Holiday Survival Guide
Turkey Day is nearly upon us! While Thanksgiving, and the holiday season it kicks off, can be a joyful time, it can be a stressful one, too. Our NP experts, Marita Florini FNP-BC and Frances M. Sahebzamani, Ph.D., ARNP, FAANP, weigh in on how to get the most enjoyment out of the Thanksgiving holiday.
Q: What are the food items people should especially avoid – or eat – during the Thanksgiving meal?
Focus on the bird, followed by vegetables. However, if there is a food you are craving, keep to the portion size. If there is something that is not a favorite, just say no!
To navigate the Thanksgiving feast, consider avoiding foods high in refined sugars and flours to reduce the amount of carbohydrates you eat, reduce the amount of gravy and sauces you choose and avoid the hidden calories often found in high caloric drinks such as soda, fruit juices and eggnog.
Q: What are some ways to make the Thanksgiving meal a little bit healthier?
In general white turkey breast meat is a better choice then the dark meat. Vegetables should comprise half your plate. If you must have stuffing, for example, keep it to one half cup.
- Look for “cooking light” recipes to try out in place of your traditional favorites
- Look for ways to substitute high caloric ingredients with lower caloric ones
- Avoid serving high caloric appetizers in favor of fresh fruits and cut vegetables
- Avoid serving casseroles
- Avoid using cheese or other sauces on vegetables
- Serve a greater number of steamed or roasted vegetables
- Serve smaller, single-serving desserts
Q: Even if people indulge on Thanksgiving day, how can they avoid the excess that generally accompanies the holiday season?
Food represents a potent reward and when combined with family, traditions, and memories, food can be extremely seductive and a very difficult temptation to resist. If you do happen to over-indulge on Thanksgiving day, forgive yourself and don’t abandon your resolve! Eating in moderation and choosing to select healthier foods is a life-long challenge and for most of us, an acquired skill set. Often people will tell me that since they lost the battle on Thanksgiving day, they give up for the entire Holiday season. Don’t let one slip derail your resolve to take better care of yourself!
People should indulge in one or two favorites on a holiday. But there is a Weight Watchers saying: ” It’s a holiDAY not a holiWEEK.” After the meal, be prepared with plastic containers and portion out the leftovers. Put them right in the freezer or send them home with your guests.
Q: What are some simple ways to incorporate physical activity during such a busy time of year?
We know that the research evidence showing the psychological, metabolic and cardiovascular benefits of increased physical activity are compelling and well disseminated. As nurse practitioners, we counsel our patients daily to implement evidence-based strategies to increase physical activity in their daily lives. Some of the strategies we recommend often include: parking further away from your destination, increasing your pace when walking, taking your pet for walks (well, maybe not the cat…), using stairs instead of elevators, pace while talking on the phone, walk for 5-10 minutes after each meal, do stretching or lifting exercises while watching TV and use pedometers to help motivate, track and increase daily steps. As health care providers, we need to implement our own advice! Put on a pedometer and start tracking your daily steps!
Here is where big time planning comes in! First, I know what time all my food has to be cooked and I do a lot of cooking ahead. On Thanksgiving Day, I am out the door by 5:00 am for my traditional four-mileTurkey Day walk. If it is a quiet day with little family, our meal is smaller and we walk the dog again after dinner.
Q: The holidays can be a wonderful time but a potentially lonely time for some. How can people connect and find meaning during the holiday season?
I am a believer in the theories of resiliency. This means that although I acknowledge sadness – for example, I miss my parents and some family – during the holiday, I keep busy. I exercise to improve endorphins and I surround myself with those I love or music.
It is important to realize that the holidays can trigger feelings of loneliness and if you are at risk for these feelings, one strategy you can use to connect and find meaning throughout the season is to be open to opportunities to volunteer to help others. Staying engaged by volunteering your time to help others in need can be extremely rewarding and help stave off feelings of loneliness. Look for opportunities to become involved with organizations that sponsor shelters, free meals or Meals on Wheels, food banks, free clinics, or visits to assisted living or long-term care facilities. It is harder to feel isolated or lonely when your services can bring great joy to many and relieve the suffering of others.
Q: Do you have advice for patients and their caregivers managing chronic diseases, such as COPD or diabetes, during the holidays?
While the holiday season represents a wonderful time to be with family and friends, it can also be a very hectic, stressful season and a time in which it very easy to overextend your energy level. Whether you are a patient or a caregiver, an honest assessment of your strengths and limitations can help you prioritize what is important and what is not in order to help you pace yourself during the entire season. Set limits, try not to volunteer for extra responsibilities, and ask for help when needed. Pacing your activities and making sure you get plenty of planned rest are two key strategies to maintaining healthy outcomes during this hectic time.
First, know your limits! Maybe the whole meal thing is too much. Look for affordable options, such as grocery store pre-made meals. If you are diabetic, decide ahead of time what will you eat and how much, take meals on time, check sugars frequently and get 10 minutes of activity in as often as you can in the day. For COPD, do not over eat. Have small frequent meals – graze. Get your flu shot three weeks before seeing all these family members and rest when you need to.
Q: What is your number one tip for a healthy holiday season?
Approach the Holidays with moderation and balance!
Do what you love. Do what speaks to your soul. Honor the meaning of each of these holidays.