A non-stop schedule makes getting the rest you need difficult while also pushing stress levels to the limit. You might think you will recover once the holidays are over, but at that point the damage may be done. Research shows that both sleep and stress are linked to your weight loss success. Keeping rest and stress relief at the top of your priority list will ensure you get through a hectic period while still hanging onto your health and your waistline.
Sleep is often viewed as a luxury rather than a necessity. This encourages squeezing more tasks into the day at the cost of a restful night’s sleep. Many people operate on five to six hours per night, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most adults need seven to nine hours to function at their full potential.
Lack of sleep has bigger consequences than tiredness. Research shows that sleep influences the hormones that regulate appetite, preventing weight loss and often resulting in weight gain. There are three main appetite hormones – ghrelin, leptin, and cortisol. Ghrelin and cortisol stimulate appetite giving you the urge to eat more. Leptin suppresses appetite signaling fullness. When you don’t get enough sleep ghrelin and cortisol production increases and leptin production decreases. This results in increased cravings and hunger which can lead to a higher calorie intake that causes weight gain.
Stress and lack of sleep often go hand-in-hand. Stressful situations can keep you up at night and tiredness and irritability can make daily tasks more stressful. High stress also causes a spike in cortisol further triggering food cravings, especially for high-calorie carbohydrates. This constant increase in appetite can make it difficult to resist unhealthy snacks and grazing between meals.
Set Your Priorities
Making sleep and stress control a priority will better prepare you to accomplish your endless to-do list while keeping your weight in check. Follow these tips for increasing sleep and reducing your stress levels.
Set a regular schedule for the time you go to bed and wake every day.
If you sometimes experience insomnia, get your workout in at least four hours before bedtime and avoid caffeine in the afternoon.
If your mind races at night, keep a notebook and pen by the bed. When a thought or task pops in your head, write it down, forget about it, and get some sleep.
Exercise, even if you can only fit in 10 minutes. Every little bit will help to reduce stress.
Add stretching exercises and short walks throughout the day to give yourself a break from stressful work.
Delegate your to-do list. Are there things that family and friends can assist with like cleaning, shopping, or cooking? Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
If cravings and hunger increase, take time to evaluate your sleep schedule and stress level. Make changes to gain control before you start seeing the evidence in the form of extra pounds on the scale.
Often it’s not the holiday foods, but the portions that send calorie intake through the roof. Instead of using large casserole dishes, use oven-safe ramekins that hold ½ to 1 cup of food. Fill them with baked side dishes like sweet potato casserole, macaroni and cheese, or stuffing. When your servings are pre-measured, it eliminates the temptation to scoop large portions onto your plate.
Go heavy on the vegetables.
Adding extra vegetables is a good way to fill up and improve the nutrition of your meal with fewer calories. Add extras to salads like chopped broccoli, sliced bell peppers, and sliced cabbage. Add diced mushrooms or shredded carrots to stuffing, and mix finely chopped cauliflower into casseroles.
Limit your choices.
When there are too many choices, it is tempting to try a little of every dish. This results in an overflowing plate of generous bites. Plan a holiday meal like you would any other. Select two vegetables or fruits, a protein source, and a grain. Of course, these dishes may be dressed up for the holidays, but stick with only four to five separate dishes. You will be able to taste all of the options and still keep the portions and calories under control.
Take a water break.
Put the focus on the special food and skip the high calorie drinks. Sipping on water instead of sweet tea and soda can drastically reduce your calorie intake. Drinking water between courses and between cocktails can also help to fill you up and keep you hydrated, lessening the effects of the alcohol and excess sodium.
Don’t pass up true treats.
"Eat and enjoy" is advice not shared often enough during the holiday season. The holidays bring special foods that you eat only once a year. Pass on more common items like rolls and mashed potatoes. Take one serving of special holiday foods and enjoy every bite. Forcing yourself to pass up on true treats will only make you feel deprived and that is no way to spend a healthy holiday season.
Practice mindful eating.
Planning, tending to guests, and bustling conversations can be distracting. When it is time to join the table, keep mindful eating high on your priority list. Eat slowly and focus on the flavor of the food. Put your fork down between bites and take sips of water. These small changes will slow your eating, help you enjoy your meal, and keep you aware of your hunger level.
Take on new traditions.
