Updated: Mar 17
Written by Health writer Gerda Venter & Dr. Daniela Steyn
Healthy habits are relatively easy to establish and adhere to when life is ordinary. However, you suddenly have a hectic social schedule during the holiday season, the kids are home from school, and your healthy habits are the first to go out the door.
The food, fun and family of Thanksgiving are now behind us, but still ahead are the Winter holidays, bringing more meals, parties, and gift-giving festivities. Keeping healthy habits might seem daunting, with many opportunities to indulge in delicious foods and beverages. The good news is that minor changes to your holiday festivities will bring huge rewards once the new year comes around. At our WellnessMD Clinic, we teach our clients to move away from dieting and away from restrictive eating patterns, which often result in overindulgence and emotional guilt after.
Let's avoid "losing weight" or "living a healthier life" to be your New Year's resolution by following these healthy holiday habits.
Healthy Eating Habits
The holiday season is a way to spend some much-needed time away from work with friends and family. It is a time to enjoy delicious home-cooked meals around the table with loved ones. However, these meals are often the opposite of what you would consume normally. If this sounds all too familiar, that's because it happens to us all this time of year. It's not something to get caught up in. In fact, you must find the time to let go this time of year. Finding the balance between letting go and feeling like you completely lost yourself can be challenging. Here are some healthy eating strategies to help you through this festive season.
1. Don't arrive on an empty stomach
Stop the cravings before they start by eating a small, healthy meal before you leave the house. By doing this, you are likely to consume healthier portions due to not sitting down at the table starving. However, you may be tempted to skip a meal so you can splurge on party food, don't! Skipping breakfast or lunch may cause you to overeat and consume more calories than you would if you had eaten something beforehand.
2. Bring a healthy dish to share
Bring a healthy dish with you. Consider getting a vegetable dish or a fruit platter instead of a savory meal or decadent dessert. By doing so, healthier options are available for everyone. Snack on fresh broccoli, cauliflower, carrot and celery sticks with a hummus dip.
3. Throw out the unhealthy leftovers, keep the healthy ones
When you are the host, your fridge might quickly fill with leftovers, and you may feel pressure to consume them before they spoil. However, if you only keep the healthy leftovers, you avoid late-night temptations to consume unhealthy treats.
4. Pack travelling snacks
If your holiday festivities are a considerable distance from home, consider the benefits of packing healthy snacks for the car to curb any cravings before you get to the event. Include filling snacks that are easy for travelling, such as homemade granola, carrot sticks, nuts, or fruit.
5. Choose smaller portions and don't go back for seconds
When baking holiday treats, use mini-muffin tins, make smaller cookies and slice smaller pieces of dessert. Prepare your favorite holiday recipes with fewer calories by replacing higher-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese with lower fat varieties. Substitute sugar with natural sugars, like honey or maple sugar. At parties, don't stand by the food table. Instead, move around and talk to as many people as possible.
6. Eat slowly
Be mindful when you eat. Don't gobble down food while running after your kids. Practice mindfulness and gratitude with everything you consume. Your brain takes about 20 minutes to register when you are full. By savoring each mouthful of food, setting your fork down and taking sips of water throughout a meal, your brain will have more time to recognize you are full before you overeat.
7. Plan before you eat
Examine the food options at a celebration before dishing your food. Developing a plan will enable you to sample foods you enjoy without abandoning the good habits you have formed throughout the year. Focus on mindful eating. Smell, taste and enjoy each bite. Focus on the flavor, warmth, texture. Be present while you eat, don't be distracted by electronics.
8. Make your own healthy treats
Choose healthy recipes with almond flour rather than white flour. Make your treats 'clean' by choosing to bake treats without any sugar, gluten or dairy.
Bring your homemade sugar-free hot chocolate to the skating rink or snow hill! Heat a pot with oat milk on the stove, then slowly add cacao nibs and a few drops of vanilla essence for a delicious healthy hot chocolate everyone will love.
Healthy Drinking Habits
Research has shown that we sometimes misinterpret thirst for hunger. By simply drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning, you can significantly reduce the likelihood of overeating. Inadequate fluid intake can drain your energy. In turn, you will feel the need to eat something sugary for more energy, resulting in bad habits.
Many people drink with the mindset that liquid calories are not significant, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Alcoholic beverages vary in serving sizes based on the alcohol content of the drink and the number of carbohydrates (typically in the form of sugar) it contains.
