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  • Writer's pictureJackie

Already Worried About Holiday Health Havoc?

Turn Concern into Sensible Action Now

If we know anything about maintaining health, then we know it’s dang difficult— and notoriously so during holidays of all sorts!

Trying to stay healthy is largely a preventative and preemptive process. Put simply, we invest in the future every time we work out & eat well. If you’re doing these things, you’re probably looking at some bigger picture of life: Who do you want to be? How do you want to feel? What would we like to be able to do? And you try to tailor habits to steer yourself toward that vision.

During certain times of the year, though, it becomes MORE dang difficult to maintain healthy habits. Already thinking about the series of holidays ahead? They can start as soon as September, depending on religion and traditions. Typically, as autumn deepens, we lean more & more toward the fun and indulgences of the moment. Of course, holidays, birthdays, and vacations all call for celebration—and appropriately so. Who wants to be the party martyr, refusing anything but the crudités? Communal celebration represents a healthy part of life. (Just look at the serious mental health impact the current pandemic is wreaking on society as we forego getting together with each other in the same ways we used to.) But when are we crossing a line between healthy fun and not-so-healthy habits?

We all know when we’re over doing it. When we’re eating Halloween candy alone a week after the 31st or when the 10th gingerbread man loses his sweet appeal, when we ache all over from staying up late and skipping too many walks, basically when we’ve stopped celebrating and have slipped into habits that just don’t pay off, we should reassess. Hmmm, but what if we didn’t have to reassess TOO much because we’ve already planned for the coming time of year? What if we consciously established balance NOW, rather than attempting to turn the ship around mid-bacchanal?

Why plan now for a string of holidays ahead?

You may think I’m about to quote the common belief that people gain 5 pounds over the holidays, so we’d better start slashing pounds now in case we accrue them later. But guess what—It’s apparently not true! A 2016 New England Journal of Medicine study revealed a holiday weight gain of .5% of participants’ bodyweight, so, roughly only a pound or two. HOWEVER, here’s the real catch: Typically, people gain weight gradually over the years, perhaps only a pound or two annually, until they “suddenly” find themselves tipping the scale at a weight they never thought they’d see (a widely accepted tendency the study also mentions). And also, it’s important to note that, although I’m pointing to weight gain as the most common woe people mention, dropping healthy habits impacts all kinds of things from disease risk to mood to sleep patterns.

The real reason to plan now for a holiday season, whichever you celebrate, takes a long view. I’m not at all suggesting dieting now so you can break even come New Year’s Day. Not really a sustainable lifestyle strategy—Such an approach will only set you up for a sense of deprivation and, you guessed it, overeating. Dieters also tend to gain back their lost weight and often then some. Instead, look at your holiday strategies as LIFESTYLE strategies that you plan to keep intact as much as possible, holiday barrage or not. Start planning NOW to hold your course when holiday “disruptions” do arise. Settle on specific strategies and tweak shaky habits now before festivities kick in (which arguably start with Halloween in our mainstream culture). In theory, you’ll minimize weight gain ALL year long because, when you decide it’s warranted, you can employ “holiday tactics” at ANY special time.

Sounds easier said than done. What can we REALLY do?

Who on earth knows what holidays will look like during a season of COVID. We may not party large quite as much. But we COULD easily eat as much as we join smaller groups of pals around fire pits, as we conduct the annual cookie bake-a-thon via FaceTime, as we snack away movie nights, and as we concoct big feasts for our little families. I’m personally anticipating some Christmas comfort eating of my own!

Luckily, there are some simple things we can consider as we make a plan for mid-October, November & December. If you put them in your head or practice some now, chances are you’ll actually employ them later. What if you...

Modify if needed but do not skip exercise.

Does anyone remember how much momentum it took to get the exercise habit rolling? Does anyone really want to jeopardize that and slide back to "start?" Also, how good do YOU feel after a workout? I know my family likes me best right afterward! Know that “sludgy” feeling we can fall into during holiday seasons? Exercise hauls you right out of it.

Become a picky eater.

I don’t really like gingerbread cookies, but if they’re the last ones in the barrel, I might just fish ’em out. Getting really particular about holiday food seems to make the treats we love the most taste amazing. In a sea of sugar, they pop. Find that fine line between the so-so stuff and the foods you truly cherish and stay on the latter side. Anyone begin baking in November? Maybe even for Halloween? That’s why I mention it well in advance.

Promise to sleep.

I know, I know, every post here mentions sleep. With good reason. As research has deepened, it’s become crystal clear that adequate sleep affects EVERYTHING about health and quality of life. Cement good habits now, so you can apply them when gift wrapping, movie watching, and cooking carry you way past bedtime.

Target specific dates.

Yes, it does get tedious sometimes if you’re ALWAYS strategizing to keep habits in line. Sometimes we just need to let go and celebrate. It sounds counterintuitive, but picking dates in advance on which you’ll “loosen up” frees you up to be more spontaneous and in-the-moment. No one wants to look back and feel like they missed all the fun. (Peanuts fan? Cue Sally waiting in the pumpkin patch, wailing about tricks or treats.)

Band together.

Sticking to healthy habits when everyone else seems to have stopped can leave you feeling like the odd man out, even isolated. Chances are you know at least ONE other person who shares your stewardship of solid health. Invite them into a holiday health pact with you. You don’t even have to share the exact same strategies. Simply support one another. Secretly if you must!

Wrap a health goal as a gift.

There have been holiday seasons in my lifetime when I set a lifelong health goal, reached it, and felt phenomenal come Christmas. I do not recall feeling at all cheated. I didn’t deprive myself. Looking back, those times stand out as treasured gifts. If you’re so inclined this year, select your “health gift” now and go for it! There’s a reason it sounds trite to say great health is the greatest gift: because it’s true.


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