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Healthy holidays: Keeping it together

By CLAUDIA BERMUDEZ-HYUN, The Philippine STAR Published Dec 27, 2022 5:00 am

Physical and emotional health efforts, painstakingly acquired throughout the year, could get thrown out the window. Emotional overeating, high alcohol intake, and sleep deprivation happen when anxiety over lingering issues, financial worries, year-end deadlines, and family conflicts come into the picture.

For many, it’s a socially demanding period of attending events, organizing your home, shopping for gifts, getting caught in heavy traffic, and those yearly family gatherings that, at times, can hold unrealistic high expectations.

With this in mind, here are some suggestions worth considering to help manage stress-related food bingeing, avoid emotional triggers, ease expectations, and have some fun.

There is something magical about the season that still transports me back in time: The lights, the music, the cheer and, of course, all the good food that comes with it.

Always have a healthy snack before going to a cocktail or party. Leaving your house or office hungry is the worst dietary mistake you can make. Having a healthy snack before heading out the door to get to the next holiday festivity can help prevent overeating once you’re there. Have you ever gone to a party ravenously hungry and ended up vacuuming down the whole bowl of pretzels, chicharon, and cookies, and still feel hungry? This is because your body is getting very little whole-food nutrients.

Try having a turkey sandwich, Greek yogurt with granola, avocado on toast, or an apple with peanut butter. Not only will they control your bingeing, but if you are consuming alcohol, the absorption into your bloodstream will be slower and relatively safer. It might be a good time to consider intermittent fasting where you choose an eight-hour window to eat the food you usually enjoy and give yourself a 16-hour break of only liquids like water, greens, herbal teas, and black coffee.

Learn the concept of crowding out. Crowding out is a term that was coined by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Simply put, it involves focusing our attention on eating healthy foods instead of trying to avoid unhealthy foods. So, generously fill your plate with greens, fruits, grains, protein, and good oils. These are the whole foods your body needs to feel satisfied.

Once you consume enough of these, your stomach will have little or no space for the bibingka, leche flan or puto bumbong servings and if it does, then you will be able to control the intake as you will no longer be hungry. Whatever you consume after this becomes a treat rather than a hunger issue. Small changes in your intake of food will eventually become a permanent habit, which is the aim of healthy eating.

Filipino cuisine has a wide array of succulent, mouthwatering desserts that are challenging to resist.

Eat slowly. Eating your meals quickly does not allow your belly to send a message to your brain that you have eaten enough. That’s how most indigestions happen. By the time you are on your third bowl of pancit, your stomach is already full, but you still don’t feel it.

Overeating is common and one of the main causes of weight gain, obesity and diabetes. My grandfather Enrique used to always say “you need to chew each bite at least 32 times before you swallow” and he was spot-on. There are digestive enzymes in your saliva, and “when you don’t chew your food until liquid, you’re skipping an important part of your digestive process,”says Robyn Youkilis, a leading expert in digestive health. So slow down and use mindfulness when you feed yourself this holiday season. 

Drink the same amount of water as you do alcohol. Before you begin drinking any alcohol, begin by drinking plenty of water. Alternating between an alcoholic beverage and a hydrating glass of water is one of the best ways to remain hydrated and avoid a hangover. “Our brain tissues are mostly made of water, so dehydration has the effect of shrinking the tissue, creating painful pressure (aka headaches),” according to The more hydrated you are, the easier for the liver to filter the alcohol out of your system.

Find your center. This one is fundamental. Find time to ground yourself through breathing exercises, meditation, prayer or yoga. Reboot your brain to absorb the true meaning of the season. What does it mean to you? What do you want to feel? Whom do you want to see? What message do you want to impart? It is the season of gratitude and thankfulness and what better time to remind yourself than now? Spending five to 10 minutes each day to practice gratitude can help set a positive and uplifting tone for the day.

Personality conflicts, yearly fights, and difficult relatives can ruin the celebration. Remind yourself that family gatherings are not the time to fix anyone.

Get moving. Do something every day that involves some type of cardio. Trying to adhere to a strict workout regimen can be difficult for some through the holidays. Instead of trying to get to the gym five days a week, focus on doing at least one thing every day to get yourself moving. This could be power walks, biking or weight training. Couch potato holidays are payable with high interest in the new year.

Deal with family tensions realistically. Family gatherings are usually seen as joyful, but many people find them overwhelming and not good for their mental health. Personality conflicts, yearly fights, and difficult relatives can ruin the celebration. Remind yourself that family gatherings are not the time to fix anyone and if possible, do your best to under-react when faced with a stressed-out in-law or the unexpected outburst of a family member. Accept that the only thing you can control is the way you react, so use tolerance and patience. Humor is a good tool to curb tensions. When a known trigger arises, try to change the subject quickly to something light.

Truly connect with people at a deeper level. Make an effort to really bond with close friends, children and your partner this holiday season. Have meaningful conversations, use your EQ to reach out, ask questions that will give you an insight into that person’s state of mind, use physical touch to show appreciation and gratitude. Be aware that for many people, this could be a time of loneliness, emotional memories, and feelings of loss. Hold that space for them if you sense they need a hug or someone to talk to.

Make an effort to really bond with close friends, children and your partner this holiday season.

Offer meaningful gifts. Gifts don’t have to be expensive to be meaningful. Receiving a gift that is connected to a cause means you are helping other human beings to have a better livelihood. Remember, it’s not about the gift but about the words expressed in the card that goes with it.

Get proper rest. This can’t be emphasized enough. Sleep is vital for the proper functioning of your brain and body. When you are tired you eat more, drink more and are more reactive. Get eight hours of rest daily and take an afternoon nap during the day after a late night out.

Smile. When you smile, your brain releases tiny molecules called neuropeptides to help fight stress. Then other neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and endorphins come into play , too. It turns out the benefits of smiling aren’t just limited to yourself—it can also affect those around you, creating a ripple effect. It takes very little effort on your part and can brighten someone’s day.

So eat, drink, connect and be merry this holiday season. The year ahead promises to be full of adventures, places to discover, people to meet and things to do. Let’s make sure we are in full physical, mental and emotional health to enjoy it.