Hello, my name is Dr. Trish Murray and I am deeply passionate about encouraging and working with those who are motivated to take control of your health and transform your life.
Together, we will explore various strategies that will help you eat well, move well, and think well during this holiday season. By the end, you will be more informed on these matters and have a clearer idea of how to achieve your goals.
As most of you know, I am the founder and CEO of Discover Health Functional Medicine Center and also the author of “Make a D.E.N.T. in Chronic Disease.” I have been studying, living, and teaching lifestyle medicine for over a decade, and I want you to know that you can have an amazing holiday season without completely falling off the wagon of a healthy lifestyle.
I want to begin with our current state of affairs because all of us are in the same boat right now. You see, the holidays are on the horizon and there’s nothing we can do to stop this from happening. But I want you to think back to your childhood. Holidays, when we were young, were always filled with joy and excitement and fun! So, why does this have to change?
You see, there was a survey conducted by Consumer Reports National Research Center where they asked people what they dread most about the holiday season. And the results are exactly what you’d expect. Let’s look at the list:
- 68% of people in the survey dread crowds and long lines
- 37% dread gaining weight
- 37% dread getting into debt
- 28% dreaded Christmas shopping
- 25% of people surveyed dreaded traveling
- 24% dreaded seeing certain relatives
- 16% dreaded having to attend holiday parties and events
- 15% (check this one out!) dreaded having to be nice (and I’m going to assume that this means they meant being nice to people they don’t like)
- 12% dread holiday tipping
But what about the joy associated with all of this negativity? I mean, is it possible folks to make all of the above fun and filled with health? Now, maybe I’m too idealistic but at the same time, I do believe it is possible to maintain our health and manage our stress during this time of the year.
Now before I share a handful of strategies guaranteed to make this year better, of course as long as you follow through with them, I want to perform an exercise with you. So actually, I’d like you to grab a piece of paper and a pen or pencil if you don’t already have one around you. And the point is that this is an exercise that you can do for yourself that will help create more clarity for your ideal holiday season. You see, if we don’t set ourselves up for being successful and creating an image of what that looks like, then we don’t even know what we’re trying to accomplish. Fuzzy targets don’t hit, which is why most people are unable to accomplish their goals, because they never truly define the desired outcome and envision what will become possible as this outcome is achieved.
Therefore, spend a moment now in your thoughts and begin to see yourself living out the ideal holiday season. Now, what would this ideal holiday season look like for you? Who would you spend time with? Write it down. Who are the top three or four people (or groups of people) that you want to spend time with this holiday season?
Next, what foods would you see yourself eating and maintaining your health this holiday season? What foods are you going to be eating?
In your vision of a healthy holiday season this season, what presents would you purchase for your loved ones and your friends?
What gifts will you receive this holiday season? Put down your first thoughts. What gifts would really make this a wonderful holiday season for you to be receiving from your loved ones?
Where will you be located, meaning see your perfect holiday season, where do you want to be? Where are you going to be located this holiday season? And that doesn’t mean only one place because the holiday season is a season. So, what are some of the top one or two or three places that you would like to experience being this holiday season?
Finally, the last question I want you to take a moment and contemplate and put down your first ideas is how would you define this holiday season as successful? For this holiday season to be defined as successful, what’s the first one or two things that come to your mind that you would want to have happen or experience?
Every successful outcome begins with a clear plan of where you are going. So, take a few minutes and write out a response to these questions and after sit with the questions again if you want and think about it some more. Either keep it sacred for your eyes only or share it with your loved ones and discuss it with them and see if it helps everyone in your world have a better holiday season! And ask them to answer the questions and share them with you!
Now I’m going to go and share over ten strategies and a handful of really fantastic recipes are going to be posted on Discover Health FMC Facebook Group so that this holiday season is as ideal as possible for you. But again, I need one commitment from you – please don’t let this be a Jacuzzi experience. Jacuzzi’s feel great, but they don’t offer much value. No one is changing their life because they sit in a hot tub for forty-five minutes. The only way to make this impactful is if you truly commit to taking action this holiday season.
Now, if you’re committed to a better holiday season then write down on the paper you’ve been writing on, “I’m ready!” Because the first strategy to stay healthy and stress-free during the holiday season is to be aware. Awareness is such a powerful skill, and from what I have seen, it is the difference between making your goals real and missing the mark. We live in an extremely on-the-go society, and distraction has become our new norm. As a result, many people make poor choices when it comes to the foods they put in their bodies, ignore the people they love the most, and struggle with productivity.
