By Nancy Peters, MD
The holiday season can be magical … and sometimes it can produce stress and cause us to abandon the healthy habits that we’ve maintained the rest of the year. As a doctor, I am sadly not immune to the strains of the holiday season, but I have some tips that I use to keep my health goals on track.
- Strike ‘avoid’ from your vocabulary. The most important advice that I give my patients isn’t to avoid or deprive themselves from anything. Oscar Wilde famously said, “Everything in moderation—including moderation.” I agree with—and follow—the moderation part. There’s no reason to avoid any particular food or libation, because depriving yourself usually doesn’t work.
- Take a taste, not a serving. If I’m concerned about overindulging, I just put a small bite of the lasagna or piece of cake on my plate instead of a full helping. It leaves more room on the plate to try other items and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. And I make sure that I don’t take a second helping.
- Missing one day isn’t the end of the world. I try to exercise three or four days a week, but during the holidays, between patients, cooking, shopping, and prepping the house for guests, I don’t always hit my quota. I resist beating myself up about it and get back into the habit the next day. It’s important not to let one slip-up permanently throw off my routine. This is true of sick days, too; once I feel better, I get back to the grind.
- Stick to the 5/2 rule. In addition to office parties and events with family and friends, temptation also comes from the kindness of our patients and staff, who bring in trays of cookies, chocolates, and other goodies. I am so grateful for the generosity extended to me, and everything looks so tempting. To prevent myself from going overboard, I use the 5/2 rule: five days of healthy eating habits and two days that I allow myself a few treats. I found that when I eat and drink sensibly most days, that extra cookie or glass of wine doesn’t impact the scale. I allow myself to enjoy these treats and I don’t feel guilty about it.
- Relax rules for the kids, too. While my kids are 21 and 19 now, when they were younger, I learned to be flexible during the holidays. I found it difficult to keep them on a strict schedule regarding meals and bedtime, especially when we traveled or hosted house-guests. I relaxed the rules a bit for most of winter break, and slowly started inching bedtime closer and closer to their normal school-year bedtime a few days before the end of break. This system works at the end of summer, too.
- Sip a more sensible cocktail. If I’m going to a cocktail party, to control the number of calories and amount of alcohol I drink, I usually stick with wine or beer, not mixed drinks. When a host or a bartender makes a mixed drink, I don’t always know how much liquor they’ve used. By only drinking wine or beer, I have a better handle on how much I’m drinking. Another trick I use is to cut a glass of wine with seltzer; a white-wine spritzer is equally festive.
- Ditch “diet” foods. When choosing between full-calorie or reduced-calorie items, I typically choose the full-calorie option. I’ve noticed that foods and drinks made with sugar substitutes don’t satisfy my sweet tooth and I end up wanting something else. I choose the tastier version and eat or drink it slowly, taking time to enjoy the experience.
- Exercise your right to say “no.” When I feel inundated with invitations and commitments, I take a look at my schedule and choose the events most dear to me. I actually do this throughout the year, whenever my schedule gets hectic and I risk overextending myself. No one wants me yawning in the corner at their party, so I politely decline when I feel I need to for my own well-being.
- Fit in fitness. When I can’t complete my full workout, I try to fit fitness into my day in other ways. One of my favorite ways is to take an interval walk, either alone or with my family. We walk outside for about 20 minutes, alternating three minutes of high-intensity fast walking with seven minutes of moderate-paced walking. You’d be surprised how you can spark your heart rate with just a three-minute push. If it’s raining, I’ll jump on the treadmill and get a quick interval walk in. If done correctly, you can burn nearly as many calories during a 20-minute interval walk as a walking more slowly for an hour.
- Take a break from social media. I know that most people share only their most idyllic moments on social media, not the times that they burned the pie, the dog ate the turkey, and their kid had a meltdown because he didn’t get the toy he wanted. Instead, I socialized IRL (in real life), connecting with those most important to me in a more grounded, realistic—and memorable—way. I also urge my children to do the same. A break from fabricated “reality” is good at any age.
- Declare a moratorium on controversial topics. While not everyone may feel comfortable doing so, I ask the guests at my table not to discuss politics. I know that there will be a mix of opinions at the table and if I feel that discourse will lead to discord, I ask my guests to chat about other topics. At times I even prompt the conversation with questions like, “What’s your favorite memory from this year?” or “If you won the lottery and no longer had to work, what would you do?” If the conversation still skews negative, I try to steer it back to a positive place. My one caveat about this is that I think it’s healthy for children to see adults with differing opinions having civil, thoughtful conversations about their views. If possible, I encourage this type of constructive, respectful debate.
Dr. Nancy Peters is board-certified in internal medicine and pediatrics and is on staff at CentraState Medical Center. She can be reached by calling 866-CENTRA7.