Stay Healthy for the Holidays
Many people go into the holidays with the best of intentions to stay healthy—or at least be reasonable. Unfortunately, desserts and fatty, processed foods interfere with plans to eat healthy during the holidays.
When you combine what has become the traditional holiday junk food menu with freezing temperatures, the focus on fitness flounders as well. Because of these circumstances, hundreds of blogs, magazines and wellness organizations offer suggestions to help people stay healthy for the holidays.
Too often, these quick, easy health tips actually prevent people from maintaining a healthy weight and can lower immune system function. Some may even cause weight gain. Understanding how the body reacts to common foods is essential to extending a healthy lifestyle through the holiday season.
Below is an evaluation of the Cleveland Clinic's "8 Steps to Surviving Holiday Weight Gain." Each step is graded as 'Helpful,' 'Harmful,' or 'Lacking.'
- Get moving.
What it means: This obvious tip is supported by suggested ways to increase time spent walking on a treadmill or to "fire up some music and dance while you clean."
Evaluation: Though fundamentally sound, this tip misses its chance to explain the basics of high-intensity, short-duration surge training. People's schedules fill up fast during the holidays. Asking them to extend the length of their morning workout is counterintuitive. With surge training, people of all ages and athletic abilities can work at their own pace to experience the afterburn effect of interval training. Most importantly, they're also able to save time.
- Aim for seven-a-day.
What it means: Avoid chips, cookies and crackers by consuming at least seven servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
Evaluation: Fresh produce provides the body with much needed nutrients and filling fiber, which helps fend off the urge to graze on nearby junk foods. It also suggests stocking the refrigerator with baggies of sliced fruits and vegetables, so healthful snacks are always prepared. Veggie-filled breakfasts offer a good start to your day.
- Control the risk for temptation.
What it means: Control the foor situations you can control. Consciously place junk food items in an inconvenient location to prevent the urge to snack needlessly.
Evaluation: Hiding snacks seems a bit excessive, but if it prevents consumption of sugary foods that lower immune function, then it is helpful. This tip provides suggestions to reduce temptation, but fails to offer a method to improve self-control. For instance, always eat at a designated area. Pick one spot at home or at work and eat every meal there. This spot should be free of distractions like televisions and computers. It's too easy to overeat when the brain is distracted from the task of eating. Use this suggestion to prevent snacking and excess messes.
- Limit to one-a-day.
What it means: "Allow yourself one small serving of a cookie or piece of candy each day during the holiday season. Remember that you may have to compensate for it later in the day by reducing your total caloric intake or by burning a few extra calories while exercising."
Evaluation: This tip inevitably leads to failure because it promotes the rationalization of having an unhealthy snack. There are too many sugar-free (yet still sweet) recipes available to give in to an aching sweet tooth. Prepare stevia-sweetened versions of traditional holiday treats to satisfy cravings and to avoid the ill effects of sugar.
- Always plan ahead—never go to a party hungry.
What it means: Avoid cravings by filling up on healthy snacks before leaving the house. If going to a potluck, bring a healthy dish.
Evaluation: This tip is guided by practicality, but relies on outdated logic in its recommendations. In the potluck section, it suggests bringing "a healthy dish to share such as a salad, veggie or fruit tray, or a low-fat pudding, Jell-O or fruit dessert." Salads and fruit and vegetable trays are quality suggestoins if the accompanying sauce or dressing isn't loaded with processed ingredients. Low-fat pudding, Jell-O and fruit desserts are almost always loaded with sugar or harmful artificial sweeteners. They may be low in calories, but those calories are void of nutrients.
- Be in charge of your party choices.
What it means: This piece of advice is similar to the previous tip, but offers more specificity. Use a small plate, don't go back for seconds, avoid sauces and dressings, choose dessert carefully, and limit calorie-filled beverages.
Evaluation: These suggestions again relied on the flawed logic of the low-fat, low-calorie products. Fat-free products replace natural, wholesome ingredients with synthetic ingredients that offer empty calories.
- Say no politely.
What it means: Don't feel forced to eat simply because others are offering.
Evaluation: Learn your limits and respect them. Saying no does not have to be difficult. Once full, politely decline food if you don't want it. A simple tip that is easily forgotten.
- Focus on socializing.
What it means: Holidays are about the people—not the food. Instead of hovering around snacks, make conversation.
Evaluation: Food is not the life of the party. Friends and family make the occasion. Avoid lingering around the buffet of junk foods to decrease the urge to compulsively eat. Instead, engage in conversation, which can benefit mental and emotional health.
The fact is you can really enjoy the holidays—even have several good party meals—and still stay on track with your plan to be healthy and fit. You just need the right help.
What You Can Do
Avoid poor health advice this holiday season. Contact Dr. Nick Barnes at www.212DegreesOfWellness.com for more information on improving whole-body health during the holidays.