Be good, for goodness’ sake

  • By Christina Harper / Herald Writer
  • Monday, December 20, 2004 9:00pm
  • Life

Every year we meet the holidays with the same checklist: Get the shopping done early, try to stick to good eating habits and take time to enjoy the season’s festivities.

Fast forward to Dec. 24: There are 10 more people added to the shopping list and you still haven’t had a moment to get the cards out, never mind putting your feet up. As it turns out sleeping only six hours a night is draining your body’s resources and making you weary all day long.

To add to the stress, you find yourself standing helplessly at a holiday buffet engaged in a war of will with eggnog, chocolate log and chips and dip calling out to be sipped, sampled and savored.

Photo illustration by Barton Glasser / Herald Photographer

Santa Claus takes some time out from making toys and placing orders from children to relax with a facial mask and a bubble bath.

It’s hard to indulge in holiday foods and festivities and still remain harmonious and calm. It’s more likely that you will experience heartburn, hangover, sleep deprivation and stress.

Here are some tips to keep the holidays as stress free and healthy as possible, considering all the cookies and fudge that are bubbling up in the oven as we speak.


Figure first that the holiday season is probably not the best time of the year to start a hard-core diet. Many people try to eat just a little and end up being so hungry that they splurge. Overindulging in rich foods during the holidays can lead to acid reflux and other stomach problems, but making healthy choices some of the time is better than not making any at all.

“I think a lot of people do a lot better (when) instead of talking themselves into having completely nothing, they have a little bit of something,” said Dr. Stephen Dahlberg, a family practice doctor at the Everett Clinic’s Harbour Pointe location in Mukilteo.

Setting limits before an event helps to curb the urge. Try eating a snack, such as an apple and some nuts, before going to the party. At the party, fill your plate with fruits and vegetables before heading for the dessert table or Christmas cookie plate.

Snacking on nutritious seasonal foods such as satsumas can be helpful for office grazers who tend to dip into candy dishes and cookies trays many times during the workday.

Don’t skip breakfast, and always take healthy dishes to holiday potlucks to be sure you have something good to eat.

“There’s a tendency to overeat when stressed,” Dahlberg said.

Toddies for the body

Cut the calories and slow down your eating by drinking water, coffee or a low- or no-calorie soda, according to Jane Kirby, author of “Dieting for Dummies.”

Try drinking an eight-ounce glass of water before eating. Not only will it make you feel more satisfied but it will also help to hydrate your overloaded system.

Watch out for fat-laden drinks such as eggnog and hot chocolate. Or have those instead of dessert.

It is a good idea to drink lots of water at all times, but particularly during the holidays when you might be drinking more alcoholic beverages. As you are imbibing during holiday festivities, the body is producing enzymes to help break down or metabolize the toxins in the alcohol. Too much of those toxins can lead to the symptoms of a hangover, which include irritated stomach, dehydration and the dreaded headache.

Over time, increased alcohol intake can lead to elevated weight and blood pressure, as well as abnormalities in the liver.

“Fatty liver can become serious,” Dahlberg said. It can lead to “cirrhosis and scarring if left alone.”

Alcohol causes the blood vessels to swell or dilate, which can cause headache. It is also a natural diuretic, which leads to dehydration.

Try drinking a glass of water for every glass of alcohol, eating while drinking and simply slowing down alcohol intake to avoid hangover symptoms.

Other headache culprits come in the form of congeners, a chemical naturally found in red wine and other alcoholic beverages. