Your Healthy Holiday Survival Guide

Maylin Rodriguez-Paez, RN

It’s the holiday season. We're pretty sure that many of you are going to party a little bit, and no, we’re not going to try to discourage it.

During this time of year, many of us break from our routines somewhat, drink a little (more) alcohol, eat a lot of food, and even forget to exercise. But please don’t be too hard on yourself; it happens to almost all of us.

It’s okay to indulge a little and have some fun especially if it’s only a “once-a-year” occasion. However, it can’t hurt to take some precautions and practice a little moderation as well.

If you’re looking to minimize the damage, here are some survival tips to help make this time of year both enjoyable and bearable.

Holiday Party Pitfall #1: Alcohol

So you like to have a drink or two — or three — at the holiday parties. Big deal. But is there a way to drink moderately without causing excess strain on your body?

The answer is yes. Again, we’re not encouraging you to drink, but we want you to be prepared for it, in case you do.

1. The first rule is to drink moderately. Try to drink as little as you can. The less you drink, the less havoc it will cause your body. Not exactly a shocker, we know.

2. Try to be selective in your choice of drinks. Red wine, for example, contains beneficial nutrients like resveratrol that can protect your body. Skip the drinks with artificial flavors and colors.

3. Consider taking protective nutrients that can help block the damaging effects of alcohol.

For example, an extract from milk thistle called silibinin prevents alcohol from turning into acetaldehyde,1 a potent toxin that can damage DNA and cause cancer.2 Also consider taking N-acetyl cysteine.

This antioxidant binds to acetaldehyde and prevents it from causing damage.3 For optimal results, take these nutrients before drinking or going to bed.

4. Stay well hydrated! Alcohol is a diuretic and causes you to urinate more frequently. Dehydration can make you feel ill. If you’re drinking alcohol, be sure to drink water too!

5. Don’t forget to take your vitamins. Alcohol depletes nutrients like vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, and folic acid.4

A word of caution:
If you take prescription medications, avoid alcohol. Mixing CNS (central nervous system) depressing drugs like opioids and alcohol may result in death. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist for further information.

Holiday Party Pitfall #2: Excessive Calories

We get it: You don’t want to hurt Aunt Margie’s feelings by not trying her latest casserole. Nor do you want to pass up the opportunity to sample your cousin’s famous spinach dip.

Given these constraints, here are a few tips for enjoying tasty foods without piling on the pounds:

1. Develop a calorie budget: Plan your food day ahead of time. If you’re going to a holiday luncheon, have a light dinner or snack in the evening, like a soup or a salad. Similarly, if you want to eat dessert, go easy on dinner or sacrifice some items on your plate, like a piece of bread or a side of rice.

2. Make wiser choices: Avoid cream based soups, dips, and drinks. Go for the salsa dip instead. Choose low-glycemic side dishes. For example, pick sweet potatoes or green beans over mashed potatoes. Balance the sugary snacks with protein.

3. Use nutrients to your advantage: If you’re preparing to gobble far too much fat, you can help block some of its absorption by taking the right nutrients. For example, green tea as well as fiber5 have been shown to block dietary fat.6
 
The added benefit of fiber is that it can help you feel full. Taking a fiber supplement some time before a meal may actually help you eat less and prevent the absorption of dietary fat.

Holiday Party Pitfall #3: Physical Inactivity

Two weeks of physical inactivity could leave you feeling out of shape pretty quickly. Make it a point to exercise wherever you are.

You can also involve your family in fun activities. Take a few walks outside during the day. Also, dance when you have the opportunity; in one hour you could easily burn about 200 calories.7

Other activities to consider include sledding, snowboarding, ice skating, snow shoveling, and even housework. Just find some way to get moving. Your body will thank you for it!

The Bottom Line:

Healthy living is about balance. You ARE allowed to slip out of your healthy habits from time to time and enjoy yourself. Just try to be smart about it.

Have a happy and healthy holiday!

References:

  1. Cancer Lett. 2010 May 1;291(1):120-9.
  2. Available at: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh301/38-47.htm. Accessed November 26, 2012.
  3. Artery. 1995;21(6):312-6.
  4. Available at: http://www.bouldermedicalcenter.com/articles/Alcohol_Nutrition.htm. Accessed November 26, 2012.
  5. J Nutr. 2000 Nov;130(11):2753-9.
  6. Br J Nutr. 2011 Nov;106(9):1297-309. Epub 2011 Aug 3.
  7. Available at: http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/Calories-burned-in-30-minutes-of-leisure-and-routine-activities.htm. Accessed November 26, 2012.

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