Survive and Thrive The Holiday Season

If you are at all like me, right about now you are catastrophizing (yes, it is a word) a bit thinking to yourself - “How can I stay on track this Holiday Season when temptation is lurking around every corner?” It started with the all of the candy at Halloween, sugar highs and lows hit hard. Then comes November and the temperature drops, the cool weather makes you sluggish and glum and we are led straight into the eating overeating frenzy of Thanksgiving. Next is the entire month of December – you are invited to several holiday dinners or parties each week with family and friends, you have visitors come into town or you are traveling, then there are the holiday celebratory feasts such as Christmas and Hanukah. Finally, when you think you cannot take it anymore there is New Year’s – so many high expectations that are rarely ever met and then there is the compulsion to drown them in booze.

So how can you make this year different you ask? First of all, take a deep breath, then take another. Second, check out my top ten tips below to learn you can stay on track and be healthy through out this holiday season:

1. Water – most people don’t get enough of it, especially now in the colder and dryer months we need more hydration than we think. Steam heat has kicked in NYC in full force and it can be painfully drying for our bodies, both inside and out.  Humidifiers can be another great way to stay hydrated for those with cold weather respiratory issues such as asthma or chronic sinus infections.

2. Plan your social schedule and your weekly menus – don’t fly blind in stressful times. Use a written calendar or smartphone app to plot out your social gatherings for the season. Only choose to attend the events that are most important to you. Don’t be afraid to say no sometimes, little white lies can be ok (for example, “I am so sorry I cannot come to your cookie baking marathon, I really wanted to do but I promised my mother I would go home early to help her prepare our holiday dinner, she just can’t do it alone anymore.”). Make sure you leave room on your calendar for alone time, home cooked meals and all of the things that you enjoy and that nourish you. Pick a set day each week that is your planning day. Use it to grocery shop, plan your meals for the week, cook, chop, prep food and get yourself organized with healthy food options for the week.

3. Don’t drink your calories – limit consumption of alcoholic and other high calorie beverages (like eggnog and hot cocoa). When in doubt, stick to water or hot tea. Don’t feel compelled to drink at every social event. A favorite social trick of mind is sparkling water with a slice of lime. I tell people it is a gin and tonic if they ask and I am usually the only one still smiling by the next morning.

4. Don’t eat your emotions – don’t let the stress of the season get you off track. Identify your triggers and find non-food ways to deal with them. Don’t eat mindlessly. Whenever you are about to indulge in your problem food (common ones are cheese, bread, cookies, cake, alcohol, etc.) as yourself “Do I really want this? Am I eating because I feel sad, stressed, lonely, overwhelmed or angry?” Practice being mindful.

5. Eat breakfast – it is still the most important meal of the day, so don’t skip it. Start the day off on the right foot by kick starting your metabolism and managing hunger.

6. Don’t “bank” calories – a classic holiday mistake many of us make is to eat very little all day to “save up” for a big meal or event. This is a surefire way to overindulge and mess up your metabolism. Don’t skip meals or under eat now to let yourself over eat later. Having consistent meals and snacks daily will keep metabolism on track and avoid the temptation to binge later.

7. Party smart – start with the healthiest foods first. Load up on crudités and other naturally healthy fruit, veggie and whole grain dishes first. Afterwards if you are still hungry indulge in a select few of the more decadent items that catch your eye. The key here is moderation and knowing what you are eating. For every drink you have be sure to have a glass of water. When asked to bring a dish, volunteer for the veggie side, salad or other option where you can show your delicious yet nutritious cooking chops. Remember – dessert can be fruit, hummus can come with cucumber slices and portion control can go a long way.

8. Set yourself up for success – create a positive environment so all you can possibly do is succeed in your health and wellness goals. Don’t keep unhealthy problem foods in your home. Instead be sure you are always stocked up on the nutritious essentials. When going out to eat with friends, quickly offer a healthy and delicious place you enjoy. Spend time with friends and family members that are supportive and helpful to your goals. Limit interactions with emotionally draining people or those that are a bad influence on you. Find a healthy holiday buddy – support each other through the season, especially when you are feeling overly tempted.

9. Manage stress – this is a very easy season to really let it get to you. Year-end at work, difficult family members, colder weather, societal expectations for holiday glory (i.e. if I don’t meet Prince Charming to kiss when the ball drops then the entire year of 2010 will surely be a nightmare) and the constant over-stimulation (like too many holiday songs, decorations and lights) can get the best of any of us. Recognize stress early and find ways to manage it – warm baths, lighting candles, yoga, meditation, reading a book, watching a movie, knitting, running or anything else that helps you stay cool, calm and collected.

10. Get moving – don’t wait until New Year’s when every gym and Yoga studio is overcrowded with those repenting per their resolutions and trying to get in shape, instead start now. Go to the gym, take a class in dance, Yoga or Pilates – whatever works for you and don’t be afraid to experiment. Get into the fitness grove now while classes are less packed due to the Holiday Season drop off in attendance. Once the winter descends upon us the excuses abound, we walk less and sit on the couch more. Break that pattern now before it begins. Make a plan and stick to it.