It’s December and for most of us, that means a cheerful time filled with family, food, and an overwhelming list of end-of-year to do’s! Amongst the holiday frenzy, healthy eating may be the first thing to slip. Stress eating, pressure from family and friends around the dinner table and in the office, or the magical thinking that they’ll just get back on track in the new year can set your patients up for defeat. Here are some strategies to help your patients enjoy this festive time without straying too far off the wellness path.
Maintain a regular exercise routine - especially during the holidays
Emerging evidence suggests that, regardless of how motivated the person, adults tend to gain weight over the holidays. Just an extra 200 or so calories a day can lead to a weight gain of a couple of pounds over the next few weeks. That may not sound like a lot but most are unable to shed the extra weight gained during each holiday season ⏤ resulting in keeping the many extra pounds in the following years.
The good news is that a recent study found that when we continue with our regular exercise routine (about 25 minutes a day, six days a week) even when we have indulged in a few extra calories the ill effects of overeating such as adipose tissue inflammation or circulating C-reactive protein did not increase.
Encourage patients to stick to their regular exercise routine during this season so they can reap benefits like better mood, weight maintenance, and reduced inflammation.
Stick to a regular meal plan to maintain balance
The holiday season presents many spontaneous eating opportunities that usually include ‘treat’ foods. Remind your patients that by approaching eating situations with a plan (and a little mindfulness) they can maintain peace and positivity around food and even incorporate treats into their routine. By sticking to a regular meal planning routine for most meals, there’s more freedom to enjoy the special occasion foods. In addition to special foods, holidays also bring irregular schedules. Even if an event is scheduled outside of your patients’ regular mealtime, encourage them to stick to a normal routine to aid in feeling satisfied with a smaller portion size of those special foods. (A recent study found that excess fat or sugar intake may affect how well we remember our last meal, influencing how much we eat during the next meal.)
Suggesting patients bring a dish to share that fits within their normal eating pattern is another great strategy. Tasty appetizers such as fruit and veggie platters, whole-grain crackers with hummus, or unsalted mixed nuts are all easy and cost-effective items. Not only will these healthy snacks keep patients from overindulging at dinner, but the fiber will feed a healthy gut microbiome, which will help maintain insulin sensitivity and glucose homeostasis.
Lastly, continuing self-monitoring activities like meal tracking and check ins with you can help keep patients mindful of their habits and focused on their health as well as their celebrations.
Focus on the conversations and connections
Food may be at the center of every celebration, but this time of year is also about connection. It is an opportunity to strengthen important relationships, make memories, share gratitudes, and find ways to help others. Social connectedness and high-quality friendships are associated with less risk of all-cause mortality and a host of other comorbidities.
So, why not suggest going for a walk with a close friend or family member instead of having seconds?