Balance, Moderation, and Variety Define Healthier Holiday Eating

It doesn’t seem possible. We’ve hardly put away our swimsuits and sandals. But the annual season of feasting and overindulging is rapidly approaching. This seemingly endless trick of temptation starts with Halloween candy and continues with Thanksgiving, the holidays, through New Year’s and beyond to Super Bowl festivities and Valentine’s Day chocolates.

Statistics for how much weight Americans tend to gain during this end-of-the-year smorgasbord vary from one pound to 10, but it’s undoubtedly a tough time for anyone trying to eat healthfully. But it’s more than just overeating, because exercise becomes collateral damage, as well. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, most Americans (~60 percent) do not engage in vigorous, leisure-time physical activity. Add in the time demands of the holidays and the urge to stay inside because of the weather, and you have a recipe for even more inactivity.

With all this working against us, how can we keep from overeating and under-exercising during this season of gluttony? It begins with understanding: Many factors combine to increase the urge to overeat during this season. They include:

  • Food-focused celebrations. We normally socialize with friends and family, enjoying food and drink. And on special occasions, such as holidays, the availability and quantity of social fare increases, raising the temptation to overindulge. The pressure to give in can be great, as we don’t want to put a damper on the merrymaking or disappoint loved ones who have toiled to present good treats. And the alcohol served at many social events can also destroy our resolve to eat in moderation.
  • Stress. As if there weren’t enough stress in everyday life, holiday obligations and expectations add to the strain. There’s much to do and accomplish in a short period, and that extra work can be overwhelming. It can add to stress, and the stress can lead to overeating.
  • Exhaustion. The demands of fall/winter festivities can leave people feeling sluggish and sleep-deprived. And when people are tired, they’re more likely to overeat.
  • Emotional eating. Some people use food to soothe sadness, anxiety, dissatisfaction, or loss. Others simply use any celebration as an excuse to overindulge. Holiday marketing of food and consumerism contributes to the excess as well, and even people who have been trying to eat healthy throughout the year may give in. Comfort and nostalgia play roles, as well.
  • Cold weather. Some people crave high-calorie comfort food and drink when the mercury dips.

The same factors that contribute to overeating can also lead to physical inactivity. And, of course, overfull stomachs from all that holiday feasting, as well as stress, exhaustion, and cold weather, can dampen the best of workout intentions.

Keys to survival and a healthier holiday season

To make the feasting season a healthier one, experts say, it’s important to practice awareness, manage your stress and emotions, and plan in advance.

Practice Awareness. Be conscious of what you eat and how much. Allow yourself some special treats on the holidays but have moderate servings. When there’s a lot of food available, try an appetizer-sized helping of each dish instead of dishing up a full serving. Don’t deprive yourself, but be aware of content and calories. When possible, avoid foods rich in fats, salt, sugar and preservatives.

Experts agree this is a good season to be realistic, rather than the best time for weight loss. They recommend trying to maintain weight instead of losing it. Keep it all in perspective. You don’t have to indulge every minute for three months. Allow some treats for those special days, then get back into your healthy routine the next day.

Manage Stress and Emotions. One way to keep stress at a minimum is to lower your expectations about holidays. Ask for help to lighten your holiday schedule. Host a potluck holiday meal instead of cooking dinner. Or serve it buffet style instead of having a sit-down meal. Learn to say “no,” in a courteous manner, to activities and food that aren’t in your best interest. And at social events, don’t fill silence with food. Talk and make new friends, and even if you’re sad, try turning to people for comfort instead of food.

Plan in Advance. Eat a little before you go to a holiday gathering; hunger can undo the best intentions. Also, avoid sources of temptation whenever you can. After visiting a buffet, leave the room that’s filled with food. If there are sweets in the office break room, don’t go there. If you’re given unhealthy food as a gift, bring it to the office to share. Also, if you’re traveling for the holidays, pick up some healthy, portable snacks at the grocery store before you leave so you’re less likely to be tempted by unhealthy options.

Think about what really matters during this busy time of year, and plan accordingly. Figure out what you absolutely have to do, then let go of the rest, and find time to fit in walks and exercise wherever and however you can.

The bottom line, the experts say, is to try to maintain a healthy lifestyle both in and outside of the fall/winter feasting season. Constant weight gains and losses can be harmful to your health and your psyche. Keep in mind that celebrations are really about family and friends, not food. Balance, moderation, and variety are keys to better health.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Awareness of Diabetes Triggers Now Can Prevent Problems Later

Diabetes continues to pose a growing national health concern, with 3.6 million Americans currently afflicted, 79 million having pre-diabetes, and 1.6 million more individuals diagnosed each year.

According to the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, Type 2 diabetes has become one of the most common and costly diseases in the United States and around the world, creating an enormous, and costly, strain on the U.S. healthcare system.

With November being Diabetes Awareness Month, this is a good time to take stock of your diet and exercise routines.

