Managing Holiday Stress

It’s impossible to talk about health or healthy eating without also talking about stress. It’s behind so many of our unhealthy habits and it’s also fueled by them at the same time. And we all know how bad stress is for our health, not just because of those habits, but because of how chronically high cortisol (stress hormone) levels can affect the way our bodies function. Here are a couple facts about stress and our health:

According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey:

  • 38% of adults surveyed said they engaged in stress eating in the last month
  • Half of those adults said they engage in stress in weekly or more
  • 27% of adults say they eat to manage stress
  • 30% of adults report skipping meals due to stress

According to the NIH, anywhere from 60-90% of doctors visits are due to stress-related conditions

Stress contributes to chronic illness, inflammation, sleeplessness, weight gain, and performance issues and it can also impact our personal relationships. This time of year especially, stress management is particularly important.

So…what should you do?

Stress Management Routine

My biggest piece of stress management advice is to make time for yourself every single day. Yes. Every. Single. Day.

That’s not the tall order it might seem to be. I promise. Because it doesn’t have to be 3 hours at a spa (but if you can pull that off, go for it). It can be just 5 minutes to do something you enjoy.

Just taking 3 deep breaths has been scientifically shown to decrease stress levels on a physical and emotional level. So imagine what taking a 20 minute hot shower while listening to your favorite music can do!

But here’s the thing about stress management activities, things that you would have done anyway because you’re an adult don’t count. Even if you find cleaning to be soothing, that’s not doing something for yourself because it’s still something on your too-long to-do list that you would have done anyway. So you can count cooking, cleaning, or dishes as self-care.

But here’s the thing about stress management activities, things that you would have done anyway because you’re an adult don’t count.

Stress management is as deeply personal as the things that are stressing you out, so you need to find what works for you and those things will change situationally. Some people haven’t ever considered a stress management plan and that’s OK – it’s never too late to create one. Here are a couple ideas to get you started:

  • 5-minute mindfulness meditation
  • knitting
  • take a walk
  • journal it out
  • listen to your favorite song
  • take a long hot shower

Stress management doesn’t have to be complicated or involved – it just has to make you feel better. There’s no reason not to make it a priority – whether it happens just before bed on your lunch break or in between errands. Just make it happen every day.

Set Boundaries

The other biggest piece of advice I have with regards to holiday stress is to set clear, strong, and consistent boundaries. This time of year, the ones we care about can also become one of our biggest sources of stress as we struggle to balance competing interests, demands, and to-dos. If you focus on trying to please everyone, you’re going to end up burned out. Saying “no” and not feeling guilty about it can be your greatest gift this holiday season.

No, I can’t bring a side dish to that party. No, I can’t host your kids at my house today. No, we can’t go to both parties. No, I’m not buying that toy. No, you can’t invite your 3 friends from high school to my dinner party.

Obviously, there are things that you won’t be able to say “no” to. But for those things that you can, that are causing you more stress than they’re worth, that you dread doing – practice using that magic little word.

On Feeling Selfish

Sometimes setting boundaries is going to create a little backlash. Sometimes taking time for yourself will make you feel like you’re being selfish. To that I say this: you can’t pour from an empty cup.

By this I mean that you can’t possibly show up at your best for others if you don’t care for yourself first. In light of that, there is nothing selfish about taking a few minutes or an hour to yourself today and for saying no to something you don’t want to do.

Holiday Party Health Tips

We’ve all been there: walking out of a holiday get-together holding our bellies thinking “whyyyyy did I eat so much?!”. Overindulgence once in a while isn’t really a problem, but during the busy holiday season, those extra treats can really add up. So how can you enjoy your holiday parties without overdoing it? Here are my healthy holiday party tips.

Step 1: Eat normally before and after

Very often, I hear people saying that they compensate for big food events by eating very little or restricting what they eat beforehand. Here’s the thing about that, it doesn’t really work that way and it can slippery slope into disordered eating habits. Here are a couple facts that might shock you: 1. what we know as caloric values for certain foods are just approximations, not exact measures, 2. what a food’s calorie measures are outside the body aren’t necessarily the same as what they are once we consume them. So, first, your math is probably off. Second, if you go into the party starving, aren’t you just going to eat even more high-calorie food than you would have before?

