For many, November through December is the best time of the year. During the holidays, there are many special occasions for getting together with families and friends, like Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s Eve. It’s a perfect time for cooking, trying new recipes, sharing dishes, and exchanging quality time and gifts.
Even with all there is to look forward to, this time of year brings some challenges as well. The days get shorter and shorter until the solstice on December 21. The transition of seasons, the change of weather, the fading of leaves, and the evolution of light can slightly affect your health and wellness balance. During this time, you can experience, for example, an increase in food cravings, a change in sleeping habits, mood changes, different allergies, and a lack of energy.
Implementing self-care and learning to adapt to the time change are essential to feeling good at this time of year. Meditation and self-reflection can help you understand your body. Learning health and wellness tips can keep us active and healthy this time of year.
Have you noticed how you perform in early spring as opposed to early winter?
Think back to early spring. Chances are we were feeling more energetic, and more excited about going out, getting in touch with nature, and meeting some friends. But in early winter, we may be feeling more receptive and reflective. It is the perfect time to let go, end a natural cycle, and prepare for winter. We can get ready by eating locally grown vegetables, warming herbs, and feel gratitude for the warmth of family and friends during the holidays.
To help you transition into winter, Maryland University of Integrative Health MS in Nutrition and Integrative Health student Maya Lechowick has prepared some helpful actions, tips, and recipes to keep you feeling your best during the season transition:
- Don’t go out with an empty tank. Before going to a party, eat something so you do not arrive famished. Excellent pre-party snacks combine complex carbohydrates with protein and unsaturated fat, such as apple slices with peanut butter.
- Be buffet savvy. At a buffet, peruse the food table before putting anything on your plate. You might be less inclined to pile on items by checking out all your options.
- At dinner, serve yourself the standard portions. Once you have finished eating, take a 10-minute break to realize if you are still hungry before going back for seconds.
- Drink to your health – a glass of eggnog can set you back 500 calories. Wine, beer, and mixed drinks range from 150 to 225 calories. Avoid alcohol on an empty stomach.
- Put on your walking or dancing shoes. Dancing is a great way to get your body moving. If you are at a family gathering, suggest a walk before the feast or even between dinner and dessert.
- Lower your expectations. Holidays don’t always look and feel like they do in the movies. Make it your own by doing the things that fit your lifestyle and make you happy.
- Cook from (and for) the heart. To show family and friends care and love, be creative with recipes that use less butter, cream, lard, vegetable shortening, and other ingredients rich in saturated fats. Prepare turkey or fish instead of red meat.
- Pay attention to what matters. Although food is an integral part of the holidays, put the focus on family and friends, laughter, and joy. But, if balance and moderation are your usual guides, indulging or overeating occasionally is okay.
- Make time for laughter. Laughter is the best medicine. So, make time for it just as you would for a healthy meal, exercise break, or deep breathing exercises. The great news about adding a daily dose of laughter is that there are no known side effects, and so far, we have not documented any allergies to our laughing breaks.
- Hydrate and warm yourself with healthy beverages like green teas, infusions, cinnamon, spicy, ginger, and lemon teas.
- Dress in layers to keep yourself warm and regulate your body temperature.
- Try to be active. Indoor exercising can be beneficial if it is too cold to walk outside.
- Get plenty of sleep to recover from stress and work.
During the holiday season, nourish to flourish. Maryland University of Integrative Health Nutrition Outreach team created delicious seasonal recipes for your holiday meals including health benefits:
Broccoli – is in the family of food known as Brassicas. These foods are anti-inflammatory, detoxifying, immune-supporting, and cancer-suppressing.
Garlic – contains a phytochemical called allicin. This sulfur-containing compound boosts immunity, stabilizes blood sugar, and is suitable for your heart and brain.
Butternut Squash – is rich in beta-carotene and other carotenoids, which are excellent for skin and eye health. This starchy vegetable is versatile for both sweet and savory dishes.
Cranberries are native to North America. These high acid fruits are rich in Vitamin C. Their red pigment is high in phenolic acid and antioxidants with anti-bacterial properties.
Carrots are a rich source of vitamin A, which is linked to eye health. This vitamin helps to reduce the risk of night blindness.
Rosemary has been shown to boost cognitive function and performance. Rosemary may also help improve memory and sharpen understanding.
Seeds from squash and pumpkin are small and powerful bites of energy. They are high in both zinc and magnesium, two minerals that are often lacking in the Western diet and that are important for heart health.
Ginger is a great ingredient to utilize on feast days as it stimulates healthy digestion and keeps food moving, as well as reduces uncomfortable gas and bloat.
Change old habits, break the routine, and try new things in the kitchen. It is healthy to experiment with new recipes and ways of eating. Christina Vollbrecht, MA, MS, Cooking Lab Manager & Recipe Book Project Manager explains, “While we offer plenty of tips and recipes for health and wellness this season, we mostly want you to remember that food is not supposed to be stressful.” Vollbrecht continues, “Whether you are doing the cooking, the eating, the hosting, the travelling, or all of it – treat yourself with kindness and grace and cook and eat from a place of love and you will derive the most benefit both nutritionally and emotionally.” Learn more and check out different recipes for every occasion.
Skerrett, P. (2019). 12 tips for holiday eating. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/12-tips-for-holiday-eating-201212242506
Jones, L. (2020). 7 Simple Holiday Wellness Tips and Quotes to Lower Your Stress. Living Marvelously.com. https://livingmarvelously.com/holiday-wellness-tips/