Studies by the National Diabetes Research Foundation have determined that just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity daily, and a 5 percent to 10 percent reduction in body weight can reduce the risk of diabetes by almost 60 percent. To help you achieve these goals, here are healthy living tips for the whole family:

  • Try to eat regular, balanced meals every four to five hours. Smaller amounts eaten more often are better for healthy blood-sugar levels
  • Eat carbohydrates in moderation. Carbohydrates raise blood sugar more than foods with protein or fat. Carbohydrates include milk, fruit, bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, corn and peas.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Eat more fiber from whole grains and dried beans.
  • Eat less fat and less saturated fat. Choose lean meats, low-fat dairy products and low-fat snack foods.
  • Use drinks that do not raise blood sugar such as water, diet soda, coffee and tea.
  • Choose desserts occasionally. Look for dessert foods that are lower in carbohydrates and fat.

While watching your nutritional intake and snacking is important, walking and moderate exercise every day or every other day also plays a critical role in preventing weight gain, reducing stress, strengthening heart health and reducing chances for diabetes later in life.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Give Yourself the Gift of a Less Stressful Holiday Season

As much as we enjoy the holiday season, it also can be an extremely stressful time of the year for many people. Stressors include time constraints, traveling, cooking, overindulging, family reunions and spending too much money on gifts. In addition, loneliness can add to stress, as people without family or friends can become depressed due to lack of relationships and social interaction. And adding to this potent mix, financial challenges are amplified during this season. Being aware of these issues is important, and maintaining perspective and creating time for yourself to relax helps you control or reduce holiday stress and better equips you for the fast pace of the upcoming season.

Maintaining healthy habits throughout the holidays is an important step for helping you feel in control and able to better cope with seasonal chaos. Do not allow the holiday season to become a free-for-all. When you overindulge in rich foods and drinks, you invite stress and guilt into your life. Enjoying a healthy snack before attending a holiday party prevents you from going overboard on unhealthy food and high-calorie drinks. In addition, continuing to get enough exercise and plenty of sleep helps to reduce stress and allows you to enjoy your holidays better.

Set your budget and stick to it. Prior to embarking on gift or food shopping, determine how much money you can afford to spend, and stick to this amount. Never attempt to buy happiness by overspending on gifts. Effective alternatives to spending too much money include donating to a favorite charity in the recipient’s name, starting a gift exchange and giving homemade gifts instead of store-bought gifts.

Learn to say “no.” Consistently saying “yes” at times when you should really be saying “no” can cause you to be overwhelmed and experience feelings of resentment. Your friends, family and colleagues will understand if you choose not to participate in each activity that they want to include you in. If you are unable to say no to your boss when he requests you to work overtime, eliminate another planned activity from your agenda, which will make up for lost time. Setting reasonable boundaries will help you manage your rest and health when you need it the most.

Set aside differences and practice tolerance. Getting together with family and friends can sometimes evoke feelings of stress and discord. Accepting friends and family members as they are promotes closeness and harmony, which allows you to set aside your grievances temporarily. In addition, be understanding if other people get distressed or upset when something goes wrong. Remember that they might also be feeling the same effects of stress and depression brought on by the holiday season.

Make time for yourself. You need to take a breather and create time solely for yourself. By spending 15 minutes alone, without any distractions, you allow yourself to become refreshed enough to handle the things you need to do. Taking walks, meditating, napping, exercising and listening to soothing music are examples of activities that can help clear your mind, restore your inner calm and reduce stress levels.

Ultimately, it’s up to each of us to manage the chaos and challenges that accompany the holiday season. Our personal wellness is the best gift of all.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Give Your Employees the Gifts of Health and Wellness

When you operate a small business, every employee makes a significant contribution to service and results. If even one employee experiences frequent sick days, low productivity or an extended absence, it can lead to significant challenges and potential lost revenue or unhappy customers. It also damages morale internally when other employees are forced to pick up the slack.

Small businesses have jumped on the wellness bandwagon, once the purview of large employers only. Employers realize that employee wellness programs can reduce healthcare costs, lessen worker’s compensation claims, decrease absenteeism and employee turnover. Health and wellness initiatives supported in the workplace also increase productivity, reduce stress, and improve workers’ attitudes.

Investments in an employee wellness program can be well worth an employer’s initial cost outlay. Large companies have seen amazing returns on their investments as a result of their corporate wellness programs. According to a case study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a company-wide employee wellness program can save $2.43 for every $1 spent. And according to a report from U.S. Corporate Wellness, a commitment to an employee wellness program can result in a 20 percent to 55 percent reduction in healthcare costs.

As the end of 2011 rapidly approaches, this is a good time for employers on the wellness fence to consider learning more about implementing wellness initiatives that are readily available, simple to execute and can return significant results in stress reduction, customer service, productivity, employee morale and revenue.

To reap the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!