Ways to keep your family’s health in check this holiday season

Dr. Dennis Thain shared in a Special Feature for the Daily Herald that the holidays are upon us. Along with all of the joys this time of year brings comes some not so joyous realities such as tempting foods, holiday stress, and abnormally hectic schedules that make keeping up our nutrition and fitness routines challenging.

And these realities don’t just apply to us adults, but apply to our kids, too.

During the holidays alone, many Americans gain a pound or two — and for most, that weight won’t be lost after the holidays.

A few pounds here and there can result in 10 or 20 down the road. So what’s the trick to enjoying the holidays and keeping our family’s health a priority in the months to come?

Here’s a game plan:

1. Party plan ahead of time

Before you leave to go to your holiday party, decide how you’re going to approach eating.

Give yourself one, maybe two, food indulgences and then focus on eating fruits, vegetables and lean meats.

Look over the food table with your kids and help them select healthy options. Once you’re done eating, find something else to focus your attention on that’s away from the buffet or snack table.

If possible, put the food and snacks away after the meal is complete. Seeing food can make you think you’re hungry when you’re not.

2. Eat before you head to your destination

Skipping meals actually revs up your appetite, making you hungrier.

You’ll end up chowing down on more once you finally eat and there’s a good chance it will be high-fat, low-nutritional value food. So, eat small meals and snacks throughout the day, and encourage your kids to do the same. Be sure to provide low-sugar, high-protein meals and snacks for your kids, which helps kids feel full longer.

Keep in mind that it can take up to 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain it’s full, so plan ahead.

3. Be mindful of liquid calories

Alcohol is calorie-dense by itself. Add sugary mixes, fruit juice, syrups, cream, and the calories from a few drinks can add up to a meal’s worth.

Alcohol also lowers inhibitions and blood sugar levels, so it can make you drink and eat more than you normally would.

It’s OK to enjoy yourself at holiday get-togethers, just try to be aware of how much you’re drinking.

If possible, have your kids stick to water or other sugar-free drinks rather than sodas and juices. If you give them a choice between an unhealthy beverage or a cookie or sweet, chances are they will forgo the unhealthy beverage and drink water instead.

4. Don’t be too restrictive with holiday sweets

Take care to not be too restrictive with your kids having sweets.

If holiday cookies, chocolates and desserts are totally denied when kids are used to having unhealthy options around, they may rebel and eat more of them when they have a chance or sneak them on their own.

Decide on a “sweets allowance” that you and your child are allowed to have. Remember that kids model after what they see, so let your kids see you making healthy choices as well.

5. Don’t rely on eating out when time is short

Our free time often takes a beating during the holiday season, which means less time to shop for and prepare a good meal.

It’s easy to turn to fast food options to make meal times fast, but eating too many high-fat, low-nutritional value foods is not good for any of us.

Try utilizing grocery delivery services to ensure you have a good amount of fresh produce and lean proteins on hand.

One of the best things you can do is prepare snacks and meals before leaving in the morning or over the weekend. It may mean a heavier workload during the holiday season, but you’ll be grateful that you made the effort, and can return to your typical routine when the holiday season is over.

6. Use creativity to stay active

Keeping healthy over the holidays isn’t just about food.

If keeping your current fitness routines is not possible, find opportunities for the entire family to participate in active activities, such as local 5K fun runs/walks, sledding, hiking, ice skating, and dancing to your favorite holiday music.

Try to be active for at least 2½ hours a week.

Help kids and teens find ways to be busy and reduce screen time during holiday breaks from school. Kids should be active for at least one hour a day.

7. Don’t forget to find time for sleep and relaxation

You and your family will enjoy the holiday season much more if everyone is rested and relaxed.

Lack of sleep can also increase chances of holiday weight gain.

You may need even more sleep to make up for the extra work and stress that often come with the holidays. Try to get between 7-9 hours of sleep each night, and make sure that your kids are getting even more.

To help everyone get to sleep, avoid eating within two hours of bedtime and avoid caffeine at least four hours before bedtime.

I hope you have found these tips helpful, and I encourage you to follow as many of these tips as possible to ensure a healthy and joyous holiday season.

• Dr. Dennis Thain is a family medicine physician at Aurora Health Center in Zion, 3115 Lewis Ave. To reach his office, call (847) 746-3752.


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