even when life gets busy --because conscious commitments change habits! It’s the small, simple steps practiced repeatedly that result in sustainable success. Activity doesn’t necessarily have to be hard or involve a gym – it just needs to be consistent.

3. REST AND REJUVENATE.

Don’t let the excitement of the holidays overwhelm and exhaust you. Find a way to make rest a priority. Did you realize a lack of sleep may be associated with your sugar cravings? Recent studies have found that lack of sleep may lead to an increased appetite and a hankering for unhealthy foods.

If the holidays cause you to stay up later than usual, make time for a 20-minute nap. Naps are not a replacement for a good night’s sleep, but they are effective in helping you feel rejuvenated as you prepare for the next task before you. Some handy advice: limit your naps to only 20-30 minutes. If you sleep any longer than that, it may interfere with your night’s sleep. A good night’s sleep (7-8 hours) is also key in keeping your immune system and you healthy during this time of year, when many people have run themselves down and are now sick and laid up.

4. DRINK RESPONSIBLY.

If you choose to drink during this holiday, please do so responsibly and in moderation. Not only do you not want to risk hurting someone while driving under the influence, you want to avoid “holiday heart syndrome,” which is a heartbeat that’s usually chaotic, irregular and faster than your normal heartbeat. It’s more common among people who usually aren’t heavy drinkers but overindulge in alcohol during the holidays. “Excess alcohol in susceptible people can trigger abnormal heart rhythms any time of the year, but we just see it more around the holidays because people are drinking more,” says Dr. Marc Gillinov, a heart surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic.

Men should limit alcohol intake to two drinks per day, and women should drink no more than one drink per day. Let me say it again: moderation – whether it’s food or alcohol – is key. If you plan to have more than the suggested drink amounts, try staggering drinks throughout the night and alternating alcohol with water throughout the evening.

5. BE MINDFUL WHEN EATING.

Mindfulness refers to the practice of being aware and in the moment instead of being preoccupied with what happened an hour ago or worried about what might happen tomorrow. Mindfulness can help you fully enjoy a meal and the experience of eating. When eating, put down your fork and don’t pick it back up until you have chewed, savored and swallowed what you already have in your mouth. Also, resign your membership in the Clean Plate Club. Instead, pack up what remains after you are full, and use as leftovers if you don’t want to waste food.

As Wynne Armand, M.D. says: “Mindfulness offers many benefits throughout the year, but can be especially helpful during the holidays, even beyond healthy eating. Purposefully focusing your attention on the present can help you embrace companionship, connection with family and friends and help make the season more meaningful for you.”

Being mindful helps you to focus on the now and all the blessings you have been bestowed.

6. TREAT YOURSELF.

This season I encourage you to find non-food alternatives to reward yourself for the long hours you put in at home and work. A few of my favorite non-food reward recommendations: a massage; a pedicure; reading fiction or an inspirational book even if it is just for 10 minutes; buying a new outfit; calling an old friend to catch up; doing something crafty or even rewarding myself with time to just rest and do nothing except maybe watch a favorite holiday movie or Christmas special.

The key is not to use food as a reward for hard work or emotional escape.

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Author: Lindsey Arevalos, MHA, MS, PRIME Project Coordinator

Lindsey Arevalos is Lompoc Valley Medical Center’s Director of Food and Nutrition Services and PRIME Project Coordinator, managing federal funding opportunities and coordinating multiple projects to improve the health care delivery system under the Affordable Care Act. She earned a bachelor of science degree in nutrition, with a minor in psychology, from California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo. She also holds a Master’s of Science in Agriculture with a specialization in food science and nutrition and a Master’s of Health Administration in Operations from Cal Poly.

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