Healthful hints: how to enjoy a truly happy holiday season

Healthful hints: how to enjoy a truly happy holiday season

Christmastime is almost here–the most wonderful time of the year! It’s the most emotionally charged holiday that can bring lots of joy, but it also has the most potential for leaving us feeling depressed, especially if we bail on our healthy good intentions. Reminders of the holiday are everywhere throughout December, and you can’t avoid it even if you don’t celebrate it. It brings out our inner child more than any other holiday, and with it our inner BRAT! You know who I’m talking about. That little demon living inside of us, screaming, “I WANT WHAT I WANT WHEN I WANT IT!!”

Last month, we talked about the temptations and risks of overindulging during Thanksgiving weekend. Well, Christmas is a whole different story. Christmas is not just a weekend; it’s a season. It’s a 6-week onslaught of hedonistic holiday saboteurs determined to derail your greatest efforts to stay healthy happy and looking your best. You have to navigate through minefields of homemade fudge, baked hams, office peanut brittle, holiday eggnog, hot toddies, smoked cheese logs and platoons of armed and dangerous gingerbread men. Not to mention all the other stresses that come with the season: no time, lack of sleep, crowds, shopping, traffic jams, cold weather, flu season, no place (or time) to exercise and–last ball not least–Aunt Lily!

Well, never fear! Here’s my take on these holiday health saboteurs and what we can do about them.

Avoid the Bad Stuff

If you’ve been eating healthier and your palate has adjusted to fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, then holiday junk/pleasure foods can be an assault on your taste buds. It’s similar to an alcoholic having a drink after months of abstinence. You can easily slip back into craving the bad stuff. You’ll also be tasting flavors you grew up with and risk triggering nostalgic childhood comfort zones. One bite and you could find yourself watching Miracle on 34th Street, cuddling with Mom and your old Frosty, the Snowman blankie. Mom might love it, but Frosty, will be embarrassed.

The trick is, don’t have the really bad stuff in the first place. You don’t need it. That might be hard to believe until you’ve actually experienced a junk-free December and discover yourself bursting with energy and an abundance of euphoria that lasts into January. Not to mention better skin and a healthier body!

Learn to enjoy new pleasure foods, which are actually old pleasure foods, such as baked yams with a touch of real maple syrup; pumpkin pie made with, believe it or not, pumpkins; and chestnuts roasting on an open fire. There are plenty of choices that nature provides for us. Sometimes, we forget that nature is where real food comes from.

Plan Ahead

Lack of time is a real health killer. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, your whole world is hinted upside down. Nothing is simple. Your schedule isn’t your own. Things are constantly thrown at you, and you’re often forced into plan B. If you’re not oar top of the holiday season, it’s on top of you before you know it–and everything gets done in a panic.

December is all about preparation. I can’t emphasize this enough. Make lists for gifts, cards, cooking, chores, cleaning, clothing, travel plans, guests, dinner reservations and anything else you’re responsible for. Carry those lists with you, and chip away at them throughout each day. Stay on your game so you won’t get overwhelmed at the last minute.

Stress can also cause you to gain Weight. If you’re under continuous stress, the hormone cortisol will be mobilized to supply your body with energy by breaking down muscle and bone tissue. This raises your appetite, and the cells that are receptive to cortisol will store fat.

Because fat requires less energy to maintain than muscle, this decreases your metabolism. And you’re most likely to gain fat cells around your waistline because those cells are the most sensitive to cortisol. This cortisol-induced weight gain is just one of the problems caused by stress. Lack of time can also lead to sleep deprivation causing more stress and afternoon lethargy, which forces you to pump up with sweets or caffeine.

Don’t Overdo It

I don’t encourage alcohol consumption, but let’s be realistic. Some people can’t imagine a Christmas party or holiday dinner without a toast or two. So, if the party’s at your place and you include alcohol, serve it in the most responsible way possible.

Alcoholic beverages contain toxins, or congeners, that contribute to hangovers, but you can significantly reduce the risk of a hangover by lowering the amount you drink and choosing drinks that have the fewest congeners. Highest in congeners are drink spirits such as whiskey, scotch, bourbon, port and brandy. Cheap spirits, wines and champagnes are also high, along with mixed drinks with a high sugar content–Triple Sec, Cointreau, Rose’s lime and so on. Don’t drink anything that’s sloe, comfortable, slippery, or screaming Lowest in congeners are premium vodkas, gins, sakes (Japanese rice wines) and beer. And, most importantly, never have more than two drinks per day, and drink two glasses of water for every alcoholic beverage you consume.
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Keep Up Your Exercise

We talked about exercise last month. But it’s so important I need to mention it again. Exercise can make or break your holiday. It controls your weight by burning fat. It keeps you sane by reducing your stress and improving your mood. It even reduces pain by raising your endorphin levels. It is truly the world’s greatest psychoactive drag.

Try to exercise daily, finding pockets of time throughout your day. This can be challenging, but certainly not impossible. And besides, if you can’t make time for exercise, you may be forced to make time for stress and sickness. Dress for the mall as you would dress for the gym, and do frequent power walks.

Take Time for Yourself

And finally, the one holiday Factor that can unravel anyone’s best-laid health plans–family! Your family is more demanding of your time than ever this month, whether it’s your kids at a school function, your husband for an office party or your mother counting on your help. Don’t let them take control! Make sure you make time for yourself.

And then there’s a different kind of family pressure–seeing those relatives you don’t see the rest of the year. You know, the ones that trigger old family relationship patterns. Some relatives can push emotional buttons that reduce you right back to the insecure kid you were in junior high, perhaps when your bad eating habits stinted in the first place. Maybe you’ve always been someone who conquered your feelings with food. Maybe you were the one who never exercised, but now you do. Are you going to slip back and be the sedentary person everyone expects, or are you going to stick up for yourself? Are you going to eat an unhealthful dish just to make Mom or Grandma happy? Are you going to be so empathetic that you absorb everyone else’s problems? Are you the type that becomes the confidante for someone else’s bad time?

It’s possible to make strides in your health all year long, and then go home for the holidays and blow it. If you find yourself being the little kid who doesn’t want to make waves, learn how to protect yourself. Don’t go down the sinkhole with anyone. If you’re once again the human doormat, learn to say NO. And most of all, if your inner brat tries to take over your plans for a healthful holiday, give that brat a time-out!

Try to break your pattern of self-sacrifice and self-sabotage, and stay on the road to good health. Make that your gift to yourself this year!
SOURCE:-Better Nutrition, Dec, 2004 by Marilu Henner
Marilu Henner is a well-known actress, lecturer and NY Times best-selling author of Marilu Henner’s Total Health Makeover, The 30-Day Total Health Makeover, I Refuse to Raise a Brat, Healthy Life Kitchen, Healthy Kids, Healthy Holidays, and Party Hearty. To find out more about her program, check out her Web site at

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