The Holidays May be a Bit Different This Year…

But while the rules and guests may change, focus on good habits, food and activity can result in great times.

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As the holiday season approaches, if you are like many people, you find yourself wrestling with more, and different, emotions this year than any other in recent memory.

It has been a uniquely rough time. This is especially true around the holidays when long-standing traditions will have to be put aside. But times like these do fulfill the important function of making us appropriately thankful for other years, past and future.

So how do we make the most of a holiday season that features limited social, economic and/or health highlights?

Mindfully.

The Power of Good Choices and Great Food

Anyone who has participated in the Great American Tradition of Thanksgiving (and yes, if the menu is awesome, it earns its capitalization) knows that it is not designed for the faint of heart or the older of belts. Yet, despite its well-earned reputation for taking even the most disciplined of dieters off their well-worn path to good health, the day need not be a dumpster fire under a rotisserie turkey.

"If your body can normally process food in a healthy manner, one day off from your regular habits won't kill you, especially if you are mindful of how you approach and follow up on that day," said registered dietitian Pamela Nisevich Bede, a member of Abbott Nutrition’s Scientific and Medical Affairs team. "There are some things you should keep in mind if you really want to enjoy the day. Especially when that day is over. Especially this year, when get-togethers will likely be smaller and preparations more modest." Bede's cornucopia of great suggestions, include:

  • Those huge recipes you make every year? They don't have to be so huge. "Most recipes are easy to make in half-sizes. That way you won't feel compelled to limit leftovers by over-eating. Another option is to make full-sizes and refrigerate a portion before dinner, to serve fresh through the coming week. That way you can spread the love of that dish over several meals."
  • If you are in an especially thankful mood, prepare recipes for family and neighbors, especially those at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, and deliver them in a way that doesn't involve contact with others or consider having a virtual dinner and sharing recipes with friends and family.
  • If you like turkey, don’t necessarily down-size the bird. "Turkey is a great source of low-fat, high-protein meat. Even if you have a very small crowd, just take care to use as much of the bird as possible for extended meal planning."
  • If you or yours has enjoyed running in local Turkey Trots, or similarly alliterative athletic adventures, consider doing what other disappointed running event trainees have done this year and look for virtual opportunities or just chart out your own path for the day.

Planning for Thanksgiving? Be Prepared for Black Friday

The dessert fork (yes, we are using the salad and dessert forks; it's Thanksgiving and we're not animals) barely has a chance to relax before thoughts of holiday gift-giving at substantially-reduced prices moves to the front of the holiday mind line.

One way to simultaneously reduce Thanksgiving food guilt and gild your giving résumé is to help keep loved ones healthy. "The best gifts are often those that remove obstacles to activity," said Bede. "They improve physical and mental well-being and can increase and enhance time spent together. Also, the more a gift is designed to be shared, the less concern that the recipient will feel they are being called out."

Such gifts can range from the quite local (comfortable new walking shoes for someone you enjoy talking to, on your right, for miles), to the ambitiously global (shared passes to national parks for someone you like walking behind, up reasonable-sized hills, for miles). Other ideas Bede suggests include:

  • Foam rollers for stretching and muscle relief
  • Hydration back packs/personalized water bottles for treks of any duration
  • Yoga mats/programs
  • Treadmills/ellipticals/bikes
  • Bodyweight resistance training for home

The key is to find those types of physical activity that are comfortable, fun and, this is important: sustainable. No one feels good when they see grandpa's jump rope, the treadmill-future coat stand or the 300 pounds of free weights that, on their best — inevitably first — day were described as "aspirational."

Nothing Says Holidays Like Keeping a Good Six feet From the Relatives

Many a Hallmark movie has revolved around the need to avoid relatives/former significant others/credit card statements at the holidays. But most of our personal highlights historically revolve around the physical proximity to large groups of favorite people.

Not this year.

We aren't going to harp on it. You know the drill. You have made the sacrifices for months. Keep up the good work. Protect not just yourselves but your loved ones.

Need a reminder from the U.S. Center for Disease Control on how to behave in social gatherings?

No one thinks they do, but to summarize:

  • Host outdoors, when possible or make sure the room or space is well-ventilated.
  • Arrange tables and chairs to allow for social distancing. People from the same household can be in groups together and don't need to be 6 feet apart – just 6 feet away from other families.
  • When guests arrive, minimize gestures that promote close contact. For example, don't shake hands, do elbow bumps, or give hugs. Instead wave and verbally greet them.

It's going to be different this year. However, with an eye toward continued good health during a pandemic and as a forward-thinking way of caring for yourself and others, it can also be a pretty good holiday season.

From ours to yours: have a happy and healthy holiday season.