Special family recipes will always be part of the holidays, but making a commitment to a healthy lifestyle may mean that it's time to start a few new traditions. Delicious food doesn't have to be loaded with calories, fat, and sodium. While the average Thanksgiving meal contains 4,500 calories, the 3-course healthy holiday meal listed below is under 710 calories. It also has a fraction of the fat and sodium of a typical holiday meal, but with all of the traditional flavor.
A heart attack occurs when the blood flow bringing oxygen to the heart is cut off. Factors such as lifestyle, family history, and age contribute to this narrowing and blockage of the arteries. Knowing your health status and where you stand with these factors will help you predict your risk.
Body Mass Index
Body Mass Index (BMI) is determined by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared. The resulting number is used to categorize your weight status as normal (18.5 to 24.9), overweight (25 to 29.9), and obese (30 and greater). BMI has been used for many years as a tool to predict health risk, but researchers now recognize its limitations. While it may no longer be the best predictor for heart disease, it remains a simple tool to help you keep your weight in check. Aiming for a healthy weight can help you reduce the health risks that come with being overweight, including heart disease and heart attack. (Calculate your BMI.)
Many researchers now believe that waist measurements are better predictors for heart attack risk than BMI. A waist-to-hip ratio measurement estimates your body fat pattern. People who have an apple shape carry more weight around the middle. Apples are considered at greater risk because of visceral fat (the dangerous fat stored around the organs linked to disease). Pear-shaped individuals carry less weight around the middle and more weight around the hips and thighs which is not considered as dangerous as belly fat. Waist-to-hip ratio is determined by dividing the circumference of your waist by the circumference of your hips. Men should aim for a value less than 1.0, and women should aim for less than 0.8. (Calculate your waist-to-hip ratio.)
Another measurement used to estimate visceral fat is waist circumference. There is some debate as to whether waist-to-hip ratio or the waist circumference measurement is a better predictor of heart attack. Some studies state waist circumference as the preferred method. Others indicate that when only a waist measurement is used, the risk is underestimated. Consider using both methods to better determine your risk. Men should aim for a waist circumference of less than 40 inches (102 centimeters), and women less than 35 inches (88 centimeters).
Elevated blood cholesterol increases your risk for cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends that adults have their cholesterol tested once every 5 years. If your total cholesterol is greater than 200 mg/dL it is considered borderline high, putting you at greater risk for heart disease. Healthy eating and increased physical activity can help you lower your cholesterol to normal levels.
High blood pressure (hypertension) puts stress on the blood vessels causing damage that leads to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke. You can reduce your risk by incorporating healthier habits such as nutritious eating, exercise, and stress reduction activities.
mmHg (upper #)
mmHg (upper #)
Less than 90
Less than 60
High Blood Pressure
Stage 1 Hypertension
High Blood Pressure
Stage 2 Hypertension
160 or higher
100 or higher
Emergency Care Needed
180 or higher
110 or higher
A fasting blood glucose of 100 mg/dL or above is an indicator of insulin resistance. When insulin is not working effectively to help cells absorb blood glucose, this puts you at risk for elevated blood sugar, which leads to diabetes. Since high blood sugar damages arteries, diabetes is another risk factor for heart disease.
Smoking and Secondhand Smoke
Smoking and inhaling secondhand smoke damages the arteries and causes deposits of cholesterol to collect on arterial walls. Over time this decreases blood flow, increasing risk of heart attack. Limit your exposure to secondhand smoke, and if you smoke, stop. Talk to your doctor about the many successful programs that can help you stop smoking and improve your health.
Cooking your own food is the best way to gain better control of nutrition, but finding the time is challenging. Incorporate these five tips to squeeze in quick and healthy cooking despite a busy schedule.
Stick with one-pot meals.
Forget filling the table with a main and multiple side dishes. Combine your vegetables, protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats into a one-pot meal. Stir up a pot of vegetarian chili, cook a skillet full of healthy fried rice , or make an easy fajita bowl. One-pot meals make both cooking and clean-up easier, which translates to less time spent in the kitchen.
Dust off the slow cooker.
The slow cooker works miracles when it comes to putting healthy meals on the table. Waking up a few minutes early to toss together ingredients is well worth it when you come home to a meal that is ready and waiting. From soups and stews to pasta sauces and whole chickens, you can enjoy a different meal every night of the week.
