My secret to weight maintenance during the holidays: Stay so busy you don't have time to eat. OK, the experts would say that's probably not the healthiest way to maintain weight, but it mostly works for me. If I'm decorating, shopping, wrapping and helping make holidays happy for my family, I'm not eating 24/7. If I find time to fit in my 30-minute-a-day workout and take the dog for a walk, all the better. And, amazingly, I usually do because these things are important to me.
I am not a health care expert, a fitness guru or the picture of perfect health. But, I do feel pretty good for a middle-aged mama, and, so far, my major health markers are also good.
So, here's my advice for holiday health:
- Watch your diet when you can—but be willing to splurge occasionally. After many years of unsuccessful attempts at maintaining a steady weight, I finally seem to have learned the secret: I eat sensibly about 90 percent of the time, concentrating on reasonable portions of fruits, veggies, complex carbohydrates, low-fat proteins and mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. But, for the other 10 percent, I let myself enjoy whatever I want without guilt (or at least not too much guilt). If I know there's a party or a special dinner coming up, I pay close attention to my eating in the days ahead, but I'm much happier if I allow myself a few extra treats at the party or a second helping of my favorite dish at the dinner. Then, the next day, I revert to sensible me. I'm not condoning gluttony, but allowing myself the occasional splurge keeps me from feeling deprived and makes it easier for me to stick to healthy eating the rest of the time.
- Drink lots of water. This can be hard to remember when the weather cools down and the holiday rush kicks in. But get yourself a favorite drinking cup or bottle, keep it filled and carry it with you wherever you go, including to work or out shopping. If you're not crazy about water, try adding lemon or lime, or drink more tea (hot or cold). Tea does have some dehydrating caffeine, but it also has plenty of health benefits.
- Find time for fitness. I make it a priority to start most days with a 30-minute workout at my gym. Doesn't take long and keeps me sane. Later in the day, my dog reminds me when it's time for a walk. Not always a long one, but something to clear my head. Experts recommend at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. It's really not that hard once you get in the habit, and what could add to your enjoyment of the holidays more than good health?
- Do what you love with the people you love. This applies all year, but sometimes we forget in the glare of the holiday season and with pressure from those around us. I try (not always successfully) to be considerate of friends and relatives, but occasionally I need to say no. I must focus on what is important for my family and me and sometimes forgo the things that aren't. As we enter the holidays, I like to touch base with my husband and two daughters: What is it they'd really like to do this year? Are there things we do that don't matter much to them? In our family, tradition is important—getting out the decorations we've used forever and putting them up in pretty much the same way every year; eating some over-the-top meals with longtime friends; baking cookies together; going shopping for all the cousins; attending the Christmas Eve candlelight mass. If seeing a Christmas play or ballet is important, do it. If you love caroling, round up a group of friends and go for it. If you prefer to travel and ignore the trappings of the holidays, make your reservations and take off. Not everyone is tradition-bound, and that's fine. Key is to know what matters.
- Ditch the things that aren't important. In my household, we're all accustomed to a dirty, messy house, and it's not going to make my children's holidays perfect if I stress out trying to clean. I try to pick up and do a quick clean before we bring out the decorations, but then I let it go. I'd rather spend my time baking, cooking, decorating and generally enjoying the season.
- Handle gift shopping and holiday cards in ways that work for you. I have friends who only shop online; friends who always give gift cards; friends who send dozens of handwritten cards; friends who send a family photo; friends who pick perfect gifts and wrap them perfectly; friends who repurpose great finds—and some friends who don't exchange gifts or cards at all. They're all still my friends. I like looking for the right gift for the right person, and it gives me pleasure when I succeed. I enjoying touching base with friends far away by sending a family letter. But if you prefer to express your friendship in ways other than gifts and cards, that's fine too. Holidays really aren't about the stuff.
- Keep tabs on stress. I have to confess that this is the hardest part for me. It's usually not any one thing that stresses me out during the holidays—it's all the extra details I need to keep track of. I occasionally wake in a sweat from the recurring nightmare that I forgot to buy Christmas gifts. My husband and my friends tell me to stop stressing, but I like creating a special Christmas for my family—and for me. I like the decorations, the cookies, the music, the baking, the parties. And, yes, I probably add a few gray hairs each season and possibly shave a couple of minutes off my lifespan. Each year, I say I'll start earlier, do less, be more organized, relax more. So far it hasn't happened. But every year I enjoy the holidays.
Here's hoping you and yours will too!