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Health Matters: Guide to a healthy and happy holiday season

By Kiersten Ahlm

The holidays are just around the corner, which means parties, family gatherings, house guests, Christmas shopping … you know the drill. It’s definitely a time of indulgence, and I am here for it. But it doesn’t mean that you must fall off the health wagon entirely. Here are a few strategies to help you through the mayhem and to indulge in a more conscious way.

I think the most important thing you can do for your health during this crazy time is to manage your stress. Stress is what causes us to eat all of the cookies our neighbor so lovingly gifts us or to over imbibe on eggnog (when we don’t even like eggnog) at a holiday party.

First and foremost, get your calendar under as much control as possible. Before you say “yes” to an invite, ask yourself, is this going to fill my cup up or drain it? We all have those parties that are somewhat obligatory, but for the most part, people understand that it’s a busy time of year and your “no” is most likely not going to be the shot heard around the world. If it’s someone you do want to connect with, suggest a get together in January. Who doesn’t like something to look forward to after the holidays? Your time is valuable, and you are the only one that’s truly going to advocate for it.

If there was ever a time to practice self-care, it is surely during the holiday season. As someone who is slightly introverted, getting some alone time in is important to me and allows me to recharge so that I can show up in a better way for my family. Get that massage, go on that walk or set aside some time to read. Taking care of yourself in a conscious way is empowering and builds confidence, which will help you better handle those family members that might be a little … challenging.

Make Christmas shopping a little easier by planning ahead and doing at least some of it online, so you don’t have to deal with the crowds and that stressed out energy that is so very palpable this time of year. Or, even better, instead of buying gifts, have your family members choose causes that speak to them and make donations in their names. I mean, how many more things do we really need collecting dust in our homes?

I am a realist and know that the holidays are full of temptation. But try not to throw all caution to the wind and do try to eat nourishing, (preferably) home cooked meals when the opportunity presents itself. Start your morning off with a savory breakfast to help manage your blood sugar. Make sure you don’t skip meals, so when you get to that holiday party, you’re not ravenous. Check out the buffet at parties before you commit, making sure that you allow some space for something green (and I don’t mean a Jell-O mold). Eat your veggies first, the fiber will slow down the absorption of glucose from the rest of the meal. Next eat your protein and healthy fat, then lastly your carbs. This will also help keep your blood sugar from spiking, and you from overeating.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! This, too, is part of keeping those sugar cravings at bay, as well as keeping your hunger hormones in check. One of those people who thinks water is boring? Don’t forget that brothy soups and herbal teas can also be hydrating. Fruits and vegetables like melon, cucumber and lettuce can hydrate you on a cellular level, which can improve brain function, give you more energy and make you less irritable. While we’re on the subject of hydration — I know that leaning on coffee to keep up with our fast pace is a common strategy — but keep in mind coffee is a diuretic and can be dehydrating. So, ultimately it can make you more tired since hydration is important for your energy levels.

While exercise might seem like a pipe dream this time of year, it is important to at least get some in. Fifteen-minute walks count, as do taking the stairs and parking further away from your destination. You don’t have to have an hour long sweat for it to make an impact. Exercise will help with managing stress, improve your energy levels and, of course, help work off some of those conscious indulgences.

Traveling for the holidays? This can certainly make it harder to maintain healthy habits, especially if you’re at the mercy of someone else’s cooking and snack choices. When I travel, I try to stock up on healthy, portable snacks like grass-fed beef jerky, olives (they come in convenient snack packs) and nuts. If you are traveling to a different time zone, check out my article, “Minimizing jet lag and maximizing vacation” in the online version of this newspaper.

With a little planning ahead and some mindfulness, the holidays can be less stressful. And you don’t have to take an “all or nothing” approach. I like to look at it like this — if my health is a savings account — I know I am going to make some withdrawals — and that’s OK. As long as I make deposits to balance it out.

Kiersten Ahlm is an integrative nutrition coach who specializes in blood sugar balance. To find out more about her services, check out her website at


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