holiday healthy eating tips

Primary Care | 3 months ago

Thriving Through the Holidays: 8 Ways to Feel Happy and Healthy this Season

The holidays can be fun and festive, but they can also be a challenging time mentally and physically. Family medicine physician Dr. Andrew Nance shares ways to thrive throughout the holidays. 

The holidays are all about celebrations, socializing, food and fun. But they can also be a challenging time if you’re working toward your health goals. Dr. Andrew Nance, a family medicine physician at Atrium Health Primary Care Cabarrus Family Medicine, shares his tips for thriving during this busy time of year. 

As a certified lifestyle medicine physician, Nance is passionate about helping his patients be the happiest, healthiest versions of themselves. He often notices that people struggle during the holiday season with overeating, overdrinking, grief from losing a loved one, seasonal depression or lack of energy. So, no matter what this upcoming season looks like for you, here are some doable ways to feel better each day. 

1. Let go of the all-or-nothing mindset 

“A lot of people will write off November and December as ‘bad’ months and promise to regroup in January,” says Nance. 

He recommends a gentler, more balanced approach.

“It’s OK to eat the foods you want, but it doesn’t have to carry into every day for two months,” says Nance

Suppose you overeat or have too many glasses of wine at a party and don’t feel great the next day. Instead of writing off the whole week or month as a failure, Nance says to acknowledge that now you know that overeating or drinking too much makes you feel worse. Recognizing what makes you feel better or worse is important for making behavior changes. Then, move on and start fresh with the very next meal. One meal won’t make or break your health and wellness goals unless you allow that meal to influence the rest of your meals for the month

2. Consider your why"

Nance likes to ask his patients about their motivations for living a healthier lifestyle. Knowing your “why” can motivate you to go for a walk or prepare a healthy dinner when you’re tempted to sit on the couch with a bag of chips. Maybe you want to start 2024 feeling great or live long enough to see your grandchild graduate from college. Perhaps you want to have more energy to make holiday memories with your friends this year or be able to volunteer for a cause near to your heart

Whatever motivates you to take care of yourself, write it down and think about it each day

3. Address exercise obstacles 

Regular physical activity is essential to living a longer, healthier life and feeling energized and happy each day. But colder temperatures and less sunlight can wreak havoc on even the best-laid fitness plans. 

“Temperature changes and daylight saving time can affect how much physical activity you get,” says Nance. 

With this in mind, consider what holds you back from regular physical activity during the holidays. Perhaps you need new outdoor accessories, like earmuffs, gloves and a warm jacket. Maybe you need a well-lit place to walk after work, such as your local mall or fitness center. Or perhaps you could try working out at home in your living room by following along with an exercise video. If you don’t have much time each day, aim for a 10-minute workout that could be as simple as a walk. You do not have to work out for an hour for it to count. Recognize, however, that at least 10 minutes of physical activity is needed for the feel good hormones to be released and felt by your body.

You don’t have to give up on your physical activity goals — you just need to tweak them to make them work for you. 

4. Stay hydrated

Salty side dishes, adult beverages, sweet desserts and nonstop activity can affect your hydration levels. Staying hydrated is important for your overall health and it can help you feel better and curb your cravings. Consider bringing a water bottle with you throughout the day, whether you’re heading to work, going holiday shopping or traveling to see loved ones. 

At events, make a point of drinking a glass of water in between each alcoholic beverage to stay hydrated. Alcohol is a diuretic which causes your body to release more water through your kidneys leading to dehydration. You can even switch to sparkling water with a squeeze of lime or lemon and a few cranberries to make it festive

5. Set yourself up for success at parties

You can still attend all the festive gatherings and lead a healthy lifestyle. If you’re hosting or invited to a party, bring a vegetable-based side dish, like a salad or veggies and dip. When building your plate, focus on fiber-packed vegetables and lean protein. You can still enjoy favorites like macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and apple pie — just stick to portions that feel good in your body. 

And don’t be afraid to take a breather. Instead of getting seconds, focus on chatting with those around you for a few minutes. If you’re still hungry after 10 minutes, you can always go back for more. 

6. Get moving after the big meal

After the big holiday lunch or dinner, invite your family and friends to do something active with you. You can go for a walk, play a game of tag, have a dance party or throw a football. Do something that gets you outside and moving. You’ll build new memories while boosting your energy and well-being at the same time. 

7. Prioritize your mental health

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Here are a few ways to feel better mentally and emotionally during the holidays:

  • Recognize and honor grief. If you’re missing a loved one this holiday season, take time to honor how you feel. Reach out to a trusted loved one, a counselor, a religious leader or your primary care provider for support. 

  • If you experience seasonal depression, ask your primary care provider if light therapy could be a good option for you. 

  • Unwind with a stress-busting activity like meditating, practicing yoga, journaling, walking in nature, or calling a friend.

  • Blast your favorite music to quickly boost your mood. 

  • Do something you love. Curl up on the couch with your favorite book or movie and a cup of herbal tea. Arrange flowers for your table setting. Go for a ride to look at holiday lights. Get a massage. Ride your bike around the park. Make time for activities you enjoy

  • Reach out to others if you feel lonely. Consider volunteering, calling a long-distance loved one or scheduling a walk with a neighbor or friend. 

  • Spend time with a furry friend. Animals can be fantastic mood boosters. Don’t have a pet? Borrow or spend time with a loved one’s pet or volunteer at your local shelter. 

8. Establish a relationship with a primary care provider

Finally, having a relationship with a primary care provider (PCP) can help you get through the holidays feeling happy and healthy. If you have questions about preventing illness, coping with grief, which foods to eat at family gatherings or managing seasonal depression, your PCP can help. 

Here’s to a happy, healthy holiday season! 

Find an Atrium Health primary care provider near you.