Holiday Cure!

Dec 28, 2009
Holiday Cure!

Need a fix after the Holiday cheat cycle?

Your Holiday Resolution just got easier

Year after year, as every holiday season rolls around, I witness the same pattern of an over-abundance of rich, decadent food come careening into the lives of many of my friends, family and clients. It shows up in the break room at the office, on the sample counters at the grocery store, on the “holiday menus” at our favorite restaurants, even in the mail from our insurance companies (how does a pound of fudge insure longevity?)

The same ole Holiday Story

Most everyone I come in contact with has some story to tell about their battle with the holiday bulge (or their planned effort to avoid it), and I am in awe at the amount of stress that people experience over the prospect of the fight. Is the temptation of holiday food really that strong? What is it about a plate of sugar cookies decorated like Santa's that have folks in such a trance? Any other time of year, most would just shrug and walk away at the sight; after all, how good does red sugar sprinkle taste? Perhaps, then, it’s more than just the cookie itself…perhaps it’s more about how we have been conditioned and raised, as a society, to see the holidays as a time to celebrate with an over-abundance of EVERYTHING, not just food.

Understanding the root of this concept takes us back to the beginnings of the Christmas tradition, when the Three Wise Men brought gifts to lay at the feet of the newborn baby Jesus. It was a joyous occasion, a sign of hope and prosperity, and to celebrate, there were loaves and fishes a-plenty! Other cultures certainly have their interpretation of new beginnings, and nearly all of them celebrate with lots of food. In the “old days”, it was an indication of health and happiness, of a promising future.

Its Different now

Nowadays, it borders on overindulgence and carelessness – look at the figure of Santa Claus – an elderly, overweight man madly dashing around the world in one night, delivering toys to only the good boys and girls, fueled by cookies and milk! Wouldn't it be nice if we could get back to the origins of this wonderful tradition of celebrating life, hope, and good things to come – by understanding the gift of good food and nutrition, and taking the time to appreciate what our bodies do and celebrate good health? Surprisingly, it is not difficult to achieve this! With just a little forethought and planning, we can avoid the unhealthy pitfalls of the holiday season, and still feel – or taste – the joy.

Whether you are heavily involved in the celebration of the season, or hovering on the fringes, there is no denying that you will be surrounded, if not inundated, with the increased frenetic energy that seems to descend upon us all from November 1 to New Year’s Day.

It emanates from the television, it flows with the traffic on the streets, floats through crowds at the mall – and it will affect you in one way or another. Here are a few key “practices” to put into play to help take on the hustle-and-bustle of the holidays:

Focus - Focus on daily behavior rather than long-term results; set small, daily goals that are attainable in the short-term. The holidays are not usually a very good time to start a comprehensive new fitness or nutrition program, unless you are absolutely sure you can commit. Instead, choose something simple, like taking a 20-minute walk every day, or having a protein shake with your cereal in the morning. There will be plenty of opportunity to take on bigger challenges when you have fewer distractions, and you can also feel good knowing you have been keeping a commitment to a smaller, but very beneficial, goal.


Your good health will make dealing with the intensity of the time of year easier. Don't be afraid to make your fitness and nutrition a priority; if necessary, schedule your exercise and eating times as you would a doctor or business appointment. Look at your next day’s schedule before you start your evening wind-down, and see that you have not overwhelmed yourself with too many “to-dos”. Be realistic about how much you can effectively (and healthfully) get done in a day, and remember, good nutrition and daily exercise increases energy and focus, which makes you all that more productive.


Don't over-obsess about your fitness and nutrition during the holidays. On the flip side of the previous point, if you miss a training session or a meal, get back on track with the next scheduled item and make a mental note to do better next time - but stressing over it won't help. Stress is the root of so many physical (and emotional) problems - elevated blood pressure, erratic sleep, fat storage, short temper, poor focus, just to mention a few. It’s a bit of a Catch-22; consistent good nutrition and exercise combat these symptoms, but don’t miss the forest for the trees and let the stress-relievers become the stressors!


