12/12/2016 02:25 EST | Updated 12/12/2016 02:28 EST

Doing Self-Care The Right Way This Holiday Season

shironosov via Getty Images
Above view of thanksgiving dinner and family eating at table

Co-written with Nisha Parker

The holiday season means constant activities, festivities, shopping, gatherings, and of course, lots of food. This can be exciting for many, and daunting for others. Food should not be a source of stress or guilt during the holidays (or ever) and it's important to make time for self-care to stay healthy and to reduce stress.

This means making time to eat wholesome meals, enjoying food, sleeping well, joyful movement, and reducing overall stress. Whether you struggle with disordered eating or just want to stay healthy, both mentally and physically, here are some self-care tips for this holiday season.

  • Sleep

Aside from the grumpiness and lack of motivation that can come from not sleeping well, a lack of sleep can cause more harm than you may think. For one, not getting enough sleep raises your cortisol levels, a stress hormone which has been repeatedly linked to health problems. Make sure to set aside time to relax this holiday season to manage stress levels.

On top of that, a lack of sleep has been shown to raise ghrelin and to lower leptin levels, which are the hormones associated with hunger and satiation. By stimulating ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and depressing leptin, the satiation hormone, your hunger levels increase, you feel less satisfied after eating. Do your body and mind a favour and make sufficient sleep a priority.

  • Enjoy your favourite foods

The holidays means lots of special meals, desserts, and treats. Some people may choose not to eat anything all day before a big holiday dinner in an effort to "save up room" for calories, but your body actually doesn't work that way. By starving all day, your blood sugar levels will be low, you will (naturally) have stronger cravings, extreme hunger and you will be more likely to overeat. This is a normal response to not eating for many hours -- and often people blame it on their "lack of willpower" instead of normal biology.

A much better approach is to eat regular meals throughout the day (there is no need to save up calories), to keep your blood sugar levels steady and your hunger in check. This way, you will feel more stable and satisfied throughout the day, and you will be less likely to overreact to extreme hunger. Food should never be a source of guilt, and when you allow yourself to enjoy your favourite foods instead of restricting yourself, you naturally consume more moderate portions and won't feel deprived later on.

This mindful eating approach, also known as intuitive eating, means eating to care for and nourish your body, enjoying food and paying attention to its mental and physical effects, and being aware of physical and emotional hunger cues. To learn more about mindful eating, visit Lisa's blog here.

If you are worried about the special foods that surround our holiday traditions and feel fearful of upcoming cravings, download my free guide for Managing Cravings here.

  • Keep hydrated

When you're busy Christmas shopping or attending countless holiday gatherings, it's easy to forget to drink enough water. Staying hydrated ensures that your cells can perform crucial processes, which aid in your sleep, digestion, nutrient absorption, and overall energy levels, to name a few. If you are not a big water drinker, don't forget that the body can be hydrated with more tasty options such as tisanes and sparkling water.

Aim to drink between 2.2 and 3 L of water daily, as recommended by Dietitians of Canada.

  • Get moving

It can be a challenge to squeeze 30 minutes of movement into your busy schedule, especially over the busy holidays. Exercise is vital in improving your mood, sleeping well, increasing energy levels, and preventing health problems such as hypertension, heart disease, certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, depression, and metabolic syndrome, to name a few. Physical activity releases endorphins and other brain chemicals that can boost your mood, make you feel more relaxed, and improve your self-esteem and confidence.

You don't have to go to a gym to reap the benefits, even going for a walk outside to see the holiday lights, taking the stairs instead of an elevator, or even walking all over the mall while holiday shopping are excellent ways of squeezing some more movement into your busy day.

  • Relieve stress

Elevated levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, negatively impact your health, mood, behaviour, and overall well-being. Stress affects all of us, but there are luckily endless ways of relieving it. For example, staying organized will ease your mind and make you feel less overwhelmed during this busy season. Taking time for what is called "self-care" is also vital but often over looked by many. Self-care involves taking time to do activities that nurture your body and your mind, that bring you joy and make you feel good.

Setting time aside from all the responsibilities of life is very difficult for most people, however in my experience, finding ways to reduce tension and stress can be invaluable for reducing mindless or emotional eating.

Self-care could be going for a walk, watching a funny movie, going to bed earlier, or engaging in your favourite hobbies. Whatever method you choose, make sure you give yourself the time to relieve stress and relax during the holidays. For an interesting list of ideas for reducing stress, check out this Psychology Today's article.

Here is to a happy, healthy and joyful holiday season!

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