From streamlining your social calendar to eating dessert before dinner, 7 tips on staying healthy as Thanksgiving — and, close behind it, the festive season — approaches.
BY JACLYN TROP
It’s the most wonderful time of the year — and, perhaps, the most stressful. For some people, the impending holidays may only conjure anticipation of family, fun, and good food, but for others, it also brings trepidation about staying healthy when routines are upended, treats beckon around every corner, and, oh, yeah, the pandemic is still around. We asked local experts for their best tips on juggling the season’s demands while keeping your mental and physical health intact.
PRIORITIZE MENTAL HEALTH
It may sound like a no-brainer (no pun intended), but honoring your own needs is key when it comes to successfully navigating the holidays, which we all know can be fraught with emotion. “Be thoughtful about how you spend your time and where you put your energy,” says Erika Bocknek, a professor of counseling psychology at Wayne State University. “Meaningful interactions are more important than box-checking.” Translation: Be selective with your RSVPs to avoid burnout — you don’t have to say “yes” to every engagement — and avoid over-scheduling yourself. If heavy socializing tends to wear you out, make sure that you’re spending enough time alone or in smaller groups. “Put up boundaries,” Bocknek adds. “Try not to let your investment in the holidays detract from being a healthy, whole person.”And set ground rules in advance to duck out if the conversation gets tense or political at family gatherings. “If there was ever a year for someone to say, ‘I just don’t want to argue with you,’ this is the year.”
EAT ALL DAY
It’s way too easy to overeat during the holidays, when food is a central part of any celebration. It may sound counterintuitive, but the best way to avoid gorging at any given event — whether Thanksgiving dinner or a friend’s holiday party — is to pay attention to what you eat beforehand. “We all know that holiday parties can have the foods we’ve been avoiding all year long if we’re trying to control our weight,” says Kimberly Snodgrass, a wellness dietician at Henry Ford Health System. But you can hedge against stuffing yourself by watching what you eat earlier in the day, she says. Snodgrass recommends pairing an oatmeal with a nut butter for breakfast and fixing a colorful plate of leafy veggies with hummus for lunch. Eating fiber-packed meals before you head out will keep you full longer — which means you’re less likely to overdo it later on.
MOVE YOUR BODY
Working out may not be your biggest priority during the busy holiday season. But even a few minutes of exercise per day are better than none at all. “Our biggest advice to clients is do not wait until ‘Monday,’” says George Shaouni Jr., co-owner and head trainer at Powerhouse Gym in Troy. “If you screwed up on Tuesday, that’s six days of continued bad habits.” Shaouni recommends aiming for 20 minutes of activity daily, whether that’s a walk around the neighborhood or follow-ing a fitness video on YouTube. “Working out should never be a punishment,” he says. “It’s a reward for your body, and it keeps you going mentally, too.”
SATISFY YOUR SWEET TOOTH
Eating sugar doesn’t have to derail your diet, as long as you do it mindfully. One way is to indulge your craving before you get to wherever you’re going. Something as simple as a roasted sweet potato topped with cinnamon or a bowl of berries can do the trick. “They’re filling and lower on the glycemic index so your blood sugar won’t spike,” which can cause lethargy and hunger, says dietician Snodgrass. Set on sampling from the sweet table at your destination? Pick just one dessert and stick to a single portion. “Savor it and take small bites,” she says.
We all know that stress is bad for our health, but many of us don’t take steps to combat it. Treating yourself to a spa day is one way to do that. Massages, in particular, offer actual health benefits: Studies show that your body releases “feel good” hormones as soon as your massage therapist starts your session, says Kathy Skubik, executive director of Irene’s Myomassology Institute in Southfield. “Touch significantly reduces stress, which we all know has a very negative effect on overall health,” she says.What’s more, research has found that Swedish massage, which helps relax over-taxed muscles and boost blood circulation, is linked to a decrease in levels of the stress hormone cortisol, among other benefits. It’s also been reported to help alleviate head-aches, depression, and chronic pain.
FILL YOUR GLASS … WITH WATER
It’s easy to keep drinking when the eggnog is flowing, but to stave off that holiday hangover, make sure you’re chugging water, too. “I cannot stress this enough: Drink half your body weight in ounces,” Snodgrass says. (That means that a 150-pound person should aim for 75 ounces of water daily.) And trading your cocktail for water doesn’t have to be a buzzkill: Snodgrass recommends dressing it up with a lemon, lime, or cucumber wedge.
LIMIT THE LATE NIGHTS
Be mindful about scheduling sleep into your holiday plans. “Maintaining proper sleep hygiene is one of the biggest silent contributors to good mental health,” Wayne State’s Bocknek says. When festivities keep you up beyond your bed-time, plan to compensate by squeezing in a daytime nap beforehand or sleeping in the next morning. “A late night here and there is not harmful,” she adds, “as long as you return to your normal schedule.”
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