4 Holiday Strategies to Keep Your Health, Wallet, and Weight in Check

By Ekaterina Morrissey

It’s that time of the year again, when a season that is supposed to be all about happiness and cheer, becomes the opposite for majority of Americans.  A Consumer Reports survey found that about 90 percent of people in United States are stressed about at least one thing during the holiday season.  But this craze doesn’t start just now.  Our extended holiday season starts at the end of October and lasts until the beginning of January.  At Halloween, children of all ages gather as many candies as they possibly can.   Next, along with the cold weather, comes Thanksgiving, when Americans across the nation spend time together and overeat.  The day after, everyone complains about stuffing themselves and goes shopping.  We enter December with filled calendars for office parties, social events, and family reunions, each of which involves lots of eating and drinking.  The month continues with Christmas and more overeating and drinking, with the final grand party on New Year’s Eve where everyone does more self-stuffing and drinking.

All these crazes are happening during the colder weather, shorter days, and longer nights – the end of the growing season.  Humans are mammals, and mammals switch to a battery saving mode during the winter, also known as a tendency to hibernate.  Almost like a state of meditation, not really sleeping, with the exception of a few.  But strangely, Americans do the opposite.  Instead of slowing down and recharging their batteries for the spring, they burn the candle at both ends.  They enter January and February exhausted and depressed,  with a suppressed immune system, waving a warm welcome to colds and the flu.  The demands of the cold winter is already hard on the immune system, but combined with inappropriate food choices, overeating and over-drinking, is a surefire way to a weight and health disaster.

What can you do to prevent potential weight gain and health problems during the holiday season?

1. Be honest with yourself.

Start by making a good inventory of what you want to get out of the holiday season.  Ask yourself what this time of year means to you and your family.  Do you just want to “get through” the holiday season or do you want to fully enjoy it?  What traditions you really enjoy?  Are there some events that you find annoying and irritating?  Make sure to incorporate the activities and traditions you enjoy and focus on them.  Just because something has “always been done a certain way,” doesn’t mean that you must continue doing it forever even if it causes you discomfort and annoyance.  Avoid comparing your ways of celebrations and traditions to others. This would be a sure way to set yourself up for disappointment.  Finding and adopting a new tradition can be a lot of fun and excitement.  There are so many different ideas to try and create wonderful memories about “that holiday season when you did things differently.”

2. De-stress by doing the following.

Avoid crowded shopping malls, high traffic areas, and over-commercialization from watching too much TV.  Most commercials are advising you that “there is no better time to buy that coffee machine to make a perfect gift to your spouse or whoever,” and they show a video of a steaming cup of coffee that looks so good you could almost smell it.  But do you really need a coffee machine, or is just going to be an ornament in your kitchen, a reminder of a bad emotional decision and make you feel angry every time you look at it?  Have no limits about creativity when it comes to holiday decor and gifts.  You can go for a walk in a nearby park and collect FREE pinecones and branches, paint them in gold, silver, or sparkly red, put in a vase and bowl and make a centerpiece.  I believe the cost of the paint from craft store is under $2.00, and you will get plenty of compliments on the originality of your decor.  Use fresh lemons, limes, and oranges for decor too.  Limit the amount of money spent on gifts by creating a personal/family budget and stick to it.  You can make gifts like chicken liver pate placed in a small glass jar and paired with a bottle of red wine, or simple baskets filled with citrus fruits and decorated with an ornament.  By doing this you will not fit the “cliché” category of people who “spend money they don’t have on things they don’t need.”  You also will not find yourself playing “catch up” in January, when the credit card bills arrive in the mail box.  It’s not about how much you spend or how many gifts you buy, but spending quality time with people you enjoy and value.

Take de-stressing seriously, as the stress-released hormone cortisol is one of the triggers responsible for weight gain.  The correlation between stress and illness is well documented: stress wreaks havoc on the immune system.

3.  Take care of yourself.

It is very easy to disrupt your normal routine during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season by staying up late, overeating and drinking to excess.  Don’t forget to exercise!  Not only will it help you to stay in shape, but it will give a boost to your immune system.  Pamper yourself with a massage, facial, or yoga class.  You don’t have to wait till January to start a new thing.  Practice deep breathing with full exhalation which gets rid of all negative energy in the body.  Stay hydrated and stick to filtered water or warm herbal teas.  Focus on getting enough sleep.  Nothing is worst than sleep deprivation during a potentially stressful period like the holidays.  Eat local seasonal foods, which is comforting and highly beneficial, rather than buying cherries from Chile or blueberries from Guatemala, which are not typical for the season.  If the majority of your food is healthy and homemade, going to an occasional party or indulgence will not affect you.  In addition, you will build a stronger immune system and avoid getting sick in the winter.

4.  Plan everything ahead.

Plan your guest list first.  Set your budget second.  Check if any of your guests have a dietary requirements.  Design the menu according to your budget few weeks ahead of time.  Create a shopping list.  Prepare as many dishes as possible ahead of time and freeze them.  Whatever recipes you pick, read them 3 times and calculate how many times you need to double or triple the ingredients.  It is no fun realizing on Christmas Eve you are missing a vital ingredient.  At least a day before, make a list and schedule of what needs to be made and when.  Make sure to leave at least one hour before the guests arrive for any last minute emergencies and/or to get ready and relax before the people arrive.  Think small when it comes to decor on the table.  Display shorter/smaller arrangements of pinecones, shelled nuts or Poinsettia leaves to save space for food.  Sharpen your knifes well in advance, which will make all the chopping, peeling, and carving much easier.  Clean out the freezer at least a week before Christmas and make space for the pre-made foods to be stored there.  Clean and make space in your refrigerator for all the Christmas dinner leftovers ahead of time.  Place a basket by the door with a sign “Leave technology HERE” and never be annoyed by guests checking their me-phones every 5 minutes or teenagers texting constantly.

Lastly, if something didn’t go as planned, and chances are something will, look at it as funny story to tell and laugh about later.  Don’t forget that the whole point of entertaining is to get together with people you like and enjoy their company, so relax, have fun, and Merry Christmas!

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