From the Desk of The Nutty Nutritionist

Secrets to a Happy and Healthy Holiday

In Holiday Eating Strategies, Wellness on November 8, 2011 at 10:48 AM

The holiday eating frenzy has begun.  It technically began the moment you brought Halloween candy home to pass out to the neighborhood children, and you may now be grappling with your own childrens’ trick-or-treating bounty or leftovers.  Whatever the case may be, between now and January 1st, less-than-healthy food will be abundant and tempting us at every turn.  And yet, managing our food intake is only one of several healthy living issues, as the hectic holiday season often leaves us short on time and high on stress, making it very difficult to take care of ourselves.  

As you can probably imagine, many people overeat in response to stress, fatigue, and/or because it is within sight.  (I, for one, can be guilty of all three depending on the situation…) These natural tendencies create an “axis of evil” at holiday time when we are overwhelmed by our “to-do” lists, stressed out, over-tired, and have sumptuous and savory food around us morning, noon, and night.  Yikes!   Therefore,  I am here to offer you some common sense strategies for negotiating this holiday madness which will keep you feeling (but not looking) as joyous as St. Nick!  Sound good to you?  Then read on:

Having a healthy and happy holiday season (in which you also successfully manage your weight) is dependent upon  getting enough rest, daily activity, and regular consumption of nutritious food.  If you push off your bedtime in order to “get a few more things done”, you are only setting yourself up for craving sugary and fatty foods tomorrow.  When you do not leave enough time for sleep, rest, and relaxation (typical of the holiday season), your body produces more ghrelin, an appetite stimulating hormone, and less leptin, a hormone that helps you feel full.  Therefore, the less sleep you get, the hungrier you are and the more you need to eat to feel full.  Hmmm… sounds like a recipe for weight gain to me…  And then, to add insult to injury, inadequate rest increases cortisol levels, a hormone that makes you feel anxious and stressed, which increases the likelihood of emotional overeating.  When you are tired and your cortisol, ghrelin, and leptin hormones are all out of whack, sugary and fatty foods will temporarily satisfy your body and mind, only to leave you wanting more and more a short time later.  Cookies and pie will go down the hatch a little too easily under these circumstances, as both contain a hefty dose of sugar and fat.   By making time for sleep, rest, and relaxation, you are at significantly less risk of overeating and subsequent weight gain.  Be kind to yourself: self-nurturing activities that calm you, relax you, or make you laugh, will increase feelings of contentment and joy and keep your waistline intact. 

Exercise is generally one of the first things to be omitted from an over-crowded “to do” list.  Eliminating exercise amidst a busy schedule is very counter-productive if you think of all the ways daily activity can benefit you at this time of year:  moving your body naturally lowers stress by decreasing your body’s cortisol levels and increasing happy endorphins, which leads to feelings of contentment rather than stress.  It is a lot easier to resist tempting foods when your psyche is in a happy place.  Regular activity will also regulate your appetite and help mitigate the detrimental effects of too many indulgences.   If planning for a structured exercise session only stresses you out more, make a point of putting the “active” back into your activities–plan to spend 1-2 hours each day performing a task that gets you moving, such as grocery shopping, a trip to the mall, decorating the house, cleaning, or fulfilling a social obligation at an ice arena rather than a restaurant.   This way, you can feel accomplished AND give your body what it needs at the same time.   You deserve it.

Finally, you are going to have more energy to handle your daily tasks if you supply your body with a consistent dose of nutritious food.  However, when short on time and stressed out, a person is more inclined to skip meals, grab fast foods, and do less home cooking, which is not the way to power your body in its greatest time of need.  Eating healthy foods that supply your body with energizing vitamins and minerals, such as fruit, vegetables, yogurt, nuts & seeds, lean protein and whole grains, every 3-4 hours will regulate appetite, stabilize blood sugar levels, and keep your metabolism humming for weight control.  Skipping meals will only increase your appetite and lead to overeating later.  Eating “junk foods” that give your body nothing but sugar and fat will set your blood sugar on a roller-coaster ride, leading to feelings of sluggishness and fatigue and exacerbating the cravings for sweets and baked goods all the more.  This doesn’t mean you must deprive yourself of holiday treats, however—if you consistently fuel your body with the good stuff, there is certainly room for small amounts of the goodies too 🙂  And it will be a whole lot easier to keep your portions to a minimum if you are treating your body right.

It is my hope that you will make the effort to include a little personal time for yourself each day to rest, be active, and eat well over the next couple of months.  Stay tuned for an additional holiday survival article in which I will outline some realistic food, time, and stress management strategies to help keep you on track.

Happy Holidays!

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  1. You had to spoil the holidays didn’t you? Excellent article. Have a happy and healthy holiday season Linda.

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