Small changes can ensure a safe and healthy holiday season

The holiday season is officially in full swing, and that means family, friends, food, and fun. This time of year can also mean added stress, exhaustion, and weight gain. With a little advance thought and planning, however, you can sail through the rest of this year and into 2012 with good health as a priority.

A common complaint that people have about the holidays is that there is too much tempting food, and it’s everywhere — family gatherings, parties, the workplace break room, you name it. Gaining weight feels inevitable. In fact, according to Cortez family physician Kathy Lynch, MD, studies show that the average person gains one pound during a typical holiday season. The problem is that they don’t lose that pound after the holidays are over. “Year after year of gaining just that small amount of weight adds up,” said Lynch.

To avoid weight gain over the holidays, Lynch recommends not going to parties hungry, choosing a smaller plate, and taking healthy dishes such as a fruit or veggie tray to potluck gatherings. If you’re hosting a gettogether, be sure to have food options available for yourself and guests that are not laden with excess fat, sugar, and salt.

When you’re out for a day of shopping, don’t wait until you’re famished to stop for a bite to eat, and avoid fast food if at all possible. “If you need something quick, opt for a sub sandwich instead of a burger and fries. If you’re at a sit-down restaurant, eat half your portion and take the other half home for later,” suggested Lynch.

Remember the “balanced plate” approach to eating, especially when faced with a table full of delicious food or a tempting buffet line. Fill half your plate with salad and vegetables first, then fill one-fourth of your plate with protein, and no more than the final fourth with starches such as bread or potatoes.

Staying active over the holidays can help you avoid weight gain. Taking a nice, long walk after a big meal will help you feel better after overeating and burn off excess calories.

“If you’re already in an exercise routine, bump it up a little during the holidays,” said Lynch. If you usually walk for 30 minutes each morning or evening, for example, schedule your walks for 45 minutes each day to accommodate for the fact that you’re probably going to be eating a little more than usual over the next few weeks.

Don’t use the excuse that you have houseguests to slack off on exercising this year. “Invite visitors to go to the gym with you, or take them on a hike,” said Lynch.

Individuals with health issues such as diabetes or heart problems need to be extra careful around the holidays. “If you have congestive heart failure, weigh yourself every day. You’re more likely to go into failure around this time of year because of all the salt that’s in holiday food,” said Lynch.

Diabetics should make food choices even more consciously than usual when attending parties and family gatherings where temptations abound. Hosts can help out by providing low sugar options for diabetic guests.

In addition to staying healthy over the holidays, focus on staying safe as well. Drinking responsibly is a smart move all year around, so don’t let the fact that you’re more social than usual be a reason to take chances. “If you go to parties or other gatherings, always have a designated driver,” said Lynch. “If both you and your spouse enjoy having a glass of wine, take turns being the one who opts for non-alcoholic drinks when you go out.” Good advice if you want to avoid a visit to the ER or county jail this holiday season.

Other safety points to keep in mind during the holidays include:

Keep sidewalks, decks, and porches around your home clear of ice and snow. You’re probably accustomed to navigating in slippery conditions, but Aunt Betty from San Diego might not be so adept.

Secure your Christmas tree so that it doesn’t topple over onto someone, and take care when using extension cords for holiday lights, both inside and outside the house.

Be careful as you spend more time in the kitchen, especially if you have small children in the house. Turn hot pot handles in, be alert when using sharp knives, and wipe up spills from the floor as they occur.

And, finally, work toward keeping stress in check this holiday season. Get enough sleep and exercise, take time for yourself, breathe deeply, limit the amount of time you spend with family members who drive you a little crazy, and remember that you can’t “do it all.”

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” said Lynch. Of course you want to be a good hostess when friends and family come to visit, but keep in mind that the goal is to connect with people, most of whom won’t care or notice if there is a dust bunny in the corner of the room or that you didn’t make your whipped cream from scratch this year.

Keep these ideas and tips in mind to stay healthy and safe, and relax into the fun and festivities of this wonderful holiday season.

Southwest Health Notes is a public service feature provided by Southwest Memorial Hospital in Cortez, Colorado. The information provided herein is not intended as patient-specific medical advice or as a substitute for consultation with your personal healthcare provider.

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