The holiday season is here! It’s getting colder, the days are shorter, and holiday gatherings with your family and friends are in full swing. For some, the holidays are a time to wind down, recharge with friends and family, and treat yourself. It’s also important to acknowledge that holidays can be stressful, between adding extra things to do into your already-busy schedule and proximity to those “tricky” family dynamics that we all have.
What can you do to keep healthy during the holidays? You won’t be surprised that we want you to mind your stress, your exercise and your healthy eating, alongside all the “festivating” that makes the holidays great.
Keep a Balanced Diet
At holiday parties you’re often surrounded by goodies, desserts, and dishes that are high in fat and sugar. Hopefully you’ve been eating a healthy diet full of plant-based anti-oxidant-rich fruits and vegetables all year. So it’s fine to splurge a little! Just keep these tips in mind:
It’s OK to have a few indulgent appetizers (we’re looking at you, prosciutto!) and desserts (hello, pudding). As we say in The Science of Living Well, Beyond Cancer, it’s important to balance those treats with real foods. When in doubt, find the veggie and fruit plate, or chow down on some brightly-colored vegetables before you even leave the house, especially if you suspect there won’t be many healthy choices. If you want to contribute something delicious (and a bit more nutritious) to the party, try our easy recipe for spinach and artichoke dip.
Meat is often a featured item in many special occasions. Unfortunately, all animal products – especially red meat – are known to cause inflammation, which is associated with many chronic diseases, including cancer. If you have a choice, go for the smaller and leaner petite filet rather than the giant porterhouse steak, and fill the rest of your plate with brightly-colored vegetables. Savor each bite and give yourself a little more time before you reach for that next slice of prime rib…you’ll thank yourself later!
In fact, the most important thing we can recommend at the holidays is probably portion control. Nowhere is this more important than the dessert table. According to a Johns Hopkins study, a man with a high blood sugar level has almost five times greater risk of dying from prostate cancer than someone with normal levels. One suggestion to moderate portions is to fill your belly with healthy foods before you fill your plate with dessert – never hit the dessert table on an empty stomach, and take ½ portions of everything you want to try.
Remember, fitness is like pushing a stone up a hill: if you let go now, you might have to start back at square one, come January. Here are some ways to keep active during the holiday rush:
Get out! We know—all of the food, all of the people, and the cold makes it easy to stay indoors, glued to the couch. Going on a run or walk is a great way to keep up your exercise, whether you’re hosting family or heading out of town. Make sure to bring warm clothes so you can’t use the cold as an excuse! Whether it’s a quick jog/brisk walk or a visit to the gym before the movie marathon, any type of exercise is better than nothing. Morning hikes or after-dinner walks with the whole family are a great way to spend time and keep the metabolism processing all those yummy holiday treats. Take a family walk to check out the neighborhood’s holiday decorations after lunch. Ice skating can make for a great outing with a loved one as well as a memorable experience with the whole family, while moving and burning some holiday calories.
Avoid Processed Foods and Make REAL Food
If you’ve read our wellness guide, you know that we place a pretty big emphasis on eating Real Food. Well, that still applies, even over the holidays! Eating fresh food that is minimally processed is crucial to feeling well, looking your best, and preventing chronic disease and cancer. Here are some ways to avoid hidden “junk” food and cook fresh and tasty holiday dishes.
Store-bought, premade entrees can be a real time-saver, but, like restaurant meals, they often contain more fat, sugar, and salt than you would use in cooking the same dish at home. When preparing a big meal, it’s tempting to take the easy route on sides—canned creamed corn and instant mashed potatoes might seem like appealing options when you’re focused on the main course. However, it’s easy to miss how processed foods often contain additives. For example, those mashed potatoes use hydrogenated oils, artificial flavoring, and preservatives. Some canned food contains sugar, salt, and preservatives to maintain flavor and freshness. Before you buy, check the label.
If possible, steer away from “prepared” food altogether and choose fresh foods. Even if you have a few treats to follow, start with a green salad and add a few special ingredients to spice it up: try dried cranberries and a sprinkle of toasted pecans. Squash and sweet potatoes are in season and are already naturally sweet to the taste – avoid the marshmallow topping, and instead roast them with a little olive oil and salt. A little more time in the kitchen is worth it to keep your health journey on track! For inspiration, check out our very own recipes for roast turkey, mashed potatoes, and other holiday dishes.
Enjoy Spending Time with Friends and Family
Mental health and sharing time with your loved ones are just as important as physical health. The holidays can be hectic, but at the end of the day, it is an opportunity to share time with the people who mean the most in your life. Community and support are a key factor in maintaining health—for cancer patients, survivors, and everyone else. Isolation, loneliness and lack of social support are related to worse health outcomes, especially for the elderly. Additionally, researchers have found that individuals who are socially isolated have a significantly greater risk of cancer mortality. Along with visiting family, the holidays are time to see old friends, foster existing relationships, and maybe even create a new connection—take a plate of cookies (or fruit!) to a neighbor or chat to someone different at the office holiday party. And it won’t hurt to share your leftovers—less calories for you, and more gratitude from your guests.
The holidays are an exciting time! Take time to enjoy. Minding your wellness is a healthy mix of eating well, exercising, relaxing… and splurging (in moderation). Happy Holidays from PCF.