CATCHING HEALTH by Diane Atwood: Weight, fitness, stress! Navigating the holidays

For me, the holidays are all about family and food and being extremely grateful for both. But sometimes, dealing with either or both can be challenging. As many of us prepare for our own gatherings, I thought it might be helpful to get some expert tips on how to manage what we eat, reduce stress and keep active.

Jackie Conn, the general manager of Weight Watchers of Maine has five tips to watch what you eat will still getting into the holiday spirit and supporting weight-related goals.
* Don’t wait to start preparing for your holiday celebration or party. Preparing doesn’t mean starving yourself in a (futile) effort to bank extra calories to use on the big day. Preparing is planning.
* Planning starts with the outcome. When the holiday celebration is over what will have happened? Phrase this in positive terms. Think about what holiday favorites will be served and include them in your plans. What do you want to eat and how much will you need to be satisfied? Will you include physical activity? Create a plan with as much specific detail as possible right down to who will be there and what will you wear.
* Practice your plan. This is done in your head. Use mental imaging to see yourself successfully enjoying the day as you planned it. See yourself putting food on your plate in the portions you planned. Envision the tastes, textures and even the feeling of satisfaction with your meal. If you’re not good at creating mental images, and many people are not, then draw a storyboard with stick figures. Look at it often.
* Adjust your “fatitude.” Challenge the defeating thoughts that won’t be helpful. For example, if you think, “every year I have such good intentions and then I blow everything,” cross-examine yourself to get to the truth. The truth may be, “every year I have such good intentions, but then I eat too much.” Eating too much on one holiday is not blowing everything. A good attitude will keep a little slip from becoming a lapse. Be happy; not afraid! “Happy people plan actions, not results.” – Dennis Wholey
* Eat well leading up to the holidays. Make fresh fruit and vegetables the foundation of daily eating. Add smaller amounts of whole grains and lean protein and don’t forget to enjoy a bit of healthy oil. Go sparingly on foods with added sugar, and alcoholic beverages. Eating a satisfying and healthful diet before a planned splurge makes it easier to get back to eating that way afterward.

It’s quite possible that as soon as your holiday party is over, the only thing you’ll want to do for the rest of the day is absolutely nothing. In fact, you might be tempted to remain sedentary for the rest of the year. After all, ’tis the season, so why not give yourself a break until it’s over? Not a good idea says strength coach Andy Wight from AW Strength & Conditioning.
“One of my biggest fitness tips is don’t wait until the new year to start getting fit,” he advises. “We generally hibernate during the months of November and December and tell ourselves that we’ll start a fitness routine after the first of the year. However, putting off a new fitness routine often makes starting harder.
“Set a goal right now to do physical activity for 10 minutes straight. It could be walking, biking, or stretching. There is no real limit to what you do as long as you’re doing something. As you continue with this new activity, start increasing the amount of time as a way to progress.”
Follow Andy’s advice and you will be feeling grateful all year long.

We love our family, but sometimes … If you’re concerned that you’ll be spending time with a difficult family member or group, psychotherapist Nancy Abel offers these recommendations:
* Try to be grateful for what you have. Practicing gratitude can make a huge difference. Count your blessings for the little things you have: a warm coat, a sunny day, the food you will share, etc. Think positively.
* Set good boundaries. It’s ok to take care of yourself. Take a break from family — read a book, talk to someone who is safe.
* Take a walk. This might be the best thing you could do for yourself. It is good for body and soul.
* Say no when it’s appropriate. You don’t have to answer questions or engage in discussions.
* Excuse yourself. Know you can leave anytime you want to or need to. It’s ok to put yourself first.

“If you lost someone, this year will likely be very different,” says Nancy. “Remember it is okay to grieve and not feel the joy that we are all programmed to believe we have to have at the holiday. Honor the loss in some way, perhaps light a candle for the person. You might think of doing the holiday differently. Take a little trip, have it be ok not to do gifts or cards, whatever works for you. Reach out to friends who know and love you…go to a church service, volunteer and do something for others, find a great book or movie and hunker down to a peaceful day. Cook some good food, treat yourself. More people are alone than you would know.”
However you choose to observe the holidays, I hope that it is a happy time for you and that these tips help make it so.

For many years, Diane Atwood was the health reporter on WCSH6. Now she is a blogger and podcaster at Catching Health with Diane Atwood,