We’re right in the midst of another holiday season, and the scale may already be complaining. Be honest… are you still munching on leftover Halloween candy? Or did you finish it last week?
It’s not uncommon at all for Americans to gain a few pounds over the holidays. In fact, that’s likely one of the main reasons so many of us resolve to lose those pounds once New Year’s Day rolls around. And, unwanted weight gain isn’t the only health effect you might see. The holidays can be hard on your health in general.
There are a number of good reasons for this phenomenon, but none of them are hard-and-fast biological rules that we can’t either outthink or outmaneuver with some planning.
Why the holidays are hard on your health
Let’s take a look at the top five reasons the holiday season impacts our health, and some tips for avoiding that trend this year:
All that fantastic food
We’ll start with the most obvious issue: the holiday season is (seemingly) all about the food!
There’s candy at Halloween, a huge dinner for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and loads of goodies to munch on late into the night on New Year’s Eve. And, you’d be hard-pressed to find a mom or grandma out there putting out a traditional holiday spread who’s given more than a fleeting thought to cutting back on calories, saturated fat, or refined sugars during their preparations. After all, what’s that homemade apple or pumpkin pie without the buttery crust?
Not only do we tend to eat more in general during the holidays, but many of us aren’t exactly in direct control of what’s on our plates. Not to mention the insidious way all those delicious leftovers call to us at odd hours of the day and night…
All that fantastic booze
Free-flowing alcohol goes hand-in-hand with great food at most holiday parties, with New Year’s Eve tending to tip the scales in that regard. It’s just part of the festive atmosphere: a couple beers while watching the Thanksgiving Day football game, some toasty eggnog while you try to remember the lyrics to carols, the celebratory glass of champagne when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s… The holidays just wouldn’t be the holidays without something tasty to sip on.
Of course, from a nutritional standpoint, alcohol is basically empty calories. And, there are A LOT of empty calories in the roughly 13.6 drinks the average American consumes at holiday parties from October to New Year’s. Depending on your drink of choice, here’s a sample of what 13.6 drinks looks like from a calorie perspective:
- Beer - 2040 calories
- Dry Wine - 2380 calories
- Sweet Wine - 4080 calories
- Champagne - 1292 calories
- Whiskey - 1904 calories
- Tequila - 1740 calories
- Vodka - 2747 calories
And that’s not counting the calories in all the mixers you might use to go with those liquors, like eggnog, fruit juice, or sodas.
Party-time peer pressure
The food and drink may be tough enough, but they get even harder to face when they’re combined with all the social pressure a night with friends and (especially) family tends to create. If you’ve ever had your grandmother ladle a half-cup of brown gravy onto your turkey without asking first, you know what this is about.
You’re thinking, “I don’t want to be rude,” or “I’ll just have one to be polite,” but the pressure never lets up. Then, after a while, with everyone else digging in and enjoying themselves (and maybe a little liquid courage on your side), your inner battle strategy turns into, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!”
Second piece of coconut cream pie, here I come!
Stress, stress, and more stress
On the more serious side, the holiday season can be very stressful. There’s a lot to do, a lot of money gets spent, and travel is rarely stress free. On top of that, there’s an entire mental/emotional/social side to the holidays that really runs deep for people, especially if they’ve had situations recently affect the family. For instance, estrangements, divorce, the death of a loved one, or serious illnesses.
When we’re stressed, we tend to latch onto whatever gives us comfort and relief in the moment. And — you guessed it — during the holidays, that’s often unhealthy food and too much alcohol.
Believe it or not… loneliness and depression
The idea that more people commit suicide during the holidays than at any other time of the year has been proven a myth. However, that doesn’t mean that loneliness, depression, and, yes, even suicidal thoughts take a holiday during this time.
For individuals who already deal with chronic depression, social anxiety, or other emotional conditions, the stress and “forced” good cheer of the holidays can be difficult to handle. And, for those who lack a strong social support system, the enhanced togetherness that often comes with holiday celebrations can lead to a powerful let-down effect after January 1. The sad truth is, that’s when the suicide numbers tend to rise.
5 Tips to Counter the Unhealthy Holidays
Based on the above, here are five recommendations that can help make this year’s holiday season your healthiest yet.
- Set realistic limits and stick to them - Before you even set foot into a holiday party, make a decision to keep your food consumption within reasonable guidelines. This is easiest and most effective if you learn how to judge portions visually. Rather than tempting fate by swearing off everything sweet or savory, enjoy a small portion of all the items you want. Don’t take home leftovers!
- When it comes to alcohol, same as above - This is a little harder, because smaller portions aren’t always better when you’re drinking. One foolproof option is to volunteer to be the designated driver when you’re going out. If you’re drinking, stick to drier wine, lighter beer, or straight spirits without any mixers. And, if you can handle it in reasonable quantities, tequila is officially the healthiest hard liquor in the cabinet.
- Discuss your efforts with friends and family - Before heading out to a bar, restaurant, or the old homestead for a holiday bash, let your friends, family, and especially the host, know that you’re working hard to eat right and stay healthy. This should help you stay accountable, and hopefully reduce some of the social pressure that can make you overindulge.
- Learn how to de-stress and relax, even when things are nuts - There’s no way you’re going to remove all stress from the holidays, but you can definitely learn some better and healthier ways to cope. Try to get things like Christmas shopping and preparation for big meals done earlier rather than later. Make lists, check them twice, and use them to cut back on all the little details bouncing around your brain. Finally, learn how to breathe and move in ways that can induce calm in seconds — such as deep breathing or yoga — then use that super power often.
- Identify your personal support network and rely on it - Everyone needs help. Friends and family are a great resource. Make a point of staying in touch and getting together after the holidays are over, too. If you want and need professional help dealing with the stress and difficulties of life, there’s no shame in that at all. Talk to your doctor, find a therapist you’re comfortable with, whatever you need to feel better.
Happy holidays from Dental Solutions and Wellness Complete!