Holiday Pig-Out Alert!

As a health and parenting writer, I cover women’s health issues frequently. Here’s one in an occasional series of posts on health tips for busy moms. — Kathy

It’s the holidays — and we’re all being tempted with fat-loaded dinners and butter cookies. Of course, we want to celebrate a bit. But health experts remind us to keep our eye on the long haul. How much do we really want to pay — in weight gain, potential health problems and just plain sluggishness — for our holiday cheer?

It’s about balance, our experts say, noting that we don’t need to make a Herculean effort. Even moderate changes in what we put in our mouths, and how much we shake a leg, can really add up this holiday season. But there are some simple psychological reasons why so many of us dig in our heels when it comes to building healthy habits. And during the holidays, it’s even tougher to get motivated. Here are some of the most common pitfalls, along with some suggestions for hoisting ourselves over the healthy-holiday hurdles:

°    IGNORING YOUR QUIRKS. So you can’t stand the thought of exercising after a busy day? Well then. Might as well give up, grab some eggnog and rent a few videos, right?

Try this: Work around your likes and dislikes, suggests Lynn Fischer, an author of more than 20 healthy cookbooks who hates to exercise at night. “I work out at 6 a.m.,” she says. “By 7:30, I’m home and I’ve already accomplished the toughest part of my day.” And because she has a sweet tooth, Fischer doesn’t deny herself the occasional holiday goodie, because it helps her say no to other temptations. “But I don’t make it a habit,” she says.

°    FEELING DEPRESSED. Depression occurs, for many people, during the holiday season. “When you’re depressed, exercise is the best medicine, and it has no side effects,” says Scotts Valley, California fitness-motivation consultant Ron Useldinger. But if you’re not feeling good about yourself, it’s tough to get motivated to exercise or eat healthfully. Is depression tied to decreased fitness? “Absolutely,” he says. “If your body isn’t rested, properly fed and exercised, you will feel the effects emotionally.”

Try this: Bundle up and go for a winter walk. The first few times you may have to just trust the experts who say exercise really is good medicine. But have faith. You should start to feel better fairly quickly, says Useldinger. Try to look at those walks as a gift to your well-being. Of course, if your feelings of depression continue, you’ll want to talk with your doctor.

°    BECOMING A REBEL. This is a tough one, because it’s hard to recognize it in ourselves. After all, you love yourself, and exercise is good for you, right? But have you ever heard this little voice in your head? "I have wrap packages. I have to send out all these cards. I have to decorate the house. And now they’re telling me I HAVE TO eat right and exercise, or else something horrible will happen to me? Oh yeah? I think I’ll go flop on the couch, watch ‘Survivor’ reruns and have a big slab of fudge. So there.” “It’s as if these healthy things become just more pieces of work that we have to do, says Robert Ochs, M.S., LCSW, a Los Angeles exercise physiologist and psychotherapist who specializes in working with clients’ exercise-related issues.

Try this: Make your choices the reward, not the torture. “People have to find things in their life that are soothing,” says Ochs. “None of us can do well if we’re just going from chore to chore.” Especially in the early stages of a health-behavior change, try tying the change to a reward, he suggests. Allow yourself a massage after a certain number of workouts. Or exercise while chatting with a friend, reading or listening to music. “Now the new behavior becomes associated with something more pleasurable, and you probably won’t dread it,” says Ochs. “Maybe you’ll even look forward to it.”

°    TAKING AN ALL-OR-NOTHING APPROACH. It’s easy to get psyched and start off with great intentions, only to over-do it and quit on day three. “We know that the three biggest days for exercising are January 2, 3 and 4, and then it drops off quickly,” says Useldinger.

Try this: Get the jump on the new year now by making small changes. Then you will be in the groove come January and not so inclined to over-do it — and then drop out. “Your new behavior cannot be so punishing that you give up, so start with baby steps,” suggests Ochs. “One little change at a time.”

After you make fitness a habit, “the exercise itself becomes the thing you look forward to when you have all those other chores to do,” says Ochs. Pretty soon, stepping away from your holiday to-do list and stepping outside for that blood-pumping daily stroll might just become your favorite part of the holidays.

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2 Responses to “Holiday Pig-Out Alert!”

  1. Amy Paturel says:

    These are fantastic tips! The all or nothing mentality is HUGE this time of year. People think if they’ve had one bite of fudge, they’ve blown the whole day, so that might as well keep eating. Approaching food this way — especially during the holidays — is a surefire recipe for disaster. Another common culprit: Those shopping malls and frequent dinners out. Carry healthful snacks with you so you won’t be tempted at Cinnabon and find restaurants that offer healthier meals on sites like http://www.HealthyDiningFinder.com. Arm yourself with the right defense and you’ll have one less resolution on your list come New Year.
    Thanks for the great advice, Kathy! You rock!!!

  2. Kathy Sena says:

    Amy, I love your tips! Thanks for the link, too. Great site. And don’t even say the word “Cinnabon…” Eeeks! I’m afraid if I start on one of those, there will be no stopping me!