Lack of sleep is one of the leading factors in chronic stress levels. The hormone cortisol, termed literally “the stress hormone”, in it’s purest sense, is produced as a result of the human body’s flight-or-fight mechanism, designed to battle short-term stress situations, and is not necessarily a bad thing. However, the body must then return to a calm state to regain normal functioning. When a body cannot fully relax, as in a deep sleep, it remains in a state of chronic stress, and the constantly-elevated cortisol levels can have very negative effects – blood sugar imbalances, suppressed thyroid function, elevated blood pressure, and increased abdominal fat. Aim for 7 - 8 hours a night, but if that's unattainable, especially during the holidays, a couple of 15-minute breaks during the day to sit quietly and breathe deeply will do wonders.

When it comes to food, it’s ok to celebrate - but with control! If you’ve been able to put into place the tips noted above, you will be in a better position to make good decisions when it comes to food. There is nothing more daunting than the thought of putting together a decent meal if you’re exhausted from doing too much on too little sleep with not enough fuel. Taking these few simple steps will help make sure that your nutrition doesn't suffer.


Long lines and crowds of people cause everything to progress at a snail’s pace, and we are easily distracted when in the throes of shopping...we forget to hydrate! Arm yourself with plenty of bottles when hitting the malls! Fluids will not only keep your system flushed but your energy levels on high and your thinking clear. Also, ‘tis the season of rich, sugary drinks like eggnog, cider, frothy seasonal coffee drinks and, of course, alcohol. These all will begin to dehydrate your system immediately upon consumption, so if you’re going to imbibe, prepare by drinking extra water before, during and after.

Steer clear of processed carbohydrates

Oh, those holiday “delicacies”! Are they the bane of you? Foods containing enriched flour and processed sugar (pasta, breads, cakes, cookies, crackers, etc.) are the big culprits here, and remember, almost everything in a package contains sugar and/or sodium as a preservative. Also, homemade baked goods and dishes can be packed with saturated fats and sugars, so sample if you must, but know when to say "no"! A good holiday party usually has a decent veggie tray or fruit platter, so fill up on these items first, let them settle, then sample the richer, more decadent treats. Chances are, you will be full, and only want a taste. Another way to control mindless grazing at a gathering is to eat something healthy before you go – by the time you arrive at the party, you won’t be very hungry.

Go ahead and snack

Keep plenty of easy, healthy snacks at hand, because at holiday time, you just never know when you’ll get your next decent meal! Almonds, apples, low-fat string cheese, whole-grain crackers, or a quality protein powder, are easy to pack and keep stocked in strategic places such as your car, briefcase, gym bag, diaper bag, etc. In fact, packing a small cooler every day and keeping it nearby is like having a mini-fridge of your best foods on hand. I cannot tell you how many times I have been saved from nutritional destruction by my ever-present apple and Ziplock of almonds! Having good snacks readily available to nosh on every few hours will help keep you from reaching for holiday “goodies”, and will power you through even the most trying shopping scenarios.

Have a Treat

Sugar-free Popsicles, Jello, hot chocolate, tea sweetened with Splenda, Crystal Lite, are all good for curbing a sweet tooth, but remember, too much artificial sweetener is not conducive to good health, so practice moderation. There are many good natural sweetening alternatives, such as sucanat, honey, pure maple syrup, agave and Stevia, but again, don’t get carried away – these are still simple sugars, calorie-dense and dangerous to blood sugar in high doses. One of my favorite sweet tooth fixes is extra-dark chocolate, and a square or two is plenty!

Don't make it complicated

It may seem like these suggestions are just more things to remember during an already hectic time. Lifestyle change – and success – is all about putting good habits into practice every day. The holidays should be no different than any other time of year when it comes to your health and nutrition. Perhaps you will need to make a few extra concessions, or take a little more time to map out your day, but it is a jolly time of year, there is much to celebrate – so enjoy the season knowing you are taking care of your greatest gift – your health!

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