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How to stay healthy and stress free during holiday season

December 3, 2018

The holiday season ushers in many chances for indulging in big meals and extra desserts, as well as added stress when it comes to buying gifts and hosting family, but there are ways of handling all of this. Members of UTHealth at the Texas Medical Center are offering tips on how to stay healthy and stress free during the holidays.

Shannon Weston, nutritionist supervisor for the Nourish Program at the UTHealth School of Public Health, says that the important thing to remember during holiday meals is to try to have half of your plate consist of fruits and/or vegetables, one-fourth of your plate have protein and the other one-fourth have carbohydrates.

“As long as portion size is okay, people shouldn’t have to choose between different types of food, so they don’t feel limited or deprived,” Weston said.

Weston notes that it is also important to stay hydrated, and try to limit the amount of sugar in drinks. She suggests placing a pitcher of water out during holiday parties with slices of lemon and oranges in it as an option for guests.

“Club soda or seltzer is also a good calorie free option, and it still has a satisfying bubbly taste,” Weston said.

Weston says that the traditional way of thinking is for people to skip meals the day of a big holiday meal, so they can save calories, but that is not the best thing to do.

“If you skip meals, the more your temptation to overindulge increases. You want to make sure you are eating a sensible breakfast and lunch so your appetite will be regulated,” Weston said.

The turkey is often a mainstay of holiday meals, and Weston notes that turkey is a healthy, good source of lean protein on its own. She does suggest to avoid eating the skin, which adds on extra calories.

Weston also says that making your own stuffing is a good way of adding in some extra vegetables to the meal such as mushrooms, onions and chopped apples.

Dessert is often available as a second course at holiday meals. Weston says to provide smaller dessert plates.

“Your plate is going to look full with smaller portions,” Weston explains.

Weston also suggests that, instead of trying a bite of everything, stick to picking what you think will be your two favorite desserts.

It is also important to keep your food at safe temperatures, especially if it will stay out on a table for multiple hours.

“Foods that are hot should be kept at 145 degrees or hotter. They will need to be reheated. Same rule goes with refrigerated foods. Within two hours you will want to refrigerate any perishable foods,” Weston said.

It is also important to stay stress free while handling all of the extra tasks that come along with the holiday season.

“There are expectations to meet people and spend time with them. There is a lot of pressure to be entertaining at a level that they are not used to. We are managing a big party, managing what we buy, the food we cook and how our family presents itself. There is an expectation to be perfect,” Dr. Iram Kazimi, associate professor of psychiatry at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth said.

Kazimi says to not be our own worst critics, and to set realistic expectations and plan in advance to reduce the chaos we may feel during the holidays.

It may be easier to focus on making memories instead of buying gifts for your family and friends, Kazimi says.

“If you don’t have traditions, this may be a time to start thinking about it. Do a certain activity together like a game. Make memories that people will cherish instead of a gift card,” Kazimi said.

If you do want to buy gifts though, plan ahead and stick to a budget. Ask family and friends for their wish lists so that takes the guess work out of gift buying.

Most importantly, Kazimi notes to ask for help and to not be afraid to delegate tasks.

“Ask someone to be in charge of gifts, someone to be in charge of the meal. It is unrealistic to think that everything will be managed perfectly by just you,” Kazimi said.

Holiday party pictures may show up on social media, and Kazimi says it is important to not use social media as a comparison tool.

“You will not appreciate the stress behind that picture. They may have had tons of help putting together the picture perfect holiday. Comparing leads to higher amounts of depression and anxiety,” Kazimi said.

While doing all of the holiday prepping, it is important to not abandon every day healthy habits.

“Make sure you get physical activity and you are getting enough sleep. Make time for yourself. Spending 15 minutes alone is enough to rejuvenate yourself,” Kazimi said.

rebecca.hazen@chron.com

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