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How to Stay Healthy During the Holidays

Stay Healthy During the Holidays

For many people, that festive season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day represents fun, family, friends, and gifts. The holidays also revolve around food and sometimes trigger stress, both of which can create weight gain.

 

Research shows that the average person gains a little over a pound or more between mid-November and mid-January. The actual numbers vary. One study among 26 healthy adults showed an average weight increase of nearly two pounds over a 15-day holiday period. Another study indicated that 38 participants gained 500 percent more weight per week during holiday compared with nonholiday weeks.

 

Regardless of actual statistics, researchers conclude that holiday weight becomes a major contributor to annual weight gain. One study among 195 adults found the weight gain they experienced over the six-week holiday period represented about half of their overall yearly weight gain. Equally bad, these participants did not lose that holiday weight gain.

We gain weight around this time because many holiday events involve food, and not foods like kale salad or wild-caught fish. More often, it is food like desserts, candies, heavy entrees, sugary drinks like eggnog, and alcohol. As you frantically run around shopping, socializing, and managing other holiday demands, you’re also less likely to exercise. Even for very motivated people, such as those who hit the gym frequently and monitor their food intake and those who are intent on losing weight, the holidays can spell bad news for your waistline.

Holiday Stress and Your Health

When you hear the phrase holiday health, you might think to make better food choices at parties or skipping that second piece of pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving dinner. Those choices matter, but so does managing stress. Picky in-laws, difficult family members, trying to find the perfect gift, end-of-year work deadlines, and worrying about post-holiday credit card bills are just some of the holiday stressors that can make what should be a joyful, celebratory season far less pleasant.

 

People handle stress differently. While research connects stress as a risk factor for high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, its association with weight gain is less clear. Studies show that under stress, some people gain weight and others lose weight. Overall, though, research shows that stress — both real and perceived stress, like worrying about whether your Thanksgiving dinner will turn out “just perfect” — will more likely make you gain, but not lose weight.

 

Holiday stress can also impact your immune system. One meta-analysis of over 300 studies spanning 30 years found what most of us know: chronic, nagging stress can make us sick. Nobody wants to be ill, but during holiday festivities and demands, being stuck in bed with a fever can seriously hinder your plans (and your joy).

10 Ways to Stay Healthy this Holiday Season

The good news is that eating nutrient-dense foods, fitting in time for exercising, and getting quality sleep — habits you should cultivate year-round — can help you maintain a healthy weight, manage stress levels, and keep your immune system operating well. With these 10 strategies, stress and weight gain don’t have to sabotage your health this holiday season.

1. Limit indulging to special days.

Nobody gains weight eating a substantial Thanksgiving dinner or indulging on New Year’s Eve. What used to be special occasions have now become everyday holiday festivities, with a variety of food and drinks to celebrate. Just because your coworker brought in homemade gingerbread cookies doesn’t mean you need to eat them. Keep the splurge events to specific times (such as Christmas Day or the first night of Hannukah), and stick with our Core or Advanced Nutrition Plans otherwise. You’ll do damage control with your waistline and those events will feel even more special.

2. Make immune health a priority.

With the increased holiday stress, sugary foods, being around sick co-workers and family members, and fluctuating weather patterns, the holidays are practically an invitation for colds and the flu. Nobody wants to be sick and that goes doubly so during the holidays. Some strategies to strengthen your immune system include:

3. Watch the alcohol.

Drinking too much makes you more prone to make bad eating decisions, but research also shows over-consuming alcohol can adversely impact your immune system. So can too much sugar, which makes those sweet cocktails a double whammy for getting sick. Instead of alcohol, consider sipping on a mineral water or club soda with lime. It’s a refreshing alternative that will also keep you well hydrated.

4. Delegate responsibilities.

Juggling work, gift buying, cooking, and all the many tasks holidays demand sometimes mean you take on more than you can handle. Ask for help. This might involve requesting your children to help set the Thanksgiving table or prepare specific foods; hiring an assistant for the holidays; getting your significant other involved in gift wrapping; or creating a potluck dinner that asks everyone to bring their favorite healthy Christmas recipes.

5. Prioritize exercise.

That feeling after a good workout actually is in your head. Exercise can boost endorphins as well as feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin, making it the perfect holiday stress buster. Conversely, research shows that stress impairs physical activity. Getting sidetracked and blowing off your workout can seem easy during the holidays. Knock it out early in the day whenever possible before obligations sidetrack you. Time isn’t an excuse with our high-intensity workouts. Try creating a simple, powerful workout plan that’s just 12 minutes a day.  

6. Improve your sleep.

Stress and sleep feed off each other. Too little sleep can leave you stressed out over things that wouldn’t normally bother you, and stressing out before bed can impede quality sleep. Create a sleep ritual where you shut off electronics an hour or two before bed, take a hot bath, and create ways to unwind. Consider a supplement to help you safely fall and stay asleep. If you find stress keeps you awake, keep a journal by your bed and write down your worries. They’ll still be there when you get up, but you’ll be better equipped to handle them with a good night’s sleep.

7. Create moments for mindfulness.

Find a few moments every day for gratitude: for your family, friends, job, your health, and any other blessing you feel. Research shows expressing gratitude can even improve mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety, and pausing to reflect on the good in your life can set a positive tone for your day. Find your own way to stop, reflect, and be mindful of what you’re grateful for. That might mean writing a letter to someone special, delivering flowers to a friend, or taking food to someone you feel needs a little extra attention during the holidays.

8. Step up the self-TLC.

Holiday stress management is necessary to cope with end-of-year work deadlines, store crowds, and difficult family members. While an hour massage or visiting a day spa regularly can become expensive, you can create small but, meaningful bliss points throughout your day. Having afternoon tea with your bestie, closing your eyes and breathing deeply, taking a hot bath before bed, or doing five minutes of stretching or yoga poses can dial down stress and leave you feeling more rejuvenated.

9. Center the holidays on family and fun, not food.

You don’t have to over-indulge on the big day and subsequently sit around watching TV or dozing all afternoon. Make the holidays active or interactive. Healthy Thanksgiving or Christmas tips go beyond what you eat. Center the day on fun festivities that don’t involve food, such as touch football, playing board games, or a family outing to see the holiday lights.

10. Take your supplements.

Taking an all-or-nothing approach becomes easy as you encounter endless culinary temptations during the holidays. Even if you’re not making optimal food choices, taking a quality multivitamin (for men, women, and children) and fish oil can provide some nutrient protection against that dietary damage. Just remember that supplements are intended to do just that — supplement a healthy diet. In other words, it does not give you permission to indulge in that second piece of pumpkin pie!

 

Balance becomes the key to staying healthy during the holidays. You can enjoy festive foods while still being mindful about your health when you engage and indulge mindfully and moderately.

Most importantly, remember to have fun. Life happens quickly, and before you know it mid-November will become New Year’s Day. Don’t let those moments of magic and joy during the holidays slip by!