From the Desk of The Nutty Nutritionist

Managing the Holiday Madness (Part 2)

In Holiday Eating Strategies, Wellness on November 18, 2011 at 12:56 PM

Hopefully you have already read the previous holiday article entitled “Secrets to a Happy and Healthy Holiday”??  If not, read that one first, and then return here for part two…

Previously, I emphasized the value of taking care of your body’s basic need for rest, activity, and nutritious food, in order to establish life balance, remain emotionally centered, and manage your waistline during this hectic time of year.  Even when you are successful taking care of yourself January through October, the holiday season presents a whole plethora of time, stress, and food challenges that increase the likelihood of personal neglect.  Ignoring your own needs is a surefire way to fuel feelings of anxiety, stress, and cravings for sugary and fatty foods, so it is smart to have some realistic time, stress, and food management strategies “at the ready” for when the going get tough.  I will offer some sensible suggestions to you now:

Holiday challenge #1:  “So much to do…so little time!”  Sound familiar?  With a holiday prep “to do” list a mile long, we are more likely to sleep less, take fewer “time outs”, neglect exercise, skip meals or grab fast food on the run.  One way to shorten your entire “to-do list” is to set priorities in regards to what you want to do vs. what you think you have to do.  (notice how I put “you think” in front of “have to do”, as most people impose such things on themselves).  This will really help put the joy back into the holidays and free up time for what really matters to you—like taking care of yourself…ahem!  Do you really need to devote hours of time and energy baking 10 different varieties of Christmas cookies every year?  How about just making a few favorites and then plan a “cookie swap” party with your neighbors instead?  (of course, if baking is a stress-relieving activity that you want to do, then have at it!!! Just make sure you are not the only one eating all those cookies…)  Another example:  do you really enjoy writing and addressing 100 Christmas cards?  If you do find joy in the task, try breaking the job up into smaller chunks (such as 5-10 cards each day over the course of a couple weeks) to make it less overwhelming.  If you despise the tedious task yet feel obligated to send out some cards every year, how about limiting your list to those folks you do not see on a regular basis, such as out-of-towners?  One more:  do you really need to fill every nook and cranny of your home with decorative holiday clutter?  What goes up, must come down.  Ugh.  Something very few people look forward to… The dreaded post-holiday task of putting all the clutter away will be far less ominous if you focus on special, tasteful wintery decor that can stay up through March if you so desire.  It saves set up AND clean up time.  For example, I like to decorate my home with winter-themed pine, cardinals, and snowmen—such items do not need to be put away come January 6th like the Christmas tree and ornaments do.  In fact, I keep them out until the snow melts…makes my holiday cleanup easier and my “snowbabies” collection keeps a smile on my face throughout the doldrums of winter! The idea is to spend time on tasks you truly enjoy doing and limiting everything else.  More joy means a happier holiday mindset and less stress, and the time saved can now be spent nurturing yourself with more sleep, exercise, and preparing healthy meals.

Holiday challenge #2:  Food is everywhere!  High-calorie holiday novelty items like egg nog, pumpkin pie, fruitcake, peppermint bark, and traditional holiday recipes are at home, the office, and social gatherings.  Parties are planned at restaurants where portions are notoriously ginormous.  Friends and neighbors drop off homemade treats to spread holiday cheer.  Most social opportunties at this time of year revolve around abundant food and drink.  Yikes!  Our waistlines don’t stand a chance… or do they?  Hmmm.  I happen to have a few “food management” tricks up my sleeve to help you enjoy the treats without overdoing it:

1.  Eat healthy foods, such as fruit, lean protein, whole grains and yogurt regularly throughout the day to control your appetite.  If you are not overly hungry (i.e. starving!), it is much easier to resist temptation and limit yourself to smaller portions of your favorite treats.  No need to deprive yourself, but you will want to set limits.

2.  Likewise, NEVER go to a restaurant or party on an empty stomach.  You are guaranteed to head straight for the food table the instant you walk in the door, leading to an all-night feeding frenzy.  If you are not overly hungry, you can focus on socializing first and the food can enter slowly as the evening unfolds.  Grab a small handful of nuts, a Greek yogurt, or a piece of fruit and low-fat cheese an hour before the party to keep your appetite in check.

3.  Balance “bad” choices with “good” choices.  I am not one to favor categorizing foods as good or bad, but in this case, it is smart to balance healthy with unhealthy choices.  If you deprive yourself of your favorite treats, you will likely binge on them later.  So, allow yourself some of the goodies but make sure you are also eating healthy, nutritious foods to balance them out.  For example, if you go out for a big late morning brunch, eat a light dinner.  If you have an evening party planned, eat lighter, lower calorie foods throughout the day leading up to the party—don’t skip meals, just go super healthy (fruits and vegetables will fill you up without a load of calories).  If you “pig out” on Thanksgiving Day, fill the rest of the weekend with exercise and healthier foods.  No harm done.

4.  Ignorance is NOT bliss!  Pay attention to calories and portions, even the holiday favorites.  Peruse websites that contain calorie information for traditional holiday and restaurant fare.  A little awareness goes a long way towards helping you make better choices and eat less.  For example, a 1/8th piece of a 9-inch traditional pumpkin pie has 300 calories while the same size slice of pecan pie has 500.  You save 200 calories by choosing pumpkin over pecan.  Knowing this little tidbit can help guide your choices.  Eat the filling and leave the crust?  You save another 100 calories.  Yay!  More room leftover for other stuff. 

