While this is a topic of concern and curiosity for these dancers, I know that health over the holidays is also important to my clients and many others, as the season grows closer.
If you are interested in having a fun, peaceful, healthy holiday in the midst of parties, traveling and visiting family and friends, please consider these simple strategies and let me know what works for you!
Sleep Well – When we aren’t well rested, our resistance to stress and illness is dampened. Fatigue can lead to over-indulging in sweets and caffeine, mood-swings and family conflict. To ensure that you get a refreshing night’s sleep, keep your room cool and dark, turn off electronics 30 minutes before you turn in, take a hot Epsom bath with soothing lavender or mint for easy breathing, drink a warm cup chamomile tea, meditate or practice gentle yoga and do your best to keep a consistent bedtime/wake-time schedule.
Break Your Fast – Break your night-time fast mindfully to supply your body with the fuel it needs to withstand the demands of shopping, driving or visiting with family and friends. Fill up on healthy fiber, complex carbs and protein to keep you in balance. To help you avoid the temptation of treats later on, add a little sweetness with organic grapes or berries and include a little healthy fat. Scrambled eggs with mixed veggies for and avocado, or full-fat plain Greek yogurt with berries and ground flaxseed can help keep you from feeling hungry and reaching for a quick, unhealthy fix.
Don’t Skip – With the change in schedule, it can be easy to get out of synch and skip meals. Forgetting to eat breakfast, or skipping lunch thinking you can wait until dinner. Skipping meals during the day can lead to you to eat too much at night, crave caffeine and sugar as a quick source of fuel, and foster a sense of self-denial.
Step Back – When socializing at holiday parties, the hors d'oeuvres table is often the center of attraction and conversation. Avoid temptation or mindless munching by filling a small plate and inviting your friends to join you, away from the table.
Avoid the Emptiness – My mother was the first person I ever heard talk about empty calories. As a child, I very quickly learned that empty calories were something to stay away from if you wanted to be happy and healthy. Food and beverages that contain empty calories require energy to burn, but offer no nutritional value. These items can lead to unwanted weight gain and leave you feeling less-than-energetic. Minimize alcohol, soda, and sweet tea; instead, choose mineral spritzer waters, add a splash of your favorite juice and/or fruit to sweeten and make it festive. Choose an apple or pear with almond butter, or fresh-popped popcorn with nutritional yeast when you need a quick snack. Be sure to eat well and eat enough at meal times and stay active in-between to avoid boredom and mindless snacking between meals.
Contribute - Whenever possible, offer to bring your favorite healthy side dish or dessert, or both! Experiment with healthy sugar and flour substitutions rather than using bleached white sugar and flour in common recipes. Inspire others to eat healthy!
Choose Green - Eat greens whenever possible. Raw winter salad mixes are great for this time of year. Curly purple kale, rainbow chard, spicy green arugula and tender mixed winter lettuces can keep it exciting by offering a variety of fresh flavors, colors and textures. Check in with the host to see if there is something green on the menu and if not, offer to bring the sassy green addition.
Keep it Moving – To avoid stomach discomfort and cramping, it’s important to keep the bowels moving. Eating too many foods high in sugar, fat, and protein, and low on fiber and complex-carbs can keep you feeling bloated and stagnant. Being aware of how much fiber you are getting can help. Oats and barley, fresh fruits and veggies, beans and bean dips, nuts, quinoa and wild rice are easy ways to get the fiber your body needs to feel full and stay regular. Aim for 35 grams of fiber per day, divided between meals.
Stay Hydrated – Water, water, water. Start your day with water, end your day with water, drink water before each meal and you should have no problem staying hydrated. Drinking enough water will keep your energy levels even, keep your digestion and elimination humming and help you feel full before you eat. Often we think we are hungry, when we are actually thirsty. So, think before you reach for a quick empty calorie snack and drink a cool glass of water instead.
Smaller is Better – When the table is full of holiday delights, it is easy to get excited and pile everything onto your plate and keep eating until it’s gone. Choose a smaller plate when possible, and fill it first with the healthy selections. Go for a variety of color, filling at least half of your plate with veggies, protein the size of your palm and healthy fat the size of your thumb. Table already set with Grandma’s finest, biggest china plates? No problem! Just stick to the inner circle and give each lovely food selection their space on the plate.
Slow Down - Give yourself time to look at the colors and textures of your meal, breathe deeply and explore the blend of aromas. Digestion begins in the mouth, but first, it is the smell of food that signals the body and brain to shift into digestion mode, increasing the amount of saliva you produce. Saliva contains important enzymes that help break down starches and fats. Studies have shown that chewing thoroughly helps your stomach and intestines digest and assimilate the nutrients in your food more efficiently and can actually help you lose weight by reducing the amount of calories you consume. It takes the brain at least 20 minutes to register that you’re full. Mindful eating prevents you from over-eating by giving you time to recognize that you're satisfied. It also reduces stress, signaling your body and nervous system that it’s time to rest and digest, and enjoy the many flavors of life.
80/20 – The 80/20 rule is a simple way to enjoy the treats you love without over-indulgence or regret. If you are making healthy choices 80% of the time, allowing yourself to “cheat” 20% of the time can keep you from feeling deprived and prevent you from going from one extreme to the other. It can be applied to your plate as well as your lifestyle habits during the holidays and throughout the year to stay in balance and control.
Give Yourself a Boost – Include healing, immune-boosting foods in your diet, such as garlic, ginger, and cinnamon for their antioxidant and digestive qualities, lemons, limes, grapefruits and oranges for their vitamin c, black and green (unsweetened) teas to prevent viruses, and probiotics like unsweetened yogurt and kefir to boost healthy gut bacteria.
Manage Your Stress – The holidays can come with it’s own special kind of stress. Finishing up projects, studying for finals, or late nights writing papers, leading into long days of traveling and spending time with family and friends may leave you feeling anxious. Stress and anxiety can trigger you to over-eat and crave sugar, alcohol or unhealthy fat and carbs for comfort. Learn to recognize the signs of stress - shortness of breath, headaches, stomachaches, muscle tension and inability to sleep, and practice mindful ways to prevent and relieve it. Soften your belly and slow your breath down to help calm your body and mind, take time out for yourself during the day, meditate, practice gentle yoga or go for walks to keep you grounded and centered.
Write it Out– Unexpressed emotions can lead to overeating and unawareness of the food choices we are making unconsciously. Journaling about how you feel before, during and after you eat can help you take a step back and observe your habits, feelings and behavior and how they may relate to food or compulsive eating.
Stay Active – Avoid the temptation to be lazy all through the break. Get your body moving! Continue to get exercise, practice yoga, dance, play tag with your siblings or cousins, just get outside and move around. While rest is important, staying active will also help you relieve stress, maintain your weight, and keep you feeling happy and energized.
Be present – All we have is this one precious moment. The moments we have with our family and friends during this season are special and often rare. Be present for it. Turn off the cell phone and common distractions, and tune in to those you love. Capture the sweetness in life, with awareness and gratitude.
Wishing you all a Happy, Healthy Holiday Season and Bright Peaceful New Year!