Chris Zellers, MPP -Assistant Professor/Educator, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Cape May County, Family & Community Health Sciences Department
The holidays are full of parties, shopping, cooking and fun but sometimes all the extra activities can add up to stress or losing track of healthy habits. Eating healthy and exercising during the holidays season is just as important as it is every day. Getting the right amount of sleep, exercising, and eating nutrient dense meals makes our minds and bodies function better and can assist in stress reduction. Finding ways to stay on track with healthful habits and mindful decisions can support long term wellness and assist with getting through the stress of the holiday season.
Going to the grocery store with a long list of holiday foods to purchase, too little time and too much stress could lead to impulse purchases. Go to the store after eating a healthy meal and even though time may be short make sure to have a list and stick to the list. Since the holiday season is a time of comfort foods and family traditions that focuses on eating, try to stay on track with eating healthy when not attending a holiday dinner or party. Avoid high fat, high sodium and high sugar foods and try to purchase foods that are nutrient dense like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein. The end of isles in food stores and the checkout counter offer impulse purchases because they are eye catching. When we are stressed, those impulse buys seem logical so pause before a quick purchase and avoid buying things not on the shopping list.
Almost everyone loves a fun holiday party with friends or family filled with happiness, togetherness, and an overall good time. However, getting caught up in all the fun can lead to overindulgence which may derail the best of intentions to stay healthy during the holidays. That’s not to say attending a holiday party means munching on celery in the corner but having a plan before leaving for the party can help to avoid feeling stressed later. Plan ahead by eating a small meal before you go to the party, so you are not overly hungry when you arrive. Take a favorite healthy dish with you so you know you have something to eat and enjoy less healthy foods in moderation. Grab a smaller plate to eat from which will give your mind the idea its eating more than it is and make you feel full faster. Our bodies can tell us when we are full but when having a good time, we may miss the signs of fullness so take time to eat slowly and realize when you are full. Alcohol has seven calories per gram which is almost as much as fat that comes in at 9 calories per gram and compared to the 4 calories per gram found in proteins and carbohydrates it can quickly add empty calories to your night. Enjoy alcohol in moderation and try enjoying a cool water between drinks. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that women consume one or less alcohol drink per day and men two or less. Drinking too much can lead to overeating, loss of sleep and in turn add to the holiday stress that may already exist. Try enjoying holiday parties by going with a plan to eat, drink and be merry in moderation.
Stress eating is a response to the body’s desire to reproduce happy thoughts or comforts. The human brain relays a message to signal pleasure when something feels nice. The brain then starts to associate pleasure activities like a piece of cake with happiness. Usually, cake is eaten when being enjoyed with family and friends celebrating a special occasion. The brain then associates the high fat high sugar food with happiness creating a craving for that food even when it’s not a special occasion to replicate that feeling of happiness. High fat and high sugar foods are known as hyperpalatable meaning they may possess addictive qualities. In stressful times seeking comfort from food isn’t uncommon but understanding it can make it easier to manage. Continually consuming a high fat high sugar diet is linked to obesity and chronic disease. Replacing cravings with whole foods during stressful times will create a healthy balance and ultimately assist with combatting stress.
Cutting daily exercise rituals during the holiday season might seem like a good way to catch up on lost sleep or squeeze in more shopping time but it could lead to more unrest. Physical Activity improves cognitive processes and memory, has pain relieving and antidepressant effects, and even creates a sense of wellbeing. Exercise has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression and removing movement during the holidays may increase your stress levels. While exercise may seem like just one more thing to do, it could be the most beneficial thing you do. Exercise has been shown to support better sleep quantity and quality, lying awake at night counting the number of gifts that still need to be wrapped could be avoided with a little time spent exercising. If time does not allow for a full work out, try to add some time during the day for a walk in the fresh air at lunch time or a quick bike ride. Exercise can be done several times during the day too, move three times per day for at least ten minutes to fit in movement if time doesn’t allow for a full workout. Staying on track during the holidays season with healthy rituals is not easy but sticking to them can make a more enjoyable and less stressful holiday.
Roasted Red Pepper Hummus- From Rutgers Cooperative Extension’s Family and Community Health Sciences Department is a healthy appetizer to bring to a holiday get together:
- 2 red peppers
- 2 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 2-3 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2-4 Tablespoons olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Rinse red peppers under cool running water. Pat dry then remove stem end and seeds. Cut the peppers in half, then in half again.
- Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the pepper section, flesh side down (skin side up) on the foil. Gently press the pepper sections down to flatten slightly.
- Broil on the top rack of an oven or broiler. Broil until the skins are blistered and charred. Remove the pan from the oven then cover the peppers with foil. Allow to stand 10 minutes or until cool enough to handle.
- Remove the pepper skins with a paper towel (this keeps the skins from sticking to your fingers).
- Place chickpeas roasted red peppers, garlic, salt, pepper, and 2 Tablespoons olive oil in a food processor. Process until the mixture is smooth and creamy. If the mixture is dry, add 1 additional Tablespoon olive oil, then, process again.
- Serve Roasted Red Pepper Hummus with a variety of your favorite veggies! The hummus is also delicious as a nutritious spread on your favorite sandwich, example: tomato, spinach, cheese and hummus on multigrain bread.
For more healthy recipes visit: Rutgers Cooperative Extension’s Family Community Health Sciences Website at: https://njaes.rutgers.edu/fchs/recipes/