10 Tips to Stay Healthy for the Holidays and Beyond
Dr. Erika Blank is an MUSC Health Primary Care physician, board-certified in Lifestyle Medicine. Lifestyle Medicine relies on current medical evidence to treat, prevent and reverse chronic diseases through lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes include: a diet that is mostly plant-based; physical activity; not smoking; good sleep habits; and, minimizing stress. Dr. Blank focuses on progress, not perfection as any positive change can improve health. Dr. Blank blends her expertise in building healthier lifestyles into her practice to create long-term health benefits. She is sharing her top tips to stay healthy during the holidays and beyond!
1. Fill your plate with veggies
My favorite diet quote is by the author Michael Pollan, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
In general, a healthy diet should consist of largely whole plant foods that are high in fiber and nutrients. Whole plant foods are vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Nutrient-dense, fiber-rich, and low in calorie vegetables can help keep you full and nurture a heathy gut biome. Fill your plate first with vegetables and fill in your favorite holiday dish in the remaining space. Don’t feel like you have to say no to your favorite food and deprive yourself. Just make sure to have reasonable portion sizes and fill up on veggies!
2. Bring a healthy dish
If you are trying to follow a certain way of eating or just eating healthy in general, I recommend preparing one or two side dishes that you know you will enjoy. My favorites are whole grain salads, roasted vegetables, or green salads. Your host will most likely appreciate the help.
3. Drink wisely
Another general healthy habit is to minimize sugar. Many beverages are loaded with added sugar. Soda is an obvious sugar-sweetened beverage with 7 teaspoons in a 12-ounce serving. A glass of apple juice contains the same amount of sugar as soda and a glass of orange juice contains about 5 teaspoons of sugar. If you play to enjoy an alcoholic beverage, try to avoid drinks made with syrup, sour mix, sugary fruit juices, or creamy additives. Try to stick to beer, wine and distilled spirits (gin, rum, vodka). You can also add seltzer to win to make a fun spritzer and decrease the calories. Don’t forget to drink your water.
4. Avoid temptation
Heathy habits start in the grocery store. Don’t bring home calorie dense food and snacks you know you can’t resist. If you enjoy baking, keep a few baked goods for you and your family but freeze the rest or give them away to friends. If you are at a buffet, stand far away from the buffet table or bar so you are not constantly tempted.
5. Stay active
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week along with two 30-minute strength training sessions. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t make your regular workouts due to holiday commitments. “Exercise” is only one form of “Physical Activity.” You may end up walking miles while holiday shopping. If you don’t have time to do your usual strength workout you can do some squats, lunges, pushups, triceps dips, etc. while you are in the kitchen cooking. You can also create fun, family traditions such as a football game, hiking, or a nice walk after the holiday meal.
6. Don’t skimp on sleep
Poor sleep increases your risk of diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, heart disease, stroke, dementia and early death. When you are sleep deprived you make more errors, have trouble with memory, your immune system doesn’t work as well, you may feel more depressed, and you can have increased hunger, especially for carbohydrates. Your brain uses the time you are asleep to repair itself. Adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep. Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule during the holidays. Take time to unwind in the evening and relax before bed. Don’t start writing a shopping list as you are preparing to go to bed because you will be thinking about it all night!
7. Get involved
The holidays are about more than food. They are about people and connection. A common theme in the world’s longest living populations (Blue Zones) is an emphasis on strong community values. You can volunteer in a soup kitchen, volunteer for Meals on Wheels, participate in a toy drive, or invite a friend or co-worker to your home.
8. Be mindful
Jon Kabat-Zinn, creator of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, defines mindfulness as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” He says, “You are only alive in this moment. The future hasn’t happened yet; the past is a memory and is over.” If you are at a school performance or a special event, try to keep your mind focused on what is happening in the present. The mind will naturally wander to things that happened earlier in the day or things you need to do. Acknowledge these thoughts and try to return to the present moment where life is lived.
9. It’s not the end of the world…
If you overindulge one day, it’s OK! You enjoyed yourself. You are human. You are not a bad person. Acknowledge that you overindulged one day and go back to each healthier the next day. You can think about what happened and try to learn something. Perhaps there is a food that is a trigger for you that you should avoid. Maybe you were too hungry when you arrived at the party. Whatever you do, do not let the unhealthy way of eating continue throughout the holidays to the New Year.
10. Practice gratitude
During the holidays and every day, take a few minutes in the morning or the evening to cultivate gratitude. Instead of focusing on the things you want or want to happen, count your blessings. Practicing gratitude can increase your well-being, health and happiness. After all, ‘tis the season!
Schedule an Appointment with Dr. Blank Dr. Blank is accepting new patients at MUSC Health Primary Care – Park West in Mount Pleasant. Schedule your appointment online or by calling 843-876-1445. Learn more about MUSC Health Primary Care.