(and get through the rest of the holidays)
The holiday season (and the need for recovery) really started back in October with Halloween candy, but now we’ve passed Thanksgiving and we’re accelerating into the seriously intense holiday season. The risk of weight gain and getting a cold or flu is never higher. But you can bring it back to neutral with some watchfulness and awareness.
1) Most of us have eaten a lot of carbs. Mashed potatoes and gravy. Stuffing. Pie. Such wonderful comfort food and so expanding to the waistline. The trick now that Thanksgiving is over is to resist the temptation to slide back into the white food habit (white bread, potatoes, cookies, cakes, candy—you get the idea). Because now that Christmas is on the horizon, everyone is going to start showing up with plates of Christmas cookies. Bring healthy, high protein snacks to the office and pass on the Christmas cookies and egg nog.
2) Keep moving. Now that the days are shorter and colder, it’s tempting to follow our genetic blueprint, hole up in a cave for the winter and let the metabolism slow to a crawl. Don’t even think about it! The combination of holiday food and the urge to hibernate can be lethal to the waistline. That blueprint is based on semi-starvation, not pecan pie with whipped cream. At the very least, get a brisk walk every day. And the older you are, the more likely it is that the holiday pounds are there to stay. Which means if you’re 35 and gain 2 pounds every holiday season and keep it there, you’ll have gained 40 pounds by the time you’re 55. And you 55 year-olds know exactly what I mean!
3) Fend off colds and flus. With the change of weather, excess white foods, and the stress of the holidays, no wonder cold and flu season begins in late fall and early winter. I’ll bet there’s an equation that a future scientist will compute that goes something like this: for every 1 Christmas cookie/cup of eggnog/slice of pie/candy cane, the risk of a cold or flu goes up 10 percent. If you can’t resist the white foods for your future waistline, do it to avoid getting a cold or flu during the holidays. The Chinese medicine herbal remedy Yin Chiao works well for many people as a preventive, to take at the first sign of a cold or flu. The time to get it is now, before you feel that warning tickle in the back of your throat.
And by the way, once you do feel that tickle back there, if you gargle relentlessly every few hours with something antibacterial (e.g. mouthwash or salt water) there’s a good chance it will go away by the end of the day. The throat is often where a cold or flu gets its first foothold and if you can banish it there you have a better chance of preventing it. The last thing you want to do is start popping throat lozenges. They’re full of sugar (or sugar substitutes) and have little to no preventive value.
4) Consider a little detox. Pick a day or two, preferably a weekend, when you choose to eat very simply and lightly, say a salad, some steamed veggies and brown rice. Drink plenty of water and get some moderate exercise. This can help your body clean house a bit and help you be more aware of what you’re eating and drinking. But for heaven’s sake don’t do it on a weekend when you’ve got three Christmas parties and a houseful of guests. If you don’t have a couple of days like that in the foreseeable future, choose high fiber foods and green veggies as often as possible.
It’s easy to drink more alcohol than you’re used to over the holidays. Granted, alcohol is a good social lubricant, but excess can compromise your immune system. Try warming beverages like tea or chai.
5) Pause and enjoy. Remember the deeper meanings of the holidays. When it comes to family gatherings, forgive and forget in advance. If you keep the TV turned off as much as possible, the holidays don’t have to be too commercial. How about logs crackling in the fireplace and hot spiced cider. Creatively decorated store windows. The pine aroma of an evergreen wreath or Christmas tree. The hushed quiet of a snowstorm. Friends and family gathered round. There are an infinite number of ways to make the holidays meaningful that don’t include rushing around and being stressed out. If you’re building memories and traditions for children and grandchildren, a sledding or skating party will win out every time over the mob scene at the mall. A stroll at night around the neighborhood to enjoy the Christmas lights, or caroling with friends, will linger long after the memory of a new toy has faded. Decorating together trumps TV specials. One of the very best gifts you can give your loved ones over the holidays is to pause long enough to listen to them, deeply.