Don’t let the holidays put your health in disarray. Use this tip sheet to keep off unwanted pounds, knock out pain conditions, and be more pleasant during the holiday season.
The holidays can be stressful, if not horrific for your health. Increased stress about money, depression about family (or lack thereof), and weight gain from hearty and sweet foods can heighten the pain of many conditions. There are things you can do to avoid the negative effects of the season, and you may end up feeling even healthier in the end.
Strike a lighter note with your holiday fair
It’s no surprise that your Christmas dinner is loaded with saturated fats, carbs, and high amounts of sugar and sodium, but there are ways to avoid the bad and increase the good. First, plan a meal that has fewer dishes. You may be tempted to sample everything in the buffet line, leading to an overpiled plate of despair. Fewer choices will likely lead to a smaller plate. When preparing these foods, try replacing butter with light margarine, sugar with splenda, and heavy stocks with unsalted broths. Alter recipes or find new ones to keep your family healthier, and don’t be afraid to put a new spin on a traditional dish. Incorporate more fruits and vegetables into the meal, as well, to make sure you are absorbing essential nutrients. Don’t forget the cranberries! They are high in antioxidants and vitamins and can be conveniently added to many of the recipes on your table. Whether you are eating at someone else’s home or eating out this year, make conscious choices in your food selections. Portion control is key. Take only one scoop of candied yams or stuffing, instead of three or four, and if you simply can’t resist that slice of pumpkin pie, at least forego the whipped cream.
Holiday meals may be high in fats, sugars, and carbs, but there are many healthy choices available at most Christmas buffet tables. Look for unsugared cranberries, turkey (minus the gravy), sweet potatoes, and green leafy vegetables.
It can be challenging to avoid cookies and candy over the holidays, as well. If you are the baker or candy maker, sometimes it’s hard to shake tradition. Try making less of these delicacies or give some of them away as presents, to avoid having them sit on your counter. The more you look at them, the more you are likely to eat them. Perhaps you can plan your recipes to include less sugar, butter, and heavy cream than you would normally use. If these foods are gifted to you, share them with others to prevent the urge of eating the entire bag yourself.
One other tactic to consider is eating several small meals throughout the day, rather than waiting for that huge gorge fest. By eating 4 to 6 small snack sized meals, your metabolism works constantly throughout the day and doesn’t need to be jump started when a large flood of carbs and fats hits your belly at one time. It also helps to use your better judgement when your stomach isn’t making good decisions for you. Remember to slow down; it isn’t a race. Your brain needs about 20 minutes to register that you are full, so by shoveling it in too quickly, you don’t give your brain enough time to tell your stomach that it’s going to pop.
Research suggests that our brain registers the first few bites of any food as the tastiest. So, continuing to eat the same food starts to bore your brain, and it stops releasing the wonderful hormones that make us feel good inside. Rather than consuming a slice of every pie on the buffet line, try sampling a bite or two of each item. You will get all the wonderful taste, your brain will remain happy, and you will have only consumed a fraction of the calories.
By avoiding these foods in excess, not only will you more easily keep your weight in check, but you will also better manage any pain related issues that may be plaguing you this year. Excess weight is bad for your joints and bones and will likely cause conditions like sciatica to worsen. Excess fats can also damage your heart, high sodium can impact the function of your kidneys, and extra sugar can add undue stress to your pancreas. Keep all of this in mind prior to over-indulging at this season’s holiday party.
Walk your butt off, Literally
Obviously, exercise can help you manage your weight, but it can also help treat many ailments which cause pain. Before a big celebratory, holiday meal, take a long, brisk walk or go to the gym. Treat the meal as a re-fueling of calories or a body repair ceremony. Exercising before a big meal, rather than after, will prepare your body for the intake of excess calories and other non-essentials that are basically trash for your bowels, preventing it all from absorbing into your fat cells and disrupting the smooth operation of your organs and body.
