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Healthful Strategies for Surviving the Holidays

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  • Holidays can be joyous but also very stressful.
  • Eating habits often change drastically during the holidays.
  • Watch out for hidden calories in beverages and casseroles.
  • Tips for keeping you on track.

Holiday dinner table laden with foodWe’re half way through the holiday season which can be a trying time on one’s health especially if you’re trying to watch calories. I know one person who vehemently detests the weeks between Halloween and New Year’s and calls it the most threatening time of year, which is kind of sad on many levels. But, for many, the choice between maintaining normal caloric intake and giving into indulgences is quite a formidable task. Hopefully the following strategies can help guide you through this holiday homestretch.


  • Use funny quotes to defend against well-meaning enablers. The phrase “I’m trying to watch my girlish figure” works especially well for men. For ladies, “I just bought these pants/this dress. I can’t eat my way out of them yet,” seems to resonate. Also, the more generic, “It’s all delicious. I’m just trying to pace myself,” can be effective, too.
  • Steer the topic of conversation away from food: “Tell me about your family”; “Did you do all the decorations yourself?”; “Your home is beautiful. How long have you lived here?” For many, food is a way to connect with others, but it doesn’t have to be the only way. This line of questioning can help us connect without consuming a bunch of calories.   
  • When trying to resist the home-baked treats at the office, do something else before caving in: start a conversation with a colleague (but don’t talk about the goodies so-and-so brought in! The goal here is to try and distract your mind), walk around the office, climb a few flights of stairs, drink a glass of water instead.
  • At parties, watch the drinking, especially if driving! Alcohol is worse than soda in terms of non-nutritive empty calories. If going to a party with a group, take turns being the designated driver. You might not just save calories, you could end up saving a life.
  • Avoid or limit mixed food items. This includes most casseroles, pasta salads, dips and jello concoctions, especially if the “glue” holding the mixture together is white as this could represent high-calorie mayonnaise or cream cheese. Don’t eat it at all if you can’t tell what’s in it. If you can’t identify the ingredients then it’s hard to assume calorie configurations.
  • At potlucks, let food safety be your guide. Anything that’s been made in one kitchen then transported to another, off-site serving location and is then set out on a table for hours is, to put it bluntly, risky eating. For your intestine’s sake, don’t eat too much.  
  • Don’t wait for spring to clean. House work is a great indoor activity that’s physical and productive.  
  • Don’t be afraid to snow shovel. Listening to music or an audiobook can make this mundane task a little more enjoyable. But first be sure you are heart healthy! According to the American Heart Association, you should "Consult a doctor ahead of time. Before you start shoveling, talk with your doctor if you have a medical condition, do not exercise on a regular basis or are middle-aged or older." More tips on shoveling snow.
  • Enjoy the wintry outdoors! If dressed warmly, winter can indeed turn our backyards into a wonderland worthy of exploring and enjoying. Notice the graceful branches of the leafless trees, the animal tracks in the snow, and how bright and clean everything feels on a wintry day. Walking in snow is great exercise; just watch out for icy patches!
  • Sometimes holidays can be very stressful as tense relationships are brought to the surface at forced family gatherings. If there’s stress, find a way to reward yourself for surviving a tense gathering — and then focus on the reward rather than the obligatory event. Also, question why you’re putting yourself through stress? Is it necessary? What would happen if you didn’t participate? Does it really matter? It can be liberating and empowering to let go of stressful relationships if they’re not fulfilling or productive.  
  • What do you want to get out of the holidays? For years, my least favorite holiday has been Thanksgiving, which didn’t make sense to me because I love to cook and eat. But then I realized that for every Thanksgiving, I was always eating other people’s food and not my own. I felt I was missing out on baking the turkey and trying all the fancy side dishes I’d see in the special Thanksgiving culinary magazine issues. So, I decided to take Thanksgiving back and have my very own meal, usually the weekend before so we can still participate in the traditional family gatherings on the actual holiday. But now, I love Thanksgiving and look forward to my version of the meal every year.
  • For some, holidays can be a very lonely time of year. If this is the case, try to find an outlet to be around others. Volunteer at church, a soup kitchen, a homeless shelter. Giving your time to serve others is a great remedy for loneliness. And it’s also a perfect, and healthy, calorie-free way to celebrate the holiday season.

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