My advice is, eat like you normally would before and after the party. This means you’ll be going into it with a normal appetite and not coming off of a day of deprivation and misery. Eat a balanced breakfast, drink enough water, eat a balanced lunch, have some small healthy snacks, go for walk or to the gym of whatever you usually do. If you don’t treat the gathering as a huge make-or-break to-do then it won’t feel like one and it will take a lot of pressure off of you.

Step 2: Plan Ahead

Set a goal for yourself going into it to help you stay on track. For example, “I’m going to have one glass of water for every glass of wine I have” or “I’m going to stick with just one dessert treat.” Note that this isn’t bargaining with yourself – the tactic isn’t to say “if I don’t eat this, then I can eat that.” That strategy can backfire quite quickly. What this strategy is is setting limits for yourself but making them reasonable and providing enough room for enjoyment.

Step 3: Know Yourself and Strategize

Are you a mindless eater or a grazer? Do you need external accountability? It’s really important that you know yourself and how you function at events like these.

If you know that you like to pick at foods or are a mindless eater, then choose a place away from the food table to station yourself to socialize. When you get food, portion out what you want onto a plate, even if it’s chips and dip, and walk away. Give yourself some time before returning for the table for more. Removing yourself from the source will decrease the odds that you will eat out of compulsion and will make it easier for you to tune into your hunger and satiety cues.

Maybe you really need accountability. If you’re working with a health coach, tell them what your goals are for the party so the next time you see them, they can check in on how it went. Or you could tell your partner or best friend. Just make sure that it is someone who can help you hold yourself accountable without shaming you.

Step 4: Stay Hydrated

Making sure you drink plenty of water throughout the gathering is key. Not only will it help pace your drinking, it will also help you control your eating as water can make you feel more full. Drinking water between drinks or plates or even bites can also help slow you down so you can check in with yourself and see if you really want/need more of whatever treat you’re thinking of.

Step 5: Bring Something Healthy

If it’s a gathering where people are pitching in by bringing different dishes, why not bring something healthy you will want to eat? You will be guaranteeing yourself a healthy option that you enjoy that can buffer against all those treats.¬† (Click here to download my favorite healthy holiday appetizer recipes).

Step 6: Take it Easy on Yourself

Going back to step 1 in a way here, if you do overindulge, you can’t compensate for it by restricting your food intake or overexercising the next day. All you can do is simply do better. Go back to your normal healthy eating habits, exercise like you normally would, drink plenty of water. And, most importantly, don’t beat yourself up about it. You are human and you had fun, like you’re supposed to.

How to Handle the Holiday Leftovers

Let’s be honest, our big holiday dinners aren’t a one-time event – we end up with refrigerators full of leftovers for days. While it’s great to enjoy that food a little longer, sometimes we wish we hadn’t saved so much. For most of us, if it’s there, then we are going to eat it whether we really want to or not. So what should to do with those holiday leftovers?

What it really comes down to is balance.

Set Deadlines

Like I said, if it’s in your house, you’re probably going to eat it. And you absolutely SHOULD eat those delicious holiday foods. But it’s all about the balance. Gravy and pie 3-4 days in a row is getting to be a bit much and will be displacing healthier foods from your daily diet.

I recommend setting a deadline of 2 days. After those 2 days are up, sort through what you have and part ways with the foods you don’t want to overindulge in – like gravy, candied yams, green bean casserole, pies, white bread rolls, cranberry sauce, etc. Keep the good things – the veggies, the turkey, whole grains, you get it.

Moderation and Mindfulness

Just because you have the foods from the big holiday meal, doesn’t mean you have to replicate that big holiday meal every time you have some leftovers. Before you toss those unhealthy options out, you should absolutely enjoy some – but do so with moderation and mindfulness. What does that mean?

Start with smaller portions. Using a smaller plate is helpful for this. I also recommend dishing out your small portion and then putting everything back in the fridge even before you warm up what’s on your plate – this will help curb that temptation to pile more on your plate or go back for seconds.

