Dr. Akshay Jain
As Fall comes to an end, we are on the threshold of one of the year’s most joyous times. Diwali, Thanksgiving, Navratri, Dussehra, Christmas, and New Year are all knocking on our doorstep. We look forward to the festive season all year long, especially when it has been an incredibly stressful period as this year has been for many of us.
However, from a health perspective, this is also when many of us find that we are gaining weight. We are less active and have more insufficient control of existing health issues such as diabetes, blood pressure, and cholesterol problems. Stress levels can also be much higher for many during the holidays, and multiple parties during this season tend to affect our sleep cycles. The term “holiday weight” is ubiquitous, and, unfortunately, weight gain is so common during this time of the year that we almost consider it as inescapable.
All is not lost, though. We can ensure that this season of celebration does not play havoc with our overall health with some simple steps. Here are 12 high-impact tips that I discuss with my patients to ensure a healthier holiday season:
- Do your own cooking from scratch and keep the purchase of pre-made holiday food to a minimum. This will help put in perspective what you are eating, and you can cook in quantities that will just suffice, avoiding being stuck with excess food that one is forced to eat so that it doesn’t go waste.
- Ensure you eat at home before going to the mall for shopping to avoid the food court. Walk around the mall once before starting shopping or consider parking on the other side of the mall so that you are still able to get some exercise during the busy holiday season.
- On the day of a party, eat healthy balanced meals throughout the day and plan to have something small to curb your hunger before you go. Sometimes people will “save their calories” for the party, which can lead to overeating as you will be so hungry that it is more difficult to control portions and recognize fullness cues.
- It is effortless to get carried away with “liquid calories” during the holidays. Beverages such as pop, ginger ale, alcohol, sweet lassi, etc. have little nutritive value but lead to a significant caloric burden. One of the best options would be to drink plenty of water, which also limits the hunger. Some other options are sugar-free Kool-Aid or Crystal Light Pure.
- Mind the alcohol. Alcohol will increase calorie intake on its own, but it can also lead people to lose control of their eating and give up on their plan for making mindful food choices.
- Fruit juice has a very high content of carbohydrates that might lead to the worsening of blood sugars. For instance, a single glass of orange juice has the sugar content equivalent of 6 oranges! Whole fruits are a much healthier alternative to the fruit juices.
- Wait for the entire meal spread to be laid out and then pick your favorites. This helps limit the food intake compared to eating when each new item comes out. Eat the good-for-you food first (soups, salads, etc.) before having the holiday delicacies
- The day after an event, get back to your usual routine with healthy, balanced meals. Just because you indulged at a party does not mean you need to give up your healthy living goals for the whole season.
- When visiting friends or family, we often gift boxes of sweets, ice-creams, cakes, or samosas. I would encourage you to consider giving healthier options such as fruits or nuts/dried fruits
- When hosting friends/ family, it would be advisable to do away with high-calorie appetizers like samosas/ chaat and instead have high fiber appetizers such as salads, fresh vegetables with dips or hummus.
- Sweets/ fried foods are often served at places of worship during festive times. It would be encouraging to speak to the board at the site of worship at a public health level to consider healthier alternatives such as fruits, or display signs reminding those with diabetes, obesity, heart disease, blood pressure or cholesterol problems to be mindful of their health.
- BONUS tip: Remember to cut down the intake of C.R.A.P (Carbs, Refined sugars, Aerated sugary pop, Processed foods)!
Finally, it is essential to look at the holidays as a time of introspection. People can reflect on their health in the past year and set health goals for the next year. It can be gearing closer to your ideal body weight, exercising regularly, sleeping better, or tackling stress in a better manner so that a healthier new version of you emerges in the new year!