Cook up large portions of beans, meats and sauces that can be used in meals throughout the week. For example, a whole chicken can be made in the slow cooker on Sunday and eaten with a side of steamed vegetables and a baked potato for dinner. Shred the leftovers to use as a salad topping, in a wrap, or in tortilla soup. Cook up a large pot of beans and eat them over brown rice for one meal and then as a burrito filling for another. Reheat any leftover beans with cooked chopped vegetables for a filling vegetable soup.
Stir-fry, saute, and broil.
Stick with only quick cooking methods, and save baking and roasting for when you have more time to spend in the kitchen. Stir-frying shrimp or chicken, sauteing vegetables, and broiling fish means you can have a healthy meal ready in minutes.
Organize ingredients by day.
At the beginning of the week, decide what meals you plan to cook each day. Take those ingredients and organize them together in your refrigerator and pantry. Use labels to identify the meal by the day of the week. Having ingredients gathered will save you time and help you start cooking the second you step in the kitchen.
Parents are key players in the quest for children to eat healthy foods, and it is important to lead by example. Parents who eat vegetables have children who eat vegetables. Studies show that there is no need to make a big production or to rave about how good they taste. Kids can see through a hidden agenda. Simply make vegetables a regular part of your meals and eventually curiosity will lead your child to taste them.
Offer and observe
Expert, Ellyn Satter, has written several books on a parent’s role in healthy eating. She advises that parents are responsible for what is served, and when and where it is served. Your child is responsible for whether or not he or she eats it. Although it is frustrating, a child may need to be offered a food 15 to 20 times before trying it. As you continue to offer vegetables, you will see small changes taking place over time. It may begin with putting the food on the plate, on another occasion taking a bite and spitting it out, and later successfully eating one or two bites of the vegetable.
Don’t make vegetables the bad guy
Making a clean plate the bridge between your child and dessert or going out to play can easily backfire. The goal is to truly enjoy the food, not to make eating vegetables the dreaded task needed to get a reward.
Family meal planning
Children who are involved in meal planning and preparing vegetables are more likely to try them. Start with shopping and allowing your children to select a vegetable they would like to prepare. Look through a child-friendly cookbook together, select a recipe, and prepare it as a family.
Get involved with gardening
Growing a vegetable has a significant impact on a child’s perception of that food. Children are much more likely to eat a vegetable they have cared for, watched grow, and harvested. Not all families have the space or the time to garden, but even a single tomato plant on the balcony is a good option. Community gardens and youth gardening classes provide an opportunity for your children to learn about growing food if you are unable to garden at home.
Celebrate a "New Food Day" each week
Select one day each week when you will serve a new vegetable at dinner. Consider vegetables that are associated with a current school lesson, such as a food from a specific country in social studies or a type of plant from science class. Engage your child in selecting and preparing the new vegetable.
Incorporate vegetables into more foods
Adding vegetables to favorite dishes is one way of getting your child to eat more, but also introduce vegetables in their whole form on other occasions. Remember, the goal is for your child to develop healthy eating habits with the ability to recognize vegetables and a desire to eat them. Sneaking them in won’t accomplish this. Adding shredded carrots or summer squash to breads, muffins, and oatmeal, mixing pumpkin puree into soups and stews, and blending kale or spinach into smoothies are delicious ways to add more vegetables to meals.
Make vegetables taste good
Children can be sensitive to strong and bitter flavors making it no surprise that Brussels sprouts or raw kale often receive a negative response. It’s okay to dress up vegetables to make them more appealing. Dips made from low-fat yogurt or beans, a sprinkle of cheese, or a light coating of whole wheat breadcrumbs can make vegetables more appealing without making them unhealthy. Using cauliflower and broccoli in a vegetable-based mac-n-cheese is often a welcomed dish. Making a sweet dressing with fresh fruit puree creates a healthy salad that tastes delicious.
Serve vegetables first
Some nutrition experts recommend serving vegetables first, when your child is hungriest. Consider an appetizer of carrots and sliced bell pepper strips with yogurt-herb dip or hummus. A small salad of greens topped with dried fruit and sunflower seeds, or a cup of pureed vegetable soup topped with croutons make an ideal first course.
Research shows that children of families who eat meals together also eat more fruits and vegetables when compared to children of families who rarely eat together. Studies indicate that eating together even as few as two times per week increases fruit and vegetable intake.