A serving of alcohol can be 100 to 150 calories, not including sugary or high-caloric ingredients usually added to cocktails or festive drinks. For instance, a cup of eggnog, a candy cane martini or a glass of sangria can include 250 calories or more for just a single serving. Here are some intelligent ways to curb alcohol consumption this festive season:
Drink water between alcoholic drinks. Not only will this help keep you hydrated, but also help slow down your drinking and keep you comfortable in a social setting.
Use low-calorie mixers, such as tonic water or lemon and lime wedges, to help reduce added calories. You can also make healthier ingredient swaps without sacrificing flavor. For instance, use low-fat milk in your eggnog and cut the amount of cream in half — or skip it entirely.
Practice moderation. Enjoy and savor your drinks by sipping slowly. Being mindful can help you reduce your overall calorie intake without feeling restricted.
Keep the focus on family and friends and remember the reason for the gatherings: a time to celebrate with those you love.
Set realistic holiday goals before an event where drinking might occur and keep to them.
The holidays are a tempting time to drink with family and friends and indulge in rich or sugary beverages. These often lack nutritional value and equate to empty or fattening calories. Of course, one or two drinks won't hurt. Adding plenty of water to your diet may be your best defense to combat overindulging. When your body is well hydrated, it can the more efficient in every task it performs, from thinking to burning fat.
Healthy Sleeping Habits
Insufficient sleep is linked to numerous health problems, including weight gain. During the festive season, it is easy to forgo good sleeping habits. Late nights spent with family, friends, or colleagues celebrating inevitably lead to too little sleep and, in turn, no time for your body to heal from the extra stress it is experiencing on all levels.
Sleep also affects your quality of life. If you sleep better, you live better. Sleep heals inflammation in your body. Inflammation is linked to weight gain, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, and premature ageing. People who sleep less than the recommended 7-8 hours a night have higher blood levels of inflammatory proteins than those who get enough sleep. They are also nearly three times more likely to catch a cold than those who slept more than 7 hours.
It is imperative to get adequate amounts of sleep while celebrating the holidays. Restoring your body from all the stress it has experienced during the year should be one of your main holiday goals. More rest should also accompany lousy eating habits as sleep and metabolism are controlled by the same sectors of the brain. When you feel tired, certain hormones go up in your blood, which drives your appetite. Sleep impacts weight directly as you are more likely to turn to sugary, caffeinated drinks to wake up and feel rested.
Sleeping enough is essential to your safety as well. In 2009, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that being tired accounted for the highest number of fatal single-car run-of-the-road accidents. Sleeplessness affects reaction time and decision-making. Insufficient sleep for just one night can be as detrimental to your driving ability as having an alcoholic drink. The cumulative effect of consuming alcohol and not getting enough sleep throughout the holiday season can be fatal.
Healthy Exercise Habits
Exercise is crucial for overall health and a sense of wellbeing. It can be especially important during the holidays as we are often tempted with unhealthy food options, consume too much alcohol and form lousy sleeping habits. Some people also feel depressed during the holidays, and it has been proven that exercise helps fight depression.
During the holiday season, you are probably not going to exercise classes or the gym like you used to. We even limit outdoor walks when it is freezing outdoors. It is no secret that the holiday season is busy, but don't let this deter you from missing your exercise sessions. Plan your workouts into your schedule and treat them like any other appointment or event.
Make sure to prioritize being active this Winter. Try something new. Skiing lessons with the family is a great way to stay active while having fun. Snowshoeing or cross country skiing are great ways to get a full-body workout and eco-therapy outdoors. Take a hike through a forest or play a Wii fit game indoors if the weather outside is miserable.
Overall, between a busy schedule and a change of diet, the holidays can cause stress to your body. However, don't let this stop you from enjoying quality time with friends and family and savoring a good meal.
Make this holiday season your best, healthiest one yet by committing to picking at least one healthy habit to stick to while having a good time. It can be as simple as drinking more water, eating a healthy breakfast every day, making sure you serve veggies with every meal, including breakfast, having a veggie platter next to every plate of cookies, meditating, getting enough sleep, or going for a 30-minute walk.
Make a conscious effort to care for yourself and to nourish your body with foods full of antioxidants and phytonutrients (colorful vegetables). This will set you up for success over the holidays. Be good to your body and yourself. When you set yourself and your family up for success by having an abundance of healthy veggie snacks around the house and planning your Winter break around fun outdoor activities, you will notice how easily everyone starts making unconscious choices promoting their own health and wellbeing.
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