Finally, eat that delicious, indulgent food slowly, chew it completely, really enjoy it. Eating slowly and mindfully allows you to get more enjoyment out of your food and you will feel more satisfied by it. Don’t forget that digestion begins in your mouth with the process of chewing and salivation and your stomach doesn’t register the food you put in it right away – eating slowly will help you absorb more nutrients from your food and help prevent overeating.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

If you have some less perishable holiday leftovers – maybe some candy that never got opened or alcohol that wasn’t drunk – and you want to use them at your next get together, remember the old refrain “out of sight, out of mind.”

It seems simple and almost silly, but it’s been proven that if you aren’t able to see those temptation foods, you will forget about them and they won’t tempt you. With this in mind, put those treats in the back of the cupboard with lots of healthful foods in front of them, or put them on a bottom shelf with healthful foods at eye level. You could also put them in an opaque container so you can’t see them. It’s been shown that having healthful foods fully visible and unhealthful foods not visible or out of reach prevents people from opting for the unhealthy foods and getting off track.

Now, what if throwing out food makes you uncomfortable? I get it. I also hate throwing away food and we all have heard that food waste is a big problem. In that case, what I have to say is this: if that food isn’t providing you with vital nutrients, nourishing you, and doing good things for your body and mind, then there isn’t much value in keeping it around. It has served its purpose and is no longer doing that. Thinking of it this way can make it feel less “icky” to toss it.

Following these three pieces of advice will help you enjoy the holiday fun without getting completely off track. Wishing you good health this holiday season!

Recovering from Holiday Eating

The holidays are a time for family, togetherness, gratitude, and very often, overindulgence. There is no way to “undo” your holiday overindulgence, but you can bounce back on track so one big party or meal doesn’t slippery slope into another and other. Here are my rules for overindulgence recovery:

1.Don’t try to compensate by skipping meals the next day

Many people think that they can balance out what they consumed the day before by simply eating less, or none at all, the next day. This simply isn’t how our bodies work and taking this approach will do far more harm than good. In addition to making you cranky, deliberately skipping out on meals will leave you ravenous and often leads to binging and poor food choices. Instead of trying to balance out your calorie load, focus on eating healthful foods and grazing on them throughout the day instead of eating a few larger meals. You will feel better, both because you aren’t starving and because you are nourishing your body, and you will be setting yourself up for getting back on track and staying there.

2. You can’t run your way out of that second helping of pie

You might often hear people say that they are going to hit the gym extra hard the day after their jumbo holiday meal. Again, this is not the right approach. First of all, it’s not feasible to truly burn off all of those calories and then some. Second of all, this is a really good way to overdo it or even hurt yourself, thereby taking you off track for a longer period of time. Instead of trying to burn off everything you ate over the course of an entire day in a 2-hour gym session, just do your regular workout. If you want to kick it up a little bit for a little extra sweat and burn, that’s fine, but running yourself to the ground is not the answer.

3. Drink lots of water

Let’s be honest, many of us overindulge in more than just food over the holidays. Over consuming alcohol plus eating so many salty treats at parties and the dinner table can leave you dehydrated and feeling terrible. Drinking plenty of water during the party or holiday dinner will do two good things for you: 1. it will help keep you hydrated, and 2. it will help prevent you from overeating as much because drinking water slows you down and makes you feel full. Drinking plenty of water the next day continues that rehydration process to get you back to feeling good again.

4. Be gentle with yourself

This is a big refrain you hear from me all the time. Be gentle with yourself. It is way too easy to beat yourself up for going off your diet or eating until you felt sick but berating yourself for it does you absolutely no good. In fact, it could foster a mind set of “well, I’ve already completely ruined my diet and I have no self-control so why should I even bother trying?” Instead, appreciate how delicious the food was and congratulate yourself for realizing that you don’t want to continue on that course. Then you can get back on track.

Those are my tips for recovering from any holiday overindulgences you may be feeling the effects of this weekend. There are more holidays ahead of us, so I will just leave you with this: remember that there is nothing wrong with indulging occasionally – the key is that you do so mindfully so that you are truly enjoying it and you don’t overindulge.

