It’s not hard to love a season in which the whole point is to eat good food, spend time with friends and family and find little ways to make others happy. Yet the holidays can also be stressful—really stressful—when you try to spread yourself too thin, overdo it on the holiday treats or find your usual spin class replaced with driving circles around the mall parking lot instead. Here are some healthy strategies to defuse common holiday stressors.
Stressor: You don’t have time to exercise.
How to beat it: Your calendar is chock-full of holiday parties, plus you have to decorate, shop, wrap and cook—how could you have time? It’s worth your while to make (at least a little) time: research shows that regular physical activity can help with weight management and may reduce stress and depression, likely because exercise promotes the release of feel-good endorphins in the brain. Don’t worry, though, if a full 30-minute chunk of time isn’t feasible: even short bouts of exercise can give you a boost. Break it into smaller 10- or 15-minute intervals if that’s more convenient. If that’s still asking too much, try these easy ways to sneak in more physical activity: skip the elevator and take the stairs, park your car at the far end of the parking lot or wander around the mall instead of doing your holiday shopping online.
Stressor: You’re gaining weight.
How to beat it: Between the food- and drink-focused holiday parties and then the holidays themselves, it seems too easy to pack on extra pounds. One way to help you keep your weight in check this holiday season is to focus on controlling portions. Leave the food scale and measuring cups at home and try this trick instead: Use smaller dishes and glasses at your meals. Try using a salad plate or kid-size plate for your main meal, a small bowl for soup and a white-wine glass instead of a big red-wine glass.
Another option to help you ward off weight gain—without dieting—is to eat more fiber. Fiber can add bulk to your diet without adding calories, and some research suggests it may play a role in weight loss. Try it yourself: snack on sliced apples or carrots, start your day with a bowl of oatmeal or aim to include a serving of vegetables with every meal.
Stressor: You have tons to do and don’t have enough energy.
How to beat it: Whatever you do, don’t skip meals. And when you do eat, be sure your meals include some lean high-protein foods (think: flank steak, a skinless chicken breast, fish or beans), particularly at lunch, with plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables. They’ll keep you satisfied longer and are more likely to keep you feeling energized and productive. The protein at lunch can help you avoid that afternoon slump. Choose wisely when it comes to carbohydrates, too, especially if you’re running on overdrive: it’s easy to succumb to chips, cookies, pretzels or other refined-carbohydrate snacks when you’re feeling stressed.
Stressor: You’re not getting enough sleep.
How to beat it: If it’s quality, not quantity, that you crave, try having a small, healthy snack before you go to bed. Specialists recommend a pre-slumber snack that’s rich in carbohydrates and contains a bit of protein; this combination is said to increase the tryptophan levels in the brain, causing you to sleep more soundly. Try low-fat yogurt with a sprinkle of granola, a small bowl of oatmeal or a sliced apple with a bit of peanut butter.
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