Staying healthy (and sane) during the holidays

With the holiday season’s travel and stress just around the corner, the last two months of the year are usually when some of our best health intentions get a little (or a lot) off track. While a few indulgences certainly do not hurt (‘tis the season after all), here are a few ways to stay balanced through the New Year:

Plan in Advance

This may seem obvious, but if you don’t make plans to stick to your health routines during the holidays, then it probably won’t happen (in fact, one of the primary causes of poor health habits I see in my practice is simply a lack of planning and organization). For example, if you know you will be traveling for Thanksgiving and have a long layover, then pack a healthy snack or sandwich to avoid gross airport food. Spending 5 days with the in-laws? Don’t forget to bring your workout clothes so that you can stick to your daily jogging ritual.

Look at your health routine as a path of sorts, and try your very best not to do too much “off-roading” during the holidays. Indulgences are fine,  but do so on your terms and not because you have surrendered to the seasonal madness.

Generally, I find it most helpful to look at my calendar a week in advance and map everything out from there.


The holidays are a happy but hectic time of travel, gatherings and general social overstimulation. In an effort to squeeze everything into our day, getting our regular hours of sleep is usually the first routine to be sacrificed. However, I urge you to try your very best to honor your sleeping schedule through the New Year.

Sleep deprivation can result in weight gain due to its impact on our hormones. For example, without enough sleep our brain produces less leptin (the hormone telling us that we have had enough food) and increases our levels of ghrelin (responsible for stimulating our appetite). A lack of sleep will often result in us eating more during an already over-indulgent time.

Heart disease, diabetes, mood disorders, and decreasedimmune function are also brought about by an unhealthy sleeping routine.

This NIH article on sleep is an interesting read.

Watch your language - “I don’t” vs. “I can’t”

If you find that your healthy habits get derailed due to pressure from family and friends, use the technique described in this study, where the authors suggest using the word “don’t” instead of “can’t”. Instead of telling someone, that for example, you “can’t eat ice cream” or “can’t miss yoga class”, instead use the words “don’t”: “I don’t eat ice cream” or “I don’t miss yoga class.” Saying “I don’t” instead of “I can’t,” or even a simple “no” has been proven to be much more effective for avoiding peer pressure.

This makes a lot of sense as  “I don’t” is strong and empowering, whereas “I can’t” leaves room for negotiation (we have all been there - “oh yes you can, just one small scoop...").

Stay active

Maintaining your regular exercise schedule will keep you happy and healthy during the season. Try your best to move every day (even if it is just a brisk walk around your neighborhood), and you will find it is much easier to avoid holiday weight gain. Exercising will also help keep your stress levels under control.

If you are traveling, plan in advance to find creative ways to stick to your routine (I have found my pilates DVDs to be lifesavers - they have been on quite a few plane rides and road trips).

Make room for  regular “self-care” and quiet time

I am a huge advocate of regular self-care routines - the healthiest diet in the world will not do us much good if we are in a constant state of stress and not enjoying life. This is especially true during the holidays, when the social pressures and general obligations pile on. Make sure to schedule some “alone time” every day where you can restore balance and refresh. Treating yourself to a massage or carving time away to read a good book or be in nature will do you wonders.

Along those lines, have you seen NY Magazine's piece on gadget sickness? Depressing! Use this self-care time as a break from the constant buzz of technology.