This is about YOU

As the temptation-filled holidays are coming to a close and the New Year is fast approaching, many of us are making diet plans and setting health goals with really wonderful intentions for 2017. To be completely honest, though, most of us will struggle with these diet and exercise routines and they will fall by the wayside. There are a lot of reasons for this but the one that I want to focus on here is that these diets and exercise schedules we find online and in books and magazines aren’t made for you. They weren’t put together with your goals, your motivations, your strengths, and your needs in mind. You are setting these goals and starting these changes to benefit YOUR health and improve YOUR life, so shouldn’t the things you do work with YOUR lifestyle?

I am right there with you on the healthy New Year’s resolution train. I have tried so many popular diets and exercised the way others told me and, every time, it went well for a few weeks and then fell off. What I eventually realized is that part of the reason why these things weren’t working is because they weren’t designed to accommodate the way I work.

We are all human and, as such, we all have our own motivations, limitations, and strengths. For any lifestyle change to really work, it needs to factor in what those motivations, limitations, and strengths are.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Planning Your Fitness Resolutions:

In order to figure out what will and will not likely work for you, you need to figure out how YOU work. I recommend that you start out by asking yourself these questions to help shape your plans.

  1. What motivates me?

For most people, a lofty, long-term goal is not motivation enough to stick with a plan because it is so far off and abstract. Maybe you are success-driven and need to set concrete milestones for yourself at regular intervals. Maybe you are reward-driven and need to figure out a way to reward yourself for your progress regularly in order to keep going. Figure out how you are motivated and figure out incentives for yourself based on your motivation.

2. How do I work?

Some people are great self-motivators and can put together a plan and push themselves to stick with it. Other people need more instruction and supervision so individual training or group classes are a better fit for them than a gym membership. For others, being accountable to a gym buddy is what keeps them going. Figure out what your work style is (looking at how yourwork in your job or in school can help with this) and try some different ways to accommodate it. If you’re a visual learner, having someone recite something to you over and over again isn’t going to help you learn. Likewise, trying to keep to a running schedule on your own when you really need someone to encourage you to keep your pace up isn’t going to get you where you want to be.

3. What obstacles threw me off last time?

“The definition of ‘insanity’ is repeating the same behavior over and over again expecting a different outcome.” I don’t remember what movie this was in and that’s definitely not the real definition, but this statement is perfectly applicable here. If you don’t take the time to examine the things that worked and did not work for you in your past health endeavors, how will you be able to develop a more effective plan this time? Spoiler alert: you won’t. Was finding the time to work out or meal prep a problem for you in the past? Were you bored by your workout routine? Did you feel like your diet was leaving you feeling deprived or dissatisfied? Try listing out on a piece of paper what worked in one column and what didn’t in the other. This will become a helpful roadmap when figuring out your plan this time around.

4. What is my goal?

Having a concrete, measurable, time-bound goal is the key to success in pretty much anything. So many people start out their resolution with “I want to lose weight.” Okay, how much weight? by when? If you can’t answer these questions, how will you know when you’ve succeeded? how will you track your progress? how will you stay motivated? You can’t.

 

It took me a long time of progress and set backs to figure out what truly worked to keep me on track with my workouts. Eating well was one thing, but, when I got home from work in the evening, a glass of wine and the couch was WAY more appealing than getting changed and going back out to the gym.

First, I figured out that if it’s up to me to get myself to the gym regularly, I’m not going to do it. Period. I need to have a set time to be somewhere and I need the added accountability of losing money if I am not there when I’m supposed to be. Knowing this, I figured out that fitness classes are key for keeping me on track. I book in advance, have it on my schedule, and, if I don’t go or cancel too late, I lose the $15 I paid for the class. Once I started going to these classes, I also figured out that I was working much harder and seeing better results than I was when I was actually making it to the gym. Having an instructor to regularly challenge me to work harder and to switch up the routine was what I needed to continue to improve. On top of that, I have fun in those classes! And that is some solid motivation, too.

We live busy lives and are surrounded by temptation and excuses every day. Why make it harder for ourselves by trying to force ourselves into a mold that doesn’t fit? If you want to live a healthier life, you absolutely can and you can find a way to do it that suits you.