Holidays done healthy: Maintaining health during the holidays might be a better and more achievable goal than trying to lose a large amount of weight at a time when temptations are high.
Traveling wisely and well: The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers a Travelers’ Health Page that can be custom-tailored to any location in the world, many different types of trips, personal travel styles, and individual health conditions.
Time zone techniques: You can reduce the effects of jet lag by matching your at-home bed and wake time to your destination time.
Eating out consciously: Order healthy at any restaurant by skipping the menu and asking the server for exactly what you want.
The phrase “special occasion” is used to describe anything from expected travel plans, vacations, and holidays to an unexpected trip or event. These may occur monthly, yearly, or seasonally. The common denominator for all such occasions is that they disrupt your “normal” daily schedule in some way. Disruptions can expose you to different foods, eating schedules, sleep opportunities, and time for exercise (or a lack of). Since healthy habits are established by habitual patterns and behaviors, interruptions to schedules can be challenging.
The key to being bulletproof with healthy habits is to have a plan in place both for unexpected and expected events or holidays. This sort of preparation can be hatched out for weekends, holidays, travel, or any other event you foresee being different from your most common routines. These are individual considerations and should be customized to fit your lifestyle—the definition of “special occasion” is up to you. That said, most people do celebrate annual or seasonal holidays, and everyone faces unexpected events in life. However, while any change to a regular routine will take more effort, you can be prepared with some commonsense strategies.
Prioritizing regular healthy eating, exercise, and sleep takes effort and planning, so it isn’t surprising that infrequent or unforeseen events can throw you off your game. Travel, time changes, food access, exercise opportunities, and different sleeping environments can disrupt and harm your immune system and stress levels leaving you more susceptible to illness and injury. As you learned in previous articles, we are creatures of habit, and that means that it will take a bit of conscious effort to stay on the path to health.
Now to practicalities. Below you’ll find some strategies for navigating the special occasion circumstances.
Holidays done healthy:
The holidays, a big anniversary, a friend’s wedding, or another celebration or event can quickly throw you off track by tempting you with decadent sugary, fatty, and alcoholic food and beverages. Don’t go for total deprivation. Focus on maintaining health, but don’t try to lose a large amount of weight or avoid all indulgences. It’s still a good idea to eat something beforehand, so you aren’t ravenous before hitting an abundant buffet, and to take a healthy dish you know you’ll enjoy. However, do enjoy yourself. If you are hungry, choose as healthy a plate as possible and then pick one or two treats. Be sure to enjoy your food. Don’t eat it unconsciously while standing up or chatting with others. Sit down and pay attention to what you’re about to enjoy. This strategy tends to have less likelihood of backfiring than complete deprivation dieting during a time of high temptation.
After you’ve eaten, hopefully when you are satisfied—not stuffed—get busy. Help clear the table, wash dishes, take pictures, hold a baby, introduce yourself to three or five other people you don’t know, dance, suggest an after-dinner stroll, or a game of football—whatever non-food related activity is available will do. You’ll be much more likely to enjoy the event when your focus is taken off food, and less apt to wake up the next day with a sugar, carb, or alcohol hangover.
Finally, if something is still calling to you after you’ve eaten, wrap it up and take it home to enjoy when you are truly hungry.
Traveling wisely and well:
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers a Travelers’ Health Page that can be custom-tailored to any location in the world, many different types of trips and travel styles, and personal health conditions. Just check off a few boxes, and you’ll get information about immunizations, vaccines, travel alerts, and health tips for your individual situation. If you are traveling long distances, take lots of breaks (in the case of road trips) and get up to stretch every 30 minutes or so (if on a plane or train). Plan ahead with healthy snacks and fresh fruit and veggies.
Time zone considerations:
If you are traveling to a different time zone, you have two options for helping your body adjust. You can either try to trick your body into thinking that you didn’t switch time zones, or you can shift your body clock to the new time.
First option: Trick your body to not shift the clock. This will work best if you are only in the new time zone for 1-3 days and/or it isn’t a time difference of more than 3 hours. You can reduce the effects of jet lag by matching your at-home bed and wake time to the new time zone. For example, if you are visiting New York from San Diego (a 3-hour advance) and you usually sleep from 10:00 pm to 6:00 am in San Diego, you can translate it to eastern standard time, which would be 1:00 am to 9:00 am. The same strategy can be used for your eating patterns (for more, see below). If you normally eat from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm in California, then your eating window in New York would be 11:00 am to 9:00 pm.
Second option: Shift your clocks faster. If you are switching to a new time zone for more than a couple of days, or if it’s a large time zone change, it’s usually best to shift your clocks as fast as possible. To do this, use food and light to tell your body the new time of day. Get lots of bright sunlight in the first half of your day, and keep lights dim at night. Similarly, eat bigger meals for breakfast and lunch, and keep your dinner light.
Eating out healthfully:
It’s easy to get tempted at restaurants by decadent sounding entrees and dessert menus. Skip the enticement and don’t even look at the menu. You can order healthy at any restaurant by directly asking the server for exactly what you want. If you are at an Italian establishment, request steamed veggies with chicken topped with a red sauce. Mexican? Order grilled fish tacos in soft corn tortillas with extra lettuce and tomatoes. At other restaurants, you can simply ask for triple the veggies in place of bread and for other starches, or request that half your meal be packaged to take home before it comes to your table. Finally, if you are at a buffet, use a salad plate instead of a full-sized one. Fill half your plate with vegetables, a quarter with lean protein and a quarter with a grain or bread. Don’t go back for seconds.
Next week we’ll dive deeper into eating strategies you can use to stay on track for health anywhere you go.