The holidays don’t have to be terrible on your thighs. Keep the weight off by working hard and eating right, and your aching joints will thank you also.
Exercise does not only allow you to effectively manage your weight, it will also help you manage your pain. Exercising helps to increase flexibility and strength of the muscles and joints, leading to less stiffness and a higher range of motion. It also helps to regulate blood flow and may help to reduce inflammation of problem areas.
It is essential, however, that you not push yourself too hard. The guilt of consuming a second piece of pecan pie might be motivation enough to push you beyond your breaking point, but this may take its toll on your health, and leave you in worse shape than you started. Spending the whole day stuck on the couch with an ice pack on your over-extended muscles is no way to spend Christmas. To maximize the benefit of a good workout for weight loss and pain management together, vary your routine. Move from the treadmill to the bike, then work out key areas on weight machines, although it’s best to consult with a physical trainer on what exercises best fit your needs.
Working out also releases endorphines, your body’s natural hormones, which help you to feel good and stay on top of your game. Endorphines can help you battle the stress and depression commonly felt during the holiday season. Even if you don’t have time to go for a jog or hit the gym, make a few extra laps through the mall when doing your holiday shopping… and make sure to wear comfortable shoes.
12 pains of Christmas
Decorating your home for the holidays will likely top the list here. Between digging through stacked boxes in the garage, dragging the tree from the top of your car and into the house, and climbing the ladder to hang the lights, you may end up aching come Christmas morning. While these things could be looked at as “exercise”, don’t kid yourself. In that sense, it’s this “exercise” you are warned not to overdo, although you likely just did. Enlist someone to help you dig out the old boxes of decorations and bring them inside for you. Even if you usually hang the lights yourself the way you like them, have a family member or hired help hang them for you this year, while you micromanage them safely from a comfortable lawn chair.
Don’t end up like this pain-stricken Santa. Let the elves do the heavy lifting for you, and learn to relax this Christmas.
Sometimes something as simple as hunching over while gift-wrapping can leave your back in a knot. If you typically experience back pain from repetitive movements, have someone else wrap gifts for you this year. Many stores don’t have a layaway program anymore, but most still have gift-wrapping services during the holidays.
Standing for long periods of time, especially when cooking in the kitchen all day, can take it’s toll on your legs and spine, as well. Get a padded kitchen mat, designed to ergonomically support your aching back while standing on it for long periods of time. It might also be a good idea to bring a small step stool in the kitchen so you can put one foot up on it, alternating feet every so often. Continue to distribute your weight evenly throughout the day to avoid fatigue in your joints and muscles. Take time to stretch often, and take a load off frequently by relaxing on the couch with a glass of eggnog. Your bones (and your tummy) will thank you for it.
For treating your most severe pains in time to make the holidays most enjoyable, treat yourself to a massage, visit an accupuncturist, or look into Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT). While these methods won’t “cure” you, they are designed to help alleviate inflammation, loosen tension, and make life a little more bearable. If you can’t afford to pamper yourself, maybe you can add a massage to your Christmas wish list, along with other home treatment items like supportive pillows, heating/cooling pads, ergonomic chairs, exercise equipment, or specially designed bags and backpacks. Many people bringing gifts will appreciate you letting them know what you need, instead of trying to figure out what you might like.
Tis The Season
Rather than focusing on your pain, weight loss, or stress this holiday season, look forward to the positives instead. Be grateful for your friends and family, the magical look on a child’s face when they just opened their favorite gift, or the many ways you might help a family who is less fortunate. Donate gifts or money to a local charity like Toys For Tots, or offer your time at a nearby soup kitchen. It’s amazing how great you can feel after helping those who are less fortunate and rediscovering the true meaning of the holidays. Oftentimes, charity has as powerful an impact on the one giving as it does the recipient. You can search for local volunteer opportunities or charities at DoSomething.org. Who knows? You may even find help for your own aches and pains, as well.