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6 Ways To Stay Happy And Healthy This Holiday Season

12/03/2015 01:07 EST | Updated 12/03/2016 05:12 EST
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The holidays have arrived -- again! I feel like I just wrote holiday-centred columns. Time flies when you are having fun.

Making healthy choices is hard enough January through November -- it can be almost impossible in December. Temptation is everywhere, and there always seem to be endless holiday-related events and errands.

This year I have made my health goal for December simple: to make health choices that the future Kathleen will be proud of. I have decided that the future Kathleen will be proud of any reasonable, moderate choice. I have a tendency to make strict black-and-white goals and to attempt to live by rigid health rules. Too often I try and be perfect -- to never eat "X," for example -- but holiday perfection is not possible, not to mention it is not fun. So, instead of being restrictive and setting myself up for failure, I have decided that this year my holiday survival strategy is moderation.

I find establishing a monthly goal helpful. If that holiday survival strategy doesn't work for you, figure out what does. Make a list of all the healthy habits that keep you on track throughout the year. Then, consciously "live" them. That way you capitalize on the habits you already know work for you.

For example, I try never to go anywhere hungry because I know that I am more likely to make bad food choices when I'm hungry. During the holidays I make that rule a non-negotiable; I consciously never go to a restaurant or party hungry. I always carry a healthy snack around with me. An apple and a few almonds are my "go to" snacks.

Other tricks to survive the holidays

1. Become mindful of your daily habits; keep a food journal all month and a time journal for a week.

The purpose of keeping a food journal is to become mindful of what, how and why you eat. When it comes to healthy eating, there is often a disconnect between the choices you think you are making and the choices you are actually making. Keeping a journal can help highlight the disconnects. Record your food choices and portions and your alcohol and water consumption for a month, then analyze your nutritional choices and patterns. 

The purpose of the "time journal" is to become aware of your daily patterns -- of how you use your time. Once you know your patterns you can use your time more efficiently.

2. Analyze both journals. Identify trends.

Once you know your nutritional pitfalls, figure out how you can improve your choices.

For example, if you always make bad choices at restaurant events, preview the menu online beforehand. On arrival, don't look at a menu. Order your predetermined choice. If you over-indulge when you go to someone's home, offer to bring a healthy salad, a lean protein, or a healthy dessert. This will ensure you have at least one healthy option.

Once you have an understanding of how you are using your time, figure out how to fit in exercise. If you spend 15 to 20 minutes making lunches every morning, make extra at dinner and take leftovers for lunch. Use those 15 minutes to work out. If you spend an enormous amount of time running errands, try grocery shopping, paying bills or buying gifts online. Use the "found time" to go to the gym. If you have a long commute, see if you can work from home one day. Use that "found time" to go for a walk or run. If you watch TV nightly, tell yourself you can only watch TV if you are working out at the same time. If you constantly skip your morning workouts because you are staying up too late, make yourself go to bed at a set time.

3. Remember these three words: schedule, schedule, schedule!

Of course you are too busy to work out if you haven't carved out the time to train. Schedule training into your weekly calendar. Frame your workout as a "non-negotiable appointment."

4. Have realistic goals.

Be honest with yourself regarding how much time and energy you actually have (not how much you want to have) for your finances, your social and work obligations and your equipment. Remember, what is convenient January through November is not necessarily convenient in December. During December, the more convenient the workout, the better. Instead of aiming to get to -- and having to bail on -- long gym workouts, consider getting DVDs you can do at home, training at lunch, commuting to work on bike or foot, walking your kids to school and then running home or setting up a home gym.

Create a plan of attack that includes WHEN you will work out, HOW you will work out, WHAT exercise you will do and WHO you will work out with.

5. Always be mindful of not only what you are putting in your mouth, but how quickly you are eating it.

Try placing your cutlery down between bites so that your brain has time to register when you are full.

6. Drink water before and during any social event so you don't mistake dehydration for hunger. Plus, drinking water will give you something to do with your hands so you don't inadvertently nibble.

The main take-away is this: Knowledge is power. Become aware of how you use your time, as well as your diet and exercise habits. Then take time to modify as needed. Don't just wish you would make healthy choices this December. Take the time to set yourself up for health success.

If you decide to make a less-than-ideal choice (like skipping a workout to go to a party), don't beat yourself up. Instead of feeling guilty, own the choice. Enjoy the party, but take a moment to evaluate what went wrong and why. Learn from your choices so that you can make informed health decisions going forward.