holiday mayday?

23 Dec

So, though I am still in major dissertation-writing mode here, I decided to pop my head in and write a little bit about something that I have been thinking about: healthy living during the holiday season.

It seems to me that all of the suggestions for this are pretty much the same: don’t arrive at a party hungry, snack on the vegetables, drink sparkling water instead of wine, etc. My question is: does anyone do this stuff?

My holidays aren’t like the ones that magazines describe. I don’t have a round of holiday cocktail parties to attend, for example. I have Thanksgiving dinner with my family, Christmas dinner with my family, and a bunch of really yummy holiday baking recipes that I somehow feel that I need to make. And it’s cold, which makes me want comfort food, and I’m busy and stressed, which makes it more likely that I will flake out on making a healthy dinner.

So, here are MY suggestions for a healthier holiday, based on the challenges that I face during the season. (If you do have a slew of holiday parties to get through, then the standard advice is probably going to help you.

1.) Holiday baking: if you tend to bake a lot of homemade treats to give as gifts, the chances are good that some of those treats are not leaving the house. Right? My personal bete noire is Chex mix. So this year I am simply not making any. I had some at my mom’s house and that’s that!

You can reduce the number of unhealthy holiday treats that you and your family eat by making things that are less “snackable”–for example, there’s a nice recipe for apple cider jam here , or cookie/bread mixes in jars are nice. Or, of course, you could assume that the recipients are also trying to live a little healthier this holiday season and give healthful food gifts or nonfood items. A couple of gift ideas I’m going to try next year: gift certificate for a walking date with coffee afterward; an offer of baby- or pet-sitting; or, if you’re feeling wealthy, a gift membership to a local CSA.

A couple of inexpensive things you can also consider: things like herbal teas and fancy coffee are often much appreciated. They feel decadent and fun, but without adding a lot of unhealthy sugar and whatnot to the recipient’s diet.

Finally, a Christmas cookie or two is not going to make or break your lifestyle. It’s the cookie every afternoon for weeks that can make a big difference. So if you’re a baker and definitely going to make those cookies, set aside a day and do it all! Then have the cookies you want, box up the rest, and give them to their lucky recipients.

2.) In my opinion–and this is just my opinion–you shouldn’t worry about what you eat at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. If you manage to resist the variety of dishes you want, you’re likely to feel deprived and just overeat later. It does help me to remember that I do not like to feel stuffed. There are a few things on the holiday table that I don’t eat for the rest of the year (creamed onions, anyone?), and I eat them without guilt and enjoy my meal, and try not to overeat. Especially if you’re eating a healthful breakfast and making sure that you get some protein in your meal, it’s really not going to hurt you to indulge in whatever it is that calls your name at a holiday dinner. There’s a reason it’s considered a Thanksgiving/Christmas feast, after all. Just savor it and consider it a special occasion.

If that seems wrong to you, consider this: being healthy is only partly about the physical. It’s also about emotional and mental health. And I don’t think I’m the only person for whom those holiday meals are a celebration and a moment of looking back at the old year and ahead to the new year. The flavors of the foods that have said “holiday” to me since I was a child are part of that experience. I find it renewing and joyful to share those things with my loved ones (unless I overdo it, at least, and then the sense of joy gets a little blotted out by the sense of “oof, where’s my bigger pair of jeans?”).

3.) Don’t forget to make time for exercise. Even on Christmas day, setting aside 20 or 30 minutes to get a little exercise will help you feel better and give you more energy for your celebrations! While you’re in a time crunch for gift-shopping, wrapping, cooking, et cetera, remember that exercise usually pays for itself, time-wise: it makes you more alert and productive. So make that time!

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