Healthy Living

A Fail-Safe Guide to a Healthier Holiday

By Sheryl Kraft

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Suddenly, the holidays are looming and I’m having a really hard time wrapping my arms around that simple concept. I mean, I haven’t even cleaned out my closet yet – my summer clothes are still hanging prominently, reminding me each time I reach in for a sweater that I won’t be needing them again until April or May.


To get into the holiday head, I’ve decided to imagine some holiday-like scenarios, to bring me back to what it feels like. Maybe this will help prepare all of us for the onslaught of craziness that always seems to push itself in this time of year, despite our very best efforts.

If you have heartburn: Beware of medicines known as Proton Pump Inhibitors, or PPIs. Watch for esomeprazole (Nexium) and omeprazole (Prilosec and generic). If you must, they’re best taken at the lowest effective dose for the shortest time needed. Looking for natural heartburn relief? Some experts suggest chewing gum, which stimulates saliva, an acid buffer. Others say exercise can help to , which causes heartburn.

Food preparation and salmonella: Since about 76 million people in the U.S. get foodborne illnesses each year, and 5,000 die, it’s crucial to remain vigilant. Wash all produce (yes, even the prewashed stuff). Clean your hands, utensils and cutting boards that have come in with raw meat before they touch other food. Cook your meat, fish and eggs thoroughly. And if you’re banking on your leftovers to give you a few extra meals, make sure to refrigerate them promptly.

Protect yourself with a flu shot: A concluded that people with more social connections got the flu two weeks earlier, on average, than other people. And during the holidays, it’s hard to avoid people, after all. All that hugging and kissing and hand-holding…it’s warm and fuzzy, sure, but it spreads germs, too.

It’s not too late to protect yourself against the flu. Although the CDC recommends doing it before December so that the timing protects you before flu activity is typically at its peak, you can still get vaccinated throughout the flu season (which can begin as early as October and continue through May). You don’t have to book a doctor’s appointment: many pharmacies at stores like CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens offer vaccines.

Avoid stuffing: No, I don’t mean the kind that you eat on Thanksgiving, but I mean stuffing yourself with too much food. To avoid overeating when you arrive, have a nutritious, healthy snack about 2 hours before. Some good choices: Greek yogurt sprinkled with wheat germ, apple slices spread with some peanut butter.

Burn off calories: A typical Thanksgiving meal can have as many as 4,000 calories. (Chances are you’re not having steamed broccoli and boiled potatoes.) You’re bound to be stuffed, since chances are you’re eating more than normal. After you’ve finished your meal, to avoid feeling like a big fat slug, go outside for a walk to burn off some of the extra calories. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, playing video games inside can burn calories, too. While it’s not the same as a workout at the gym, it’s fun and it gets you up and moving.

Treat yourself and your immune system: Book a massage. Aside from its ability to lower your blood pressure and relax you, it can change your stress hormones and in turn, ramp up your disease-fighting arsenal.

If you’re cooking, use some substitutes: You can make the meal a bit healthier by switching out some ingredients. Make the mashed potatoes with nonfat milk and add some parmesan cheese, garlic or broth to ramp up the flavor; replace half the butter or oil in cakes with unsweetened applesauce or mashed bananas; swap 3 T. unsweetened cocoa and 1 T. canola oil or water for every ounce of baking chocolate.

This Matters> Holidays give us a chance to be around the people we love, eat the foods we shun the rest of the year and celebrate life. While it’s more complex than that– there are a lot of emotions that can get in the way of the more pleasant things – we do have an option. Me? I’m going to do my best to stay relaxed, cheerful and in charge of my emotions.

Enjoy your holidays in good health and peace!


Great tips. I try to eat carefully at home during the holidays so I can splurge when at family gatherings.

A splurge is so much better when you've *earned* it, isn't it?

A great list of ideas for dealing with the holidays in a healthy way. I'm going to remind my mother (who suffers fractures from osteoporosis) about the dangers of taking PPI's on a daily basis.

Glad you're able to share some important information with your mother, Donna.

These are great suggestions, and you reminded me that I haven't had Greek yogurt in a while (and I love it).

Enjoy that Greek yogurt, Jane. It's filled with protein and really satisfying, I think!

Thanks for such a common-sense, realistic approach to the holidays. I'm planning to stuff myself, as usual, but will also be walking and yoga-ing it off.

Thanks for the tips, Sheryl! This year's Thanksgiving celebration also includes a family wedding, so it's going to be extra hectic (and include extra calories). Wish me luck avoiding that second helping of pecan pie!

What a festive time for you, Susan. Sounds like a lot of fun - and like you have a weakness for pecan pie. Good luck!

Whoa--4000 calories in the average Thanksgiving meal? That's amazing. I'm looking for a turkey trot to do the morning of the big day to hopefully keep the holiday pounds from sneaking up on me.

I know - that figure stunned me, too. I guess there's a reason for all of those turkey trots the day after this holiday!

I appreciate this list though I'd urge your readers to skip the flu shot. For the past three years the shot has contained the wrong strains of flu. My father-in-law got it and he got the flu -- and a much worse case of the flu than any of the rest of us. So, yes, wash your hands and cover your sneezes but think twice before you decide to pay for a product that may not help you.

This is news to me, Jennifer, and I'm going to do some research and get some more information. I haven't personally heard of anyone getting this type of reaction to the shot. Thanks for the heads-up.

I love the reminder to book a massage. Such a great great idea to find some still time and quiet time.

We'll have a relatively healthy Thanksgiving dinner, but only because we live far from family. What is it about family gatherings that bring out the calories?? When my mom's around there's three times as much food as we need - and it's all unhealthy!

I agree, Kris. Family gatherings usually go hand-in-hand with soooo much food. Sorry you won't be near your family for the holidays. But, I guess it has its advantages, too, since you'll be able to keep your dinner healthy.

Massage: Check Managing chronic back pain makes a regular trip to the massage therapist a necessity.

Avoid stuffing: Check (Truth be told, TG foods aren't my fav so that's easy to avoid.)

Handling emotions: Check (Spending the holiday this year with friends, my son AND my ex. How evolved is that? Nothing like time to heal or wounds;)

Happy holiday to you Sheryl.

Impressed, Sarah! It sounds like you have lots of check marks in a positive, healthy way. Thanks for sharing.

Often we forget the benefit of massage, don't we? Thanks for this reminder.


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