Thanksgiving kicks off a six-week period of gluttony for a lot of us. Being surrounded by delicious homemade baked goods at holiday parties can spell trouble to the new diet or exercise plan we’ve just undertaken.
I never recommend anyone attempts to begin a new diet during the holidays, as it typically means setting yourself up for failure. But that does not mean all is lost throughout this season. In fact, there are many potential health benefits we can find during this time of the year.
Here are my suggestions for how to navigate the holidays without your health going off the rails, and maybe even gain some strength and enjoyment in the process.
Why Social Relationships Are Good
Many people underestimate the positive health benefits of social relationships. A meta-analysis of social relationships and overall mortality concluded by stating, “The influence of social relationships on risk for mortality is comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality.” Translation: our social relationships are just as important as not smoking, exercising, eating a healthy diet, and sleeping well.
All too often people start up a new exercise routine or diet that negatively affects their social relationship. Have you ever been at a party and decided to hang out by yourself in a corner while everyone else was inhaling the baked goods? This is not entirely healthy behavior, despite avoiding the “bad” foods.
“[O]ur social relationships are just as important as not smoking, exercising, eating a healthy diet, and sleeping well.”
Remember that health and disease are placed upon a spectrum. The more we do to encourage positive health, the better off we will be. But it is not possible or feasible to have everything pointing in a positive direction. Life does not afford us with these luxuries.
Sometimes we wind up sleep-deprived because we have to go into work early or our baby was up all night crying. Sometimes we miss some workouts because of an injury or having to stay late at work. Sometimes we just can’t say “no” to the cake our coworkers brought in. On top of that, we have to deal with things most likely out of our control, such as financial issues and work and family problems.
All of these factors can lead to negative health effects. But when we correct them, we can make a real difference in improving our health.
Strategy Is Key
The key to solving problems when they arise is to develop strategies to assess our current state of health. Also, when a problem arises in one area of our lives, we need to be ready to tidy up the other areas so our overall health picture does not fall too far off the path.
Most of you reading this article have exercise journals. One solution to assessing where issues are arising is to keep a journal for everyday life. This journal should contain details on your mood, sleep quantity and quality, and the foods you eat. It should also note whether you encounter more traffic, have a tough day at work, or anything else you feel is important and that has an impact on any aspect of your health.
“Once we have assessed the areas that need improvement, we need to have strategies to actually go about improving them. This is where a network of friends, family, and practitioners can come into play.”
But we cannot just write in your journal and forget about it. We need to look at it and notice any trends in either positive or negative directions. Pick one day of the week to go through your journal and make a note of things you are doing well and things that need improvement.
Once we have assessed the areas that need improvement, we need to have strategies to actually go about improving them. This is where a network of friends, family, and practitioners can come into play.
An even bigger step is being able to plan ahead for times when you know one or more lifestyle behaviors are going to take a hit. Having a plan of action for these occasions can help negate some of the negative effects. For an example, let’s look at the holiday season.
The Holiday Season for Me
My holiday season will most likely consist of pie, cookies, and booze on a weekly basis – and no, they will not be the paleo versions. I have had some amazing paleo treats in my day, but they simply do not taste as good as the traditional alternative. In acknowledging that my diet is going to take this hit, I then know I have to make other changes to compensate.
This means I need to make sure I am getting quality sleep on a nightly basis (good thing Sons of Anarchy only has a couple of episodes left). So, I will be taking a vitamin D supplement, as there is no longer any sun in Massachusetts, and I will be more aware and proactive in my stress management.
The exercise part can be tricky to change up. Most of you reading this are already active and doing more may not be the best solution. There are options, though. If you are still nailing the physical activity part through the holidays, then keeping it the same will do just fine. Personally, I like to tweak it in accordance with my assessment of my health status.
“In a situation like this, focusing on strength gains in the gym may be more appropriate than working on metabolic conditioning.”
For example, I will be sleeping well and eating a lot, and I will have solid vitamin D levels and low stress levels due to my increased social relationships. This, to me, sounds like the perfect recipe to make some big gains in the gym. In a situation like this, focusing on strength gains in the gym may be more appropriate than working on metabolic conditioning.
Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too
The holiday seasons does not spell an end to the progress you have made over the course of the year. You just need to set a plan of action to help you combat the poor nutritional choices that tend to accompany this time period.
And know that there are many positive health benefits from hanging around with family and friends – and even making some poor food choices. Social relationships have been shown to be just as important for overall health and we all know we can’t build muscle without some extra calories. So eat your pie and enjoy your holidays.
1. Holt-Lunstad, Julianne, et.al., “Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review.” PLOS Medicine 2010. Retrieved on November 25, 2014.
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