By Pamela M. Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP
The sunny skies and unseasonably balmy weather made me forget it’s actually mid-November. Yikes! That means Thanksgiving’s around the corner, followed oh so closely by December’s back-to-back holiday season. Folks on my Diet Community board are already calling for help on how to navigate the landmines of tempting holiday spreads and moms who insist you eat her apple pie à la mode and finish every bite.
If you’re already feeling stressed out, you’re not alone. According to a poll conducted by the American Psychological Association, nearly 80 percent of Americans expect to be stressed during the holiday season due to gift giving, money woes and the endless list of things to do. You probably already knew that, but it’s comforting to know you’re in good company.
Here’s the good news. You can definitely survive the endless temptations as well as the challenges of travel and socializing without resorting to self-destructive habits. And, for an added bonus, you can stay healthy, even heart healthy, while you practice your newly honed stress-resilience skills. To achieve your Peeke Performance for surviving and thriving during the holidays, just follow these simple rules:
1) Plan: Most of us know by now where the main “landmines” for over-indulgence, stress and lack of exercise lie as we run off to holiday parties and family feasts. This also includes prepping for battle as you enter malls for gift shopping, troll the internet for online presents and stress out about hosting your own holiday feasts. So, before you do anything, stop, take a deep breath, sit down and put pen to paper to form a strategy and plan. Anticipating the perils of overeating at Mom’s house or the long shopping lines can help prevent you from getting bent out of shape, overeating and abandoning your exercise. As I always say “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Think ahead. If you plan to be out shopping, know where you can find healthy meals. Bring along safe snacks (almonds and walnuts or peanut butter on crackers for a mini PBJ) and eat a healthy meal before you take off for hours of back-to-back events. This can keep you heart healthy through the holidays. If you’re going to a party laden with unhealthy options, eat before you go. Make sure to have protein and fiber combos as they’ll keep you satisfied much longer and quell runaway cravings. Stay focused. You’ve done well taking care of yourself all year, and it’s just not worth it to blow your achievements on immediate gratification from overeating.
2) Get Smart with Treats: Hey, it’s the holiday season and you want to do a little celebrating and treat yourself. That’s fine. Just be smart about how you do it. You know yourself so plan on which foods you’ll consume in moderation. That means enjoying your food and drinks, like mom’s baked-to-perfection pumpkin pie and savory stuffing, as well as your favorite bubbly beverages without going overboard. Monitor your serving size. Try using a smaller plate at the buffet and your portions will shrink as well. Why not have a taste or two of a treat and then share with someone else? This also means being creative and learning to substitute with finesse. If you love ice cream but are looking for something lighter yet delicious, why not try a blueberry yogurt parfait with fresh fruit topped with walnuts? The key is to be vigilant and take your time. It’s been proven that the slower you eat the less you will likely consume. So, enjoy the conversation at the dinner table, pause frequently and put your fork down as you share your life stories. And of course don’t forget to balance extra calories with physical activity as you enjoy the holiday season. What goes in must come out. This is no new news—this is what you should be doing all year long!
3) Stay vertical and have fun: The holiday season is no excuse to blow off your physical activity. As the national spokesperson for the American College of Sports Medicine’s “Exercise IS Medicine” campaign, I’m here to remind everyone how wonderful it is to get up and keep moving throughout the day, so this tip shouldn’t be surprising. Being active and healthy doesn’t have to be about grinding it out in the gym. Get up and add more activities to your daily living. Create opportunities to burn a few calories. Set up a dance floor in your house and crank up the volume on your stereo and just shimmy around the room. How about hip-hopping and cha-cha’ing across the floor with a Zumba DVD? And for you outdoorsy types, strap on your snow shoes and enjoy Mother Nature. Walk the dog or make a snow man with your kids – the possibilities are endless. Your heart will thank you.
4) Give Yourself a License to Chill: To balance the frenetic pace of your life, you need quiet time. This is essential and mandatory. Your mind needs time to reset, refocus, rejuvenate and refresh. Decompressing can help you manage your life stresses and make the right self-care choices every day. Don’t try to explain this to anyone around you. Just schedule it and make it happen. It’s critical ME time. Mix it up and try new ways to relax. Meditation is terrific. Turn on your flat screen and pop in that yoga, Pilates or tai chi video and chill out your mind and body for a win-win. Or escape for a quiet walk outdoors. This balancing act is a life saver.
5) Avoid the “P” word: Strive for progress, not perfection. Don’t freak out if your party or shopping or any plans don’t come out “perfectly.” Never aim for perfection. Aim to do the best you can do within the constraints and limitations of your life. When you do, life is so much less stressful. And it’s a kind thing to do for your mind and your body.
6) Be Grateful: You don’t have to wait for the holidays to take time to express gratitude for all that’s good in your life. Every single morning, as you awaken and open your eyes, say “I’m so grateful to still be here to enjoy my life.” Then, go through a litany of your gratitudes, including the people, places and things in your life for which you are deeply grateful. When you do this, your stresses are suddenly put into a very different perspective. You realize how blessed you are for the priceless things in life—family, friends, faith and mind/body fitness.
7) Feed Your Soul: There’s nothing in the world that takes your mind off your own stresses more than giving to others. Check out opportunities to volunteer during the holidays. Collect clothing and food and help distribute to those in need. Ladle out soup and serve turkey dinner at a soup kitchen. Visit with the elderly, bringing cheer and comfort to lonely people. Join a choir and sing in your neighborhoods. How about making a commitment to deliver random acts of kindness every day of your life? The bottom line is you want to give of yourself in any way you can. This giving from the heart is the greatest gift you give yourself and your heart.
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!