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7 Healthy holiday tips

The holidays are a great time to celebrate and share with loved ones—ushering in feelings of compassion and warmth. Yet, this time of year can often be full of busy preparations and unhealthy temptations. Learn how to stay happy, healthy, and stress-free this holiday season.

1. Plan ahead

Doing too much at once can leave anyone feeling overwhelmed. Start your holiday preparations before crunch time. Proper preparation can help keep your holiday calmer and more balanced.

If you're hosting family or guests, try setting aside days for cleaning, baking, shopping, and other activities, so you can check them off your to-do list before things get too hectic. Plan your menus and gifts to help you avoid running around at the last minute. Meal and party setup takes planning, too. Consider recruiting help from caterers, family, and friends. Being one step ahead of the game can make a big difference when you're juggling holiday tasks.

2. Balance

Staying fit during the holidays doesn't mean you have to give up your favorite foods or become a workout fanatic. There's no reason that you cannot eat healthfully and stay active this time of year. But it does involve making sacrifices to avoid holiday weight gain.

Eat smart: Sick of unhealthy options at your holiday gatherings? Bring your own healthy alternative. It's easy to replace some of the ingredients in your favorite holiday recipes with tasty and nutritious substitutes. Every meal can benefit from more fresh fruits and veggies. And spicing up your dishes with herbs is way more exciting than merely making them saltier. (Check out the handy click through to the right for some ideas on ingredient substitutions.)

Move more: Since eating is often a huge component of holiday celebrations, scheduling some time for physical activity is especially important. Commit yourself to staying active amidst holiday events and travel. Keeping up with your normal fitness routine is easier than you might think. You can even start a workout schedule, if you don't have one yet. Simply walk, jog, ride a bike, play sports, or go to the gym most days a week. A stroll after meals or a light game of touch football are great for getting friends and loved ones involved, too. And, the endorphins from exercise can lift your spirits—and you'll always be thankful you burned the extra calories.

3. Relax

Remember to breathe and take some time for yourself. Everyone benefits from a stress-free you. Spending just 15 minutes alone—without distractions—may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing, and restoring inner calm. Try deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or doing whatever it is that keeps you at ease—reading, listening to music, yoga, immersing yourself in nature, etc. Exercise is a great way to relax and relieve stress, as is meditation. Taking care of yourself and focusing on your own needs during the holidays can help you glide right through any stressful situations that arise.

4. Moderate

Food: Sometimes it may feel like it's the season for temptations. And, overeating may only add to your holiday stress and guilt. Curtail the desire for sugary and high-fat holiday foods by eating a light snack beforehand. Keep in mind that coworkers and loved ones may be prone to bring you unexpected treats this time of year, like holiday cookies or potato pancakes. It ok to try these treats—just limit your portion size or lighten your meals later that day.

Alcohol: Moderation is a must for alcohol consumption any time of the year. If you choose to drink, limit yourself to one drink per day or fewer if you're a woman and two drinks per day or fewer if you're a man. Be careful to avoid binging—having four or more drinks within a two-hour period. Visit FOH's Alcohol Awareness webpage to learn more about healthy drinking guidelines.

Spending: Thoughtful holiday gifts don't have to be expensive. Set limits ahead of time for your gift budget and stick to them. Receiving daily emails or text messages alerting you of your checking and savings account balance can keep you on track. Also limit the number of people you're buying gifts for—not everyone needs or expects a gift. You may be in a different place financially than your loved ones, so don't worry about matching their gifts in price. Avoid starting the new year in an unhealthy financial situation. Focus on spending your time—not money—with loved ones.

5. Say no

Saying "yes" when really you want to say "no" may seem like a good deed at the time. But in reality, you'll wind up feeling overwhelmed and guilty—some requests can just stretch you too thin. Know that it's ok if you can't take part in every holiday activity, and your friends and relatives will understand. Just be realistic. Start with small commitments to the things that are most meaningful to you.

6. Rest

Enjoy your time off of work and take advantage of your chance to get adequate sleep. Let your body wake up naturally—without the alarm clock—on those holiday vacation days. If a gathering with friends or loved ones runs late in the evening, try to call it a night and plan to meet again the next day. With holiday festivities dispersed through the day, feel free to take a 20- to 30-minute nap if you feel you need one. Remember, quality sleep rejuvenates the body and the mind, helping keep your mood stable, your immune system at its best, and your stress in check.

7. Stay safe

Here are a few tips for practicing holiday safety to keep things bright and merry:

  • Prepare food with care. Consuming raw or meat, seafood, poultry, or eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness, so avoid cross contamination and properly cook and store food.
  • Wash your hands. Avoid getting sick and spreading germs by frequently washing your hands with soap and clean running water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Better safe than sorry. Preventative measures like vaccinations and health screenings can help you detect issues early and prevent diseases.
  • Celebrate responsibly. Watch your drink at parties, moderate alcohol consumption, always practice safe sex, and never drink and drive.

Feeling Overwhelmed?

If you're feeling overwhelmed by the stress in your life, you can always contact your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for support. The EAP offers short-term counseling that can help you and your family members deal with many of life's challenges, including help with work, family, personal matters, and sometimes legal and financial issues, too. Check your agency's intranet or speak to someone in your HR department for your EAP's contact information.

Here's to a happy and healthy holiday season!

Healthy Holiday Substitutions

See if you can replace some of the ingredients of your favorite holiday dishes with these healthy substitutes.