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  • Writer's pictureKim Manfried, RDN, CDN

Hacking the Holidays - Wellness Edition

The words “stress and the holidays” appear to go hand in hand this year, now more than ever. No matter what you celebrate and where you live, this year is filled with more reasons you may feel overwhelmed.

One thing we all have in common is the need to eat and nourish our bodies. Food is such as large part of our lives and as much as it is a necessity, it also shapes how we go about our day. Food invokes feelings of comfort and provides needed energy and nutrients. More than ever before, we need to be aware of our intake, as the food we plan, prepare and consume is important to help keep our immune system healthy and allow for us to fight off illness and disease.

So.... how can you be less stressed and more prepared these next few weeks? Here are some tips and ideas to help navigate this time:

  • Be mindful. Be in the moment as best you can and focus on the positive things in your life and all that is going well. You can keep a journal and take a few minutes a day to reflect at either the start of your day or gratitude at the end of your day (or both). Research shows the way you start your day will affect how the entire day goes. You attract negative or positive energy, so the choice is yours!

  • Don’t forget to breathe. This may sound strange but many of us hold a lot of our stress in our muscles and tension can make us not feel well. Try the 4-7-8 technique when feeling tension and stress. Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds and exhale for 8 seconds, repeat as needed. Our bodies are programmed to either be in a stressed or relaxed state, not both at the same time, so focused breathing will help relax you, no matter where you are you can do this. This can help carry over with the speed in which we eat meals, which is a win-win to help control stress and portion control.

  • Sleep. Research shows the average adult needs 7-9 hours per night of sleep. Many factors affect sleep such as caffeine intake and staying on electronic devices too close to bedtime and not eating properly during the day. Try winding down at night about an hour or 2 before bed by making a routine such as decaf tea, a warm bath, reading from an actual paper book or magazine. These routines are what we need to alert our minds and bodies it’s time to sleep. For those who have a more difficult time, try leaving paper and pen at your bedside and if you think of something that makes you restless or wakes you up, jot it down so your mind can rest and you can tackle it the next day.

  • Planning ahead. This may sound like the opposite of being in the moment but it can help you stay present. Making a plan for the week’s meals/grocery list, appointments, physical activity, shopping lists and even a chore list, can all help guide you through the holiday stress and allow you to be present for the rest of the week. Pick a day, a time, a lunch break any time that works for you to review your calendar and plan the week. If the week seems too much at once, try and plan for the next day or 2, by packing your lunch/family’s lunch the night before, pick out your clothes for the next day, decide when you will go food shopping and meal prep. It’s easy to overlook what foods you need for your everyday meals. Even if during this time you are home more, planning and getting the day started on a good note will help you feel better overall.

  • Meal prep. Piggybacking off of planning ahead, meal prepping is a great time saver. Pick a day and decide on what meal or meals you will prep in advance, such as prepping the protein for the week’s dinner (making baked chicken or chicken cutlets, chili or stew in advance) or cutting up veggies for particular recipes. When you are planning on already taking time to cook a holiday dessert or meal, take an extra few minutes to make a veggie quiche or veggie soup and freeze all or half for later in the week or month. You will have healthy go to meals already prepared just by taking some time once a week. Also meal planning and prep will mean less trips to the store and fast food, which is also important for the times we are living in.

  • Have SOS foods readily available. Having healthy staples are key to keeping healthy eating, quick, easy, and still nutritious. It's easy to want to get takeout however, if having some quick throw-together meals that take less than 30 mins, that will beat out any wait time for fast-food delivery or pickup. Try keeping items such as pre-cut frozen vegetables, fruits, pre-packaged/pre-cut fruits and vegetables, low sodium pre-cooked chicken/turkey sausage, canned low sodium beans, minute brown rice cups, etc. Just remember to have a balance of healthy veggies at all meals, use whole grain options, low fat dressings and less fried foods. Good options to invest in are an air fryer, crock pot or instant pot. These resources can help with your meal planning and cooking healthy food options. Check out some pantry staples we commonly recommend here.

  • Don’t skip meals. You will make poor choices, overeat at the next meal, and risk your metabolism being slowed down. Going too long without eating (for most that means more than 3-4 hours between a meal or snack during waking hours) can make you sluggish and feel more stressed. I’m sure you’ve heard of the term “hangry”. That’s being so hungry that it puts you in a bad mood…..we’ve all been there so let’s try and stay away!

  • Stay hydrated. Dehydration can make us feel hungry when we’re not, tired, cause headaches, dry skin, nails and hair, affect blood sugar control. Proper hydration keeps us going, flushes out toxins in the body, keeps organs and bodily functions working properly, better sleep and our minds working with more clarity and who doesn’t want that right now? Aim for water (can add sliced fruit or mint), seltzer, clear broths, unsweetened teas (decaf if possible). Make sure you are trying to aim for at least half your body weight in ounces of water (a 150 lb person: 150/2=75 ounces or about 9 cups per day). If you are not close to this amount and find it difficult, try adding 1 cup per day until your goal.

We all long for that comfy cozy feeling we get when we think of and eat certain meals and holiday treats. This is okay and always nice to have something to look forward to during these times. Even if your normal routine is different than it was last year, you can still benefit from being organized and staying focused on what is most important to you and your family. Keeping our bodies healthy and our minds more organized will only help us enjoy this time and be present in the moment.

Stay safe and well! Happy Holidays!

Until Next Time,

Kim Manfried, RDN, CDN


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