5.  Set limits on junk foods by focusing on special, novelty items only.  For example, the cookie tray your neighbor brought over has frosted sugar cookies, Russian tea cakes, peanut butter chocolate kiss cookies, rum balls, and a couple of unknown varieties.  You’ve had the sugar cookies and peanut butter ones many many times.  Rather than sitting down to try each and every one of them at the same time, choose one or two of your absolute favorites OR try the new and interesting ones.  The familiar sugar and peanut butter cookies will be there tomorrow and the next day and the next day.  Save them to enjoy later.  No need to get them all down at once.  Again, don’t be caught starving when this tray enters your home or you are gonna dive right in without a second thought!!!

6.  Hide tempting foods in fridge, freezer, or pantry or, better yet, share them with others.  Rather than eating the entire tray mentioned in #5, how about bringing them to your next social obligation or serving them at your family dinner?  The more hands dipping into the goodies, the less for your own waist, hips, and thighs.  Believe me, this is a very good thing.  You are sharing—which is very much in spirit of the season AND you still get to enjoy some of it, without adding holiday pounds.  You keep your friends more slender this way as well. A win-win, in my opinion 😉

7.  Pack healthy snacks when you will be away from home for an extended period of time.  This will keep your from coming home ravenous to that aforementioned “cookie tray” or stopping for fast food along the way.

8.  Limit calories from alcohol, egg nog, and other sugary beverages.  You are better off using those calories on solid food, as they will keep your hunger at bay for a longer period of time and are far more satisfying.

Holiday challenge #3:  STRESS!  Having too many items on your “to do” list and not taking care of yourself produces feelings of anxiety and stress.  When you are stressed, sugary and fatty foods are all the more tempting.  So, stress management must become a priority this season if you want to stay healthy and happy.  Here are some helpful stress-busting strategies:

1.  Limit your “to do list” to the top 5 priorities of the day.  A list longer than 5 will make you harried and more likely to cut back on sleep, exercise, and time for relaxation.  You can accomplish this by planning ahead—do not leave holiday preparations to the last minute when at all possible.  Break time-consuming tasks into smaller chunks over the course of days.  (Like the card writing example given above.)

2.  Exercise is the perfect stress-busting activity.  If planning exercise into your day is challenging for you, make one of your daily priority tasks an active one, such as an hour or two of shopping, decorating, or cleaning.

3.  Turn social opportunities into physical leisure activities:  meet a friend for a walk rather than lunch; plan the office holiday party at a bowling alley or ice arena instead of a pizza parlor; meet “the girls” at a dance club (after eating a healthy dinner at home) for a bootie-shaking good time!

4.  Take time out to laugh and have fun!  Surely you have heard  the phrase, “laughter is the best medicine”?  Truly it is!  Laughter lowers blood pressure and releases endorphins (feel good hormones) into your bloodstream.  Aaaaah!  Go out to a funny movie with friends (Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas, anyone??) or make a point to hang out with people who crack jokes and make you LOL! (I have the good fortune of being married to a natural comedian…so I am assured healthful laughter on a regular basis!)  If stumbling around on ice skates makes you laugh hysterically at yourself, all the better–you laugh and get exercise at the same time—a super-duper stress-busting activity!!!

5.  If you’re a parent with small children at home, don’t feel guilty about carving out time for yourself.  You will have an easier time caring for everyone else more joyfully if you meet your own needs first.  If you have relatives staying with you, send them out for fun with the kids while you attend an exercise class, get a massage, or simply put your feet up at home for awhile.  Or, take turns with the neighbors watching the kids so you can have some much-needed alone time to spend however you please.  A little creative planning and forethought can go a long way towards meeting your personal needs, regardless of how many children you have!

6.  Eat nutritious foods and drink plenty of water on a regular basis to maintain energy and be more productive.  You will be crossing those 5 priority tasks off your list in no time!  Being even slightly dehydrated will make energy levels plummet.  Keep water with you at all times.

7.  Minimize overwhelming obligations.  As mentioned above, many of the things you say you “have to do” are really self-imposed.  You don’t HAVE to meet with every single friend and family member between now and the New Year.  Extend the holiday cheer into January and February to lighten your social calendar and give you something to look forward to in 2012!  Determine which things on your list are really necessary and which things you can modify to make them less stressful.   If having 50 people over every Christmas Eve ruins the holiday for you, it is time to start a new tradition.  Maybe plan to have the immediate family over on Christmas Eve and extend an invitation for a larger family gathering at a neutral location earlier in the month?  Yes, other pampered family members may balk at this, but they are not the ones being overwhelmed and put-upon–and are not exactly offering to help share the load either, are they?  You need to take care of you and put the joy back in your holidays.  Don’t be afraid to speak up for what you need.  Everyone deserves a happy and healthy holiday—including you.

So, there you have it.  Realistic strategies for managing your time, food, and stress this holiday season.  I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and happy and healthy New Year!  Any questions?  Feel free to ask!

Cheers!

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