Steer clear of pitfalls for a happy, healthy holiday

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Partner MD

By Leigh Savage

Are you trying to lose weight now in preparation for holiday gorging? If so, Caiti Nascarella says stop what you are doing immediately. With a small amount of preparation, you can maintain a healthy weight throughout the holiday season — without missing out on grandma’s buttery mashed potatoes.

“When I’m talking patients through the holiday season, it’s about how we can be healthier,” says Nascarella, a certified health coach and assistant practice manager at PartnerMD. “It’s about navigating those buffet tables, but also how you’re handling exercise and sleep.”

The first step is staying hydrated. “Dehydration can feel similar to hunger,” she says. Having a healthy snack before going to a party or dinner can also be helpful, especially if it includes some fat: think apples with almond butter, or berries and string cheese. “Never arrive starving,” she says. “If we haven’t eaten, our eyes are way bigger than the belly.”

While eschewing alcohol is not necessary, she suggests one or two drinks tops. “Try to be mindful,” she says. “Not only is it empty calories, but alcohol will affect your sleep quality and lead to less healthy eating. We’ve all been there!”

Consider what you are drinking as well. Try a lower-calorie vodka soda instead of more sugary and caloric wine, mixers or craft beer.

If you’re bringing along an item to share, Nascarella says a healthier item is always appreciated. “Other people will want healthy options too, so go ahead and be that person,” she says. “Bring something to lighten it up.” Then, indulge moderately in your favorites and fill out your plate the healthiest fruits, vegetables, lean meats and grains you can find.

In addition to the food pitfalls that dot the holiday landscape, tight schedules and a busy calendar can also make healthy choices more challenging. If you typically work out three times a week, try to stick with that — but also have a back-up plan. If you can’t do your 40-minute walk, you can still do a 20-minute walk, or even three 10-minute walks spread throughout the day.

“Doing something is always better than doing nothing,” Nascarella says.

And while traipsing through the mall and fighting crowds may feel like a workout, she says it counts as movement but not exercise due to the inevitable starts and stops.

If 10-minute walks aren’t feasible, how about seven minutes? A Google search for seven minute workouts brings up thousands of options, some of the best being those created by Johnson & Johnson.

“These can get your heart rate up and are designed to hit all of the major muscle groups of the body — triceps, quads, glutes, core,” Nascarella says. “It does pack a punch.” If you have 14 minutes, you can do it twice.

“Other people will want healthy options too, so go ahead and be that person, bring something to lighten it up.” – 

Another key to having a fit and fun holiday season is to pay attention to your sleep schedule. Have that pumpkin spice latte early in the day, because says Nascarella, who suggests avoiding all caffeine after 2 p.m. to improve sleep quality. And though we all may know this one, it deserves a reminder: try to stay off of screens a couple of hours before bed, or at the very least, switch over to nighttime mode to avoid blue light.

And if you’re on the road, or in the sky, as you make your way to holiday locales, keep drinking that water and try a saline nasal spray to keep nasal passages moist. “That’s your first line of defense against germs,” she says.

Finally, don’t get so caught up in the holiday hubbub that you lose sight of what’s important to you and what you enjoy most. Instead of thinking about the stress of the holiday or trying to create perfection, make time for doing what you enjoy, whether that’s relaxing to music or a podcast or catching up with friends.

“We can work through stress and change the way we perceive it,” Nascarella says. “Stress will always be there, but we can lessen the effect it has on us.”

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