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[This post was featured last year before Thanksgiving, but since it has so much valuable information about how to stay healthy we thought we'd post it again!]

In just a few days, Thanksgiving will be upon us again, which for many is the official "kick off" to the holiday season. Thanksgiving is all about gathering with loved ones and sharing the reasons why we're thankful for all that we have in this life.

Staying mindful about your food consumption might be easy for you, but it is a challenge for many-- especially during the holidays. We might be running from event to event, juggling work, school, family, exercise and all of the other "to-do's" that the holidays bring. The gratitude we have for our life experiences can feel far away as we navigate through our packed daily schedules. The stress of the increased activity and decrease in free time can have an impact on our eating habits and overall health. We all want to be healthy and conscious of what goes into our bodies, so that we can feel energized throughout our day and completely present during all of the fun holiday parties and family gatherings, right?

Overconsumption of food and the purchase of products that don't necessarily bring long-term happiness is rampant during the holidays (more on that in my next blog post!). "Holidays can be stressful, with high expectations that gifts, special meals, and gatherings with family and friends should be peak experiences. Along with this, many feel stressed by spending time with family-- even those with loving family relationships,” says clinical psychologist Laura Wald, Ph.D. “Consuming fatty, salty or sweet treats, or going shopping can give us a hit of pleasure when we are feeling uncomfortable, stressed, or overwhelmed. These treats stimulate the reward center of the brain, releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine evokes feelings of satisfaction and pleasure, and helps mask unpleasant feelings for a brief time. It’s important to find other ways to get pleasure and cope with stress during the holidays so that you don’t rely on unhealthy behaviors to feel good.” People over-consume during the holidays for other reasons, too:

1) Many of the delicious foods that are prepared during this time simply aren't prepared during other parts of the year. Because of this, there's a propensity to overindulge because your brain is tricked into believing you can only have that food now, or never.

Solution: You can eat those foods in July! Just ask the host for the recipe and make a mental note to set aside time a few months from now so you can prepare this delicious dish! That way, you can even tailor it to your exact tastes (Does it need more cayenne? Honey?). It will give your brain yet another reason to look forward to summer.

2) Some feel anxious when attending events, either with friends, co-workers or family. This social anxiety can be expressed by hiding out near the bowl of chips or plate of high calorie cheeses.

Solution: Close your eyes and take a deep breath. We’ve all experienced this, haven’t we? Avoid caffeine and sugary foods that might alter your mood and remember to get plenty of sleep and exercise. If you drink alcohol, keep your consumption to a minimum so that you can stay mentally clear to have thoughtful conversations (Maybe just one rum eggnog rather than three?). Sleep, exercise and no, or minimal alcohol will support you in choosing the right amount of healthy food that works for your body, which will give you the vitality you need for all the socializing that the holidays bring.

Here are some other tips to help you stay present and healthy:

  • If you're going to a party, arrive at your destination with at least a partially-full stomach. Showing up with a groaning belly could lead you straight to the high salt crackers and sour cream dip, because it's the fastest treat. This high calories and low protein content will put you in a slump soon after, and you might not have as much fun relating to people!

  • Be mindful/conscious of each bite you take and savor the flavors. This is an entirely different experience than quickly gobbling down food. Let your mind add descriptive words to each flavor so you can squeeze every bit of joy out of each bite.

  • Drink lots of unsweetened decaf green tea or water so you feel full. Oftentimes, we’re more dehydrated than we know, and if we increase our overall fluid intake, we’ll be less likely to go on an unconscious eating binge.

  • Snack on a small portion of almonds and cheese during the day to keep the protein levels in your body high and your willpower strong.

  • Brush your teeth after you eat. It helps to get the food flavors out of your mouth so that the desire to “have more” will dissipate.

  • Remind yourself that you have everything you need and that you are immensely loved.

Enjoy all that this season has to offer!

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About The Author

Nikki Pava's picture

Nikki Pava is the founder of Alegria Partners, and with a decade of leadership in the sustainability movement, she and her company work with entrepreneurs and business leaders to design, implement, and measure profitable sustainability strategies for their companies.

Prior to her work at Alegria Partners, Nikki founded EcoTuesday, a national networking forum that facilitated vital connections and essential change in the business community. EcoTuesday hosted more than 300 events in 12 cities across the country and brought together hundreds of sustainability professionals, making a positive impact in each city.

Nikki holds an MBA in sustainable management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. She lives in an eco-community in Costa Rica and is currently writing a book about teams in businesses that focus on reaching their company’s climate change goals.

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