Healthy Holidays - December, 2014

It’s that time of year again when we take time to give thanks and appreciate all of the blessings that have come our way over the last year.  For most, it is a wonderful time of year with long-standing traditions and wonderful celebrations.  However, the holiday is not without its challenges.  For some, it can be a stressful and busy time of year because of year-end business commitments and/or financial pressures.  For those that may have less-than-ideal relationships with other members of their immediate or distant family, it can be an anxious time of year.  But for most, the biggest challenge is navigating the holiday food scene.  Oh yes – all of those rich, fatty and sugary foods and “adult” beverages may taste good going down but they are not helping your waistline or your overall health.  So let’s take a quick look at some of the pitfalls of the holiday season.




The holiday season brings with it an endless flow of snacks and finger-foods.  Walk in the office in the morning and there are those holiday themed donuts.  During lunch the holiday cookie tray appears and at 3:00, someone makes the rounds with some chocolates supplying the “pick-me-up” everyone needs to get through the rest of the day.  Then after work you head to the holiday party with all those heavy finger foods and cheese platters. 


This is a landmine for many people and the only advice I can give you is don’t do it – or don’t do all of it.  If you feel the need to share in some of the snacking, just do a little taste of one and get back to business.  Also, try and bring your own fruits, veggies, nuts or seeds.  Or at the very least try and seek out the healthier foods being offered.  The good news is that the vegetable platter at cocktail hour usually has the smallest line!




The biggest thing here is try not to overeat.  While the foods often associated with the holidays would not be considered healthy, it is the double whammy of unhealthy food AND a lot of it that does most people in.  So during dinner, try and get in the healthy foods first, like salads, vegetables and whole grains and fill in from there if you need to.  Filling up on these healthy foods first will help you avoid – or at least eat less of – the unhealthy foods.  Also, the fiber in the salad and vegetables will help you feel full quicker.


Dessert and Drinks


Ah yes, drinks and desserts…what would the holidays be without them?  A lot healthier ; - )


Seriously, everyone likes a special treat for dessert or a glass of wine every now and again.  However, every now and again during the holidays becomes several times per week – even more often for some.  And as we all know, desserts and sodas are full of refined sugar and adult beverages have alcohol and often lots of sugar as well.  The problem here is that the added refined sugar contributes significantly to the calorie count of the dessert and drink, and alcoholic drinks are not low in calories either.  This violates one of the cardinal rules… “don’t drink your calories”.  But perhaps more importantly, too much refined sugar and alcohol in the diet also curbs immune system cells that attack bacteria – basically suppressing immune system function.  This effect can last for a few hours after each food/drink is ingested.  However, if your day/week is full of sugary foods/drinks and alcohol, your immune system is “perpetually” compromised making you more susceptible to getting sick and run down.


Schedule and Big Picture


The hustle and bustle of the holiday season may also contribute negatively to your health.  Remember that sleep, stress and physical activity play a significant role in your health and the holiday season is a time of year when these things tend to be impacted.  It is important NOT to overextend yourself.


Getting enough sleep is often the last thing people think about and people frequently “borrow” hours from sleep time to accomplish other tasks.  This is especially true during the holiday season.  But your body does not make an exception because it’s the holidays so be sure to try and get 7 hours per night if possible.  Adequate sleep has been shown to help improve memory, maintain a healthy weight and even lower cholesterol and stress levels.  In fact, when it comes to your health, sleep and stress are virtually the same so make sure you are getting your rest. 


The word “stress” is thrown around a lot and is typically associated with outbursts of anger or a sense of being overwhelmed.  But the “internal” problems associated with stress include very serious health problems including heart disease – America’s #1 killer.  And while there are some very real reasons that people have stress, there are some simple ways to help overcome it.  Regular physical activity, adequate sleep, certain breathing techniques and even prayer and/or reflection can all help with stress. 


The holiday season is about faith and family, giving to others, being thankful for good fortunes and the excitement of opportunities that lie ahead in the New Year – that’s THE BIG PICTURE we all need to keep in mind.  So don’t let unhealthy food, lack of sleep and exercise and too much stress ruin it for you.  Keep the big picture in mind and enjoy the season and you’ll come out on the other side better for it. 


Have a happy and HEALTHY holiday season.


Best in Health


Tom Dunnam