My challenge for you is to be extremely aware and mindful during this holiday season of a few following things:
- Foods and drinks you put in your body
- The time you allocate to be truly present with your family
- The money you spend
- The attitude that shows up when traveling
- The amount of physical activity you engage in
- The people you interact with
Your goal should be to ask yourself questions as you engage in any of the above activities. For example, if you’re about to consume a variety of sugary treats and an unhealthy meal, ask yourself a series of questions:
- How does this decision serve me?
- Will it get me closer to my ideal holiday season?
- Is there a better choice I can make that will help me achieve my goal?
As human beings, we are often extremely impulsive with our decisions, especially when there are a variety of options to choose from, which is why the holidays are often difficult for most of us. If we give ourselves the permission to think – even for a few seconds prior to acting, our choices will be more aligned with our vision for creating the ideal holiday season.
Another example would be if you are spending time with family, ask yourself a series of questions:
- Am I showing up as the character I want to be in this situation?
- Will I be proud of the way I acted during this event?
- What can I do to be the best version of myself regardless of any of the circumstances that I’m faced with?
Now, folks, we are irrational beings first and rational beings second, so you may want to take a moment when you go into these family gatherings and set yourself up for success and try and set your mind forth rationally before, for example, getting caught up in emotions around different activities and different engagements we’re involved in in the holidays.
Self-awareness is not easy. But it becomes simpler when you’re clear on your desired outcome. My question for you is – in what area of your life will you be hyperaware during the holidays this year?
My next few points are going to focus on ways to take control of your diet during the holidays. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but folks, food is fuel. And even if you allow yourself to indulge during this time of year fundamentals are really important:
- You can control when you eat, so avoid any food at least three hours before going to bed.
- Don’t skip meals. Whether you eat the typical three meals per day usually or you typically graze on five or six small meals per day, stick to your routine.
- Chew your food really well.
- Fill your plate one time and make sure it’s as colorful as possible.
- Don’t forget to consume at least six or seven servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
- Say no to gravy!
Another really great strategy that I have seen help people is to stock your freezer with healthy meals. Everyone’s so busy during this time of year shopping, decorating, traveling, and we typically grab something on the go which is almost never healthy. But if you plan ahead and either prepare foods that are in your refrigerator or have a variety of options that you have frozen already, it makes it much easier to ensure you are giving your body what it truly needs and not just grabbing for whatever is around.
If you are going to attend a holiday party with a dinner buffet of goodies, it is important to proclaim to yourself before the experience even takes place; make the statement – “I [your name] will not be defeated by the buffet!” This is such an important tip because overconsumption takes place when there are too many options and you want to try everything.
The easiest way to avoid the buffet blues, it to take a smaller plate than everyone else (this way you can still attempt to try everything, but the real estate for calories will be much smaller so the portion control is present) or take the same size plate but stick to your previous rule to fill your plate only one time and make sure it’s as colorful as possible.
But please, please, please do not starve yourself in anticipation of the monster meal! Many people will often avoid breakfast or lunch during the holiday season because they know they will make up for it at dinner and then what happens is dreaded overconsumption by means of starvation. Prior to leaving your home or having people come over, force yourself to consume at least two nutritious meals and one snack so that your stomach will be at least 50% full during the main event.
If you’re going to an event and bringing something, I always recommend contributing a food choice that is healthy and enjoyable for you! This will guarantee that at least one item at the party will meet your needs and keep you on track.
I also want you to realize that holidays will probably lead to somewhat out of control behavior. Maybe you will splurge slightly, get out of your routine for a bit, even eat some foods that you know are not great for you. But the key is to avoid becoming victimized by your temptations. This means do not and I repeat, DO NOT have any tempting food items in your home. Be extra clean and strict outside the holiday parties because this will help neutralize some of the behaviors that you might not be so proud of during the holidays.
Avoiding liquid calories is an obvious strategy, but one that we must include because far too many people fall victim to the liquid calories. Whether this is eggnog, wine, beer, hard liquor, or sugary drinks, you should avoid or consciously limit liquid calories during the holiday season. The strategy is obviously to stick to as much water as possible, and also you can add a little bit of fruit to the water if you want to enhance the flavor as much as possible. Cranberries or a pinch of cinnamon make a deliciously festive drink. And nobody knows whether you have alcohol in there or not, so just put the ice in there and the cinnamon in there and juice in there and enjoy!
Most people often spend more time focusing on what they put in their mouths than on what comes out of their mouths by means of conversation. The key to controlling yourself during the holidays is to become distracted by something other than highly caloric items. Spend time playing games, telling stories, singing, dancing, and having fun! The more time you spend doing something outside of eating, the easier it will be to avoid another unhealthy holiday season.
I always tell people to start a new tradition each year. What household doesn’t have a mountain of snapshots, for example, that need to be sorted? Organizing this pile of snapshots will be stress relief in itself, but you also will get an emotional lift when you glimpse the photos and start laughing and sharing stories about the times you’ve all spent together before. Plus, this is the perfect gift for people you care about – the opportunity to revisit memories that you’ve all spent together.
Feel free to play a new family game, go on a family hike, do an art project, sings songs, dance around the house. Now my staff, for example, at Discover Health Functional Medicine Center will be having a staff party, but we’re going to do that at my home and we plan on doing a craft together for the afternoon and love doing that! Again, it keeps us all together and gives us something to experience and do that we’ll always remember.
The holidays are intended to create new traditions so use this time wisely because when looking back, be overjoyed with the memories that you captured. Now here’s a great strategy challenge for you: have at least a ten-minute conversation with three people before your first bite of food at every holiday party you attend.
It might be inevitable that you’re going to eat more, but why does this mean that you’re going to move less? Outside of overconsumption during the holidays, people also tend to skip their daily fitness routines. And there is no reason that everything needs to fall apart during the last leg of the race. We encourage you to exercise for at least thirty minutes, four times each week during the holiday season. And don’t be afraid to get creative with your movement:
- Have a dance competition with your family
- Cut down your holiday tree
- Get a partner and schedule your workouts into your calendar in permanent marker
- Park as far as possible from the mall or the store so you have to walk further
- Perform five-minute interval exercises (maybe pushups, maybe jumping jacks, maybe running in place, maybe crunches, could be anything!)
- Whether you are familiar with my Level 1 Exercise Videos or not and you need some ideas go to my website discoverhealthfmc.com and in the Health Library on the home page, review my Level 1 Stretches, Level 1 Core Strength, and Level 1 Weight Resistance Videos, and do them to keep moving!
- Walk at a steady pace whenever shopping
- Play games with your kids and family because they are usually filled with energy. The kids are where you want to be because they’re never sitting still!
- Wear a pedometer and try to walk as much as six- to seven thousand steps each day
- Sign up for a holiday race, either run it or walk it. It doesn’t matter just be active!
What is your exercise plan for this holiday season? Again, write it down. What do you commit to being focused on and be consistent with for an exercise regime or at least something during this holiday season?
For example, I do yoga every morning for about twenty minutes. It’s part of my life routine and it’s not going to change this holiday season. Might be something like that for you, might be going for a walk. Whatever it might be, write it down and say that you’re going to be consistent with it.
I know that for many people the holidays are so go, go, go, that the day is over before you know it and you feel like nothing has been accomplished. With this, I encourage scheduling calm down breaks. When you wake up each morning, there’s no time more peaceful than the first few minutes when your eyes open. My hope for you is that you keep this sacred moment filled with calmness. If the alarm has just gone off, don’t look at the cellphone, don’t look at the to-do list, don’t check your email, don’t make a phone call, don’t jump out of bed!
Simply take the first five or ten minutes of each day and keep these five to ten minutes reserved for yourself. Close your eyes, take several deep breaths, and relax. Feel how comfortable your bed is and how warm it is. Imagine yourself in a beautiful place, think of a happy memory, visualize yourself succeeding at a cherished goal, or even better yet list three things in your life every morning that you are grateful for. I am telling you, this will transform your day if you make it a ritual. By the time you put your feet on the floor, fill your world with feeling calm and with feeling grateful. And put your feet on the floor and say, “I love my life!” You will transform your day and start to transform your life.
Keep in mind, that you can take one to five-minute-long relaxation breaks to calm yourself down at any point during your day. A few moments of conscious, slow breathing can help when you are feeling frustrated during the holiday season and beyond. I will also recommend that when you take deep breaths, count to five on the inhale and then count to seven or eight on the exhale. The reason that is, is that when we inhale it is more of our fight or flight and stressed nervous system that gets activated, and when we exhale it is more of our relaxation and calming nervous system that gets activated. If you exhale for a longer count than you inhale, you are automatically within five breaths even (counting five in and eight out) going to shift yourself into a more relaxed state.
One of the best ways to stay calm, content, and cheerful this time of year is to act generously with your loved ones, colleagues, and friends. This does not mean you need to spend a ton of money or do outlandish things, but the act of giving is the most rewarding experience you can create for yourself. Whether this means giving your time, whether this means giving a small gift, whether this means writing a short note, or whether this means expressing gratitude and saying “thanking you” or telling someone how much they mean to you. You can define generosity however it is best for you, but during this holiday season make a commitment to experience the gift of helping the people you care about most. This is the ultimate solution for creating a stress-free holiday, and when we give, we receive and feel joy, love, and gratefulness in our lives. As Anne Frank so eloquently said, “No one has ever become poor by giving.”
There are so many healthy recipes out there today to help you through the holiday season that are amazing and delicious. To be honest folks, the more years that I eat in a healthy way, the more I realize that my taste buds truly taste the food and healthy foods are so delicious that I have no cravings for any of the old heavily sweetened type foods.
When I do, at times, possibly eat something that is the old, traditional standard American diet way of eating, I am usually not happy as a result and I don’t feel well as a result and realize it’s just not worth that choice. Each one of us is at a different place along that pathway, but again the recipes that are out there are absolutely amazing, sweet, delicious, and do not destroy your holiday routine.
I really want to empower you to take action this year, because you deserve to thrive! Taking control of your food, movement, and stress is within your reach and the twenty-plus ideas we just discussed will help guide you during this time of year. Yes – the holidays are going to be stressful. Yes – you will be exposed to a ton of food. Yes – you might need to spend some time with people you don’t necessarily enjoy spending time with. And yes – travel and the busyness of the season is going to make you feel exhausted. But this year will be different because you are prepared to put your health first! Prove to yourself that you can do it and watch what happens to all the goals you have set in your life. I know you have what it takes to make this holiday season different. We at Discover Health Functional Medicine Center are excited to be part of this experience for you.
I also want to share with you that if you’re looking for support during this holiday season, our own health coach (Health Coach Trish Chaput), is going to be starting a Sugar Busters 5-Week Online Class that’s running right through the holiday season. It’s going to start on Monday evening, December 2. It’s going to be online, so you don’t have to leave your house if you don’t want to, from 7:00 – 8:00 PM, EST. If you’re looking for more support to deal with the temptations of the holidays and you want to work with a support group, then definitely sign up and give us a call at the Discover Health office. Our number is 603-447-3112, and the cost of that 5-week program is $100.
I hope you’re feeling motivated, inspired, informed, and not too overwhelmed. Positive, proactive feelings, motivation, and inspiration will serve as the energy you need to propel forward. Take on these healthy holiday habits and dramatically improve your quality of life.
The holidays are notoriously busy for all, and I hope this has served as a helpful and educational experience for you. Avoid the trap of holiday thinking. Special occasions come and go, but good health stays with your forever. Go forth and do great things, I believe in you! And remember even if you are struggling it does not mean you are failing. We are all human, so take each and every day and each and every moment as it comes. If you make one choice that doesn’t make you feel well, then simply learn from that experience and make a different choice the next time.
Once again, if you ever need any additional guidance or support please don’t hesitate to reach out. We at the Discover Health Functional Medicine Center are deeply passionate about helping you become the best version of yourself. I want to extend my most sincere appreciation and gratitude towards those of you who have taken the time to read through “Make this Holiday Season the Healthiest Yet.”
Helping people maintain and achieve health during the holiday season is very near and dear to my heart. I truly hope that you spend the most loving and wonderful time with your friends, family, and loved ones this holiday season and that you’re able to post even on your refrigerator or nightstand the goals that you set for yourself. Look back at your answers and add to them if you want because the bottom line is that if you keep reminding yourself every day of your goals, then you’re going to remember them and they’re going to become automatic for you.
Thank you very much, and we will always be here to support you! I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and have walked away with a few ideas to help you have the most wonderful holiday season you can possibly have. Have a happy and healthy holiday!