Healthy Holiday Living: Tips for How to Eat Right and Be Active from A - Z, Part I

How to eat right and be active and healthy during the holiday season

It's December!  A month associated with cool weather but warm fires, warm comfort foods (hot chocolate & marshmallows), secrecy (hiding gifts and surprises), anticipation (will Santa really come to visit?), thoughtfulness, giving, and gathering together with family and friends.  The holiday season and its activities - gifts, cards, baking, wrapping, special meals - is one of my favourite times of the year as it showcases the true warmth of human spirit in all of us.  

As much as I do truly love this time of year, the holiday season becomes one more "project" to juggle in an already too-tightly schedule life.  This, coupled with the ubiquitous food and drink can lead to derailing many of us off our best intentions for a healthy lifestyle.  To help, I have outlined, from A - Z, how to eat well and be active during the busy holiday season, and offer special tips to healthfully survive time of the year.  

A – Alcohol

Who doesn’t enjoy a rum and eggnog, a festive martini or a holiday sangria?  While enjoyable, alcoholic drinks can add a lot of extra calories and can lead to dehydration.  Be moderate in your drinking and remember to hydrate in between glasses.  For non-alcoholic drink ideas, try these.  

B – Baking

The holiday season invites the chance to enjoy holiday baking, which, for many of us, is a tie to fond family memories.  Research has shown – the more variety of foods you have, the more you eat.  So, pick a few of your favourite recipes to bake and savour the flavor.  Really enjoy each morsel you put in your mouth. 

C – Caffeine

This time of the year, we add on “holiday activities” to our already over-filled plates of work and life projects to juggle.  We continue to burn the candle at both ends and often turn to caffeine to help power through our days.  Caffeine sources vary – coffee, tea, cola drinks, chocolate and energy drinks.  Remember, that while caffeine helps increase alertness, it can interfere with what we all need – sleep.  In adults, limit caffeine intake to no more than 400 mg/day, the amount of ~3 – 8 ounce cups of coffee.  Less if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

D – Don’t Stand So Close to Me

Buffet lunches, baking tables, cocktails, appetizers and dinners.  With so many great foods around, we have the chance to try many great foods.  Depending on how many functions you attend, this can lead to over-eating.  My dietitian colleague, Crystal MacGregor offers the following advice with buffets: “speed date the buffet line – and play hard to get”.  Brilliant, isn't it?  Crystal's translation: Look at the whole buffet line, select the foods that truly please you and enjoy these first.  Don’t stand by the buffet table – you’ll tend to graze more; stand away, you'll tend to eat less.

E – Exercise

This is critical, especially at this time of the year.  Exercise – purposeful body movement and exertion – has numerous benefits.  It helps you feel so good.  At a time of the year when we may be feeling stressed, ensuring you fuel your busy lifestyle with exercise helps give you the energy you need to get through the busy holiday season with a smile on your face.  And, it helps to balance out the potential increase in calories we consume during this indulgent time of year.  Walk, run, skate, swim, do a fitness video, “rent” a fitness video from Shaw on Demand, or even better, seek out a qualified fitness professional to give you customized strategies for quick workouts.

F – Fish

Include fish in your holiday season meals 2-3 times a week.  One of my favourite quick meals?  Salmon with maple syrup and grainy Dijon mustard.  Another idea?  Top fish with sundried tomato pesto. The time to cook your fish depends on the thickness of your fish.  It takes about 10 minutes for each 1 inch thickness in a 375 degree oven.  Be careful not to overcook your fish.  Left over fish makes for a great addition to a spinach salad the next day. 

G – Gifts

Give gifts that inspire health - to both adults and children.  Have a family or friend who needs to live gluten-free?  Make a basket of gluten free treats for your family or friends.  Include an assortment of teas, coffees, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegars, dark chocolate, Do-It-Yourself soup mix in a jar, fruits, and cheese.  Make your own spiced nuts.    

H - Hydration

Stay hydrated with water, juice, milk, coffee, teas, herbals teas, smoothies.  Keep your overall health goals in mind when drinking calorie-containing fluids.  When drinking coffees and teas, be aware of how much “extras” you are adding to your beverage. Cut your juice with half low-sodium carbonated water.  Add some sliced cucumber and mint, or lemon to your water. Make your water more festive with frozen strawberries or cranberries.  Keep yourself watered this holiday season!

I - Immunity

Keep yourself healthy!  It is hard to enjoy this holiday season when you feel rotten inside.  We eat over 80,000 meals in our lifetime.  Make time to eat well.  Include foods with vitamin C, zinc, and probiotics.  Be physically active, manage your stress, get sleep and wash your hands often!  Also make sure you are being food safe when preparing foods this holiday season!  For more tips on food safety mistakes to avoid, click here.  

J - Juice

When it comes to juice, think before you drink.  Juice contributes to hydration but also to our overall calorie intake.  Be aware of how much you are consuming - over-drinking juice and other juice-like drinks can easily lead to over-“eating”.  Research shows that our hunger and satiety [feeling full] do not respond to beverages the same way as foods. If you do enjoy juice, think of it as contributing to your overall calorie intake.  Consider “cutting” your juice with carbonated water.  Better yet, eat the orange rather than the orange juice. 

K – Kids

Holiday foods can mean strange and foreign foods for kids.  Help them feel successful with the foods they eat.  Get them involved in the kitchen in preparing foods, not just in baking.  Keep a feeding and nourishing routine.  Offer them lots of growing foods. If you have a child that is picky, rethink your mealtimes.  How much is a bite of that brussel sprout worth?  

L – Lunch

Take time to nourish your body with a balanced lunch.  Include whole grains, vegetables, fruits, milk and milk products and a protein.  Avoid skipping meals in preparation for holiday meals.  Skipping meals sets you up to overeat later.  Enjoy hummus, pita, a spinach salad and a glass of milk.  This will give you lasting energy and allow you to focus on something other than food.  For more lunch ideas, click here.  

M – Memories

Create holiday memories and traditions that inspire health.  Food has special meaning to all of us and is integrally involved in all parts of our celebrations.  How is physical activity included in your traditions?  What about a family skating party at Bowness Skating Lagoon? Plan a swim, a street hockey game, football game, a snowball fight or build a snow fort.  Balance out the creation of food memories with activities that create positive interaction with family and friends.

Stay tuned for Healthy Holiday Living A -Z Part II.  

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