Ready or not, the holidays are here. And arriving with them is mass quantities of food not found or readily consumed any other time of year. To me, the “holidays” run from the dwindling days near the middle-to-end of October until roughly Valentine’s Day. I say this because come October we start buying chocolate, “for the trick-or-treaters”, even though we can’t seem to help digging into it early. If we’re not careful, there won’t be any left for these would-be youngsters anticipated to arrive at our door.

We tend to reconcile ourselves to this seasonal gluttony, convinced it’s “okay because it’s the holidays” and acquiescing to the expected extra intake of all things sweet, salty, and fatty. Then fresh on the heels of Hallows Eve comes Thanksgiving and the real start to the scheduled overeating – turkeys, hams, casseroles, pies, cakes, cookies, homemade candies, mashed potatoes, gravy, double-baked macaroni-and-cheese, etc. We’re off work or school, and have ample time to relax and enjoy the gastronomical wonders around us. And of course, with food prepared far in excess of what is adequate for our guests and ourselves, we have to finish it off (and do so for days after the holiday has passed), lest we throw away perfectly good food.

But wait, we’re not out of the woods yet. There’s still Christmas, which is virtually a repeat performance of Thanksgiving. There’s a tendency to not even bother returning to healthier eating in January, what with Valentine’s Day and the itinerant chocolate confections which will bombard us in every store and on every television commercial for weeks to come.

Flash forward to February 15th (unless we still have some of that chocolate left, then make it the 19th). Now lo and behold, our efforts all year to be healthy and possibly trim down (or at the very least keep in shape) have abandoned us in a handful of months. Depression rolls around, and again begins the cycle of getting in shape. So what can be done to prevent this from happening? Here are a few tips to keep those unwanted holiday pounds off and the stress away, while still enjoying the season to the fullest.

1. Be sure to eat

Yes, that’s right, eat; just be smart about it. Holidays are often extremely busy and sometimes stressful times for many people. Doing “double-duty” during the holidays makes it easier to skip meals and hit the vending machine for some late-day sustenance. Keep some healthy foods around for this busy time, like some nutrition bars, oatmeal, fruit, cereal, nuts, etc. Make it something easy to keep on you if you’re out and about, in the bottom drawer of your desk at the office, or closer to the kitchen entrance than the pies. Holiday foods are allowed, just remember to practice moderation and not go overboard.

2. Get some sleep!

Sure, you’ve got a lot going on, but not getting enough sleep won’t help you when you’re dead tired by the end of the afternoon. Be sure to get a good night’s sleep no matter what. This can keep you sane and less stressed out, which is always a good thing no matter the time of year. Make a conscious effort to wind down about 30 minutes before bedtime, and give yourself enough sleep-time to get 8 or so hours. Remember, lack of sleep inhibits concentration and makes us both less efficient and more easily irritable.

3. Don’t forget to exercise

Everyone’s a little extra-busy this time of year, and exercise seems like another part of that normal routine which, like you, has taken time off. However, maintaining some sort of exercise regimen will help prevent stress (which is heightened this time of year) AND will help keep those pesky holiday pounds at bay. No one needs to squeeze hours of exercise into an already jam-packed schedule, but you can make workouts more efficient. Park further away from the mall when gift shopping to get a bit more walking in, keep active throughout the day as much as possible, and if need be, find 15 minutes 2 or 3 times a day for a quick workout (walking the stairs, running through the store frantically searching for the perfect gift, whatever).

4. Relaxation is key

You’re probably thinking ‘I have no time to relax!’ but, finding time to take it easy can make the craziness of the holiday season that much easier to deal with. Imagery and meditation are great relaxation techniques, as is something as simple as deep breathing, which can keep those stress hormones in check. Sit on the floor or in a chair and simply breathe in deeply through your nose, allowing your stomach to bulge with the inhale, and exhale very slowly through the mouth, contracting your abs at the end. Repeat a few times and you’ll be raring to go.

5. Indulge…within reason

These special occasions allow for things we normally don’t allow ourselves; pies, cakes, eggnog, grandma’s homemade fudge, etc. It’s very easy to get caught up in the excitement and nostalgia of the season, but unlike the magical time of your childhood, all of this will put weight on you when it’s said and done if you don’t watch it. The best way to avoid this is plan ahead. When you go to a holiday party, whatever you do don’t go hungry. Eat a healthy snack before and grab a glass of water when you get there to fill up and keep yourself hydrated. When you hit the inevitable holiday buffet table, choose only one or two things to indulge in and forget the rest. Yes, it sounds harsh, but you’ll be glad you did. Make it something you’d only get during the holidays (you can have chocolate chip cookies anytime) and get just a little. Besides, you don’t want to be the person strolling through the party with a plate heaving from cake, pie, and cookies, do you? Fill the plate with healthier things, like veggies, fruit and grilled items. Avoid the eggnog and fatty concoctions, and stick to juice, wine, or water.

Happy holidays needn’t be cause for concern when spring rolls back around. Keep your wits about you, and remember if you wouldn’t be caught dead eating it any other time, best to avoid it or only have a bit. Most of all, don’t forget to take time to indulge and enjoy life and the festivities of the holiday season. That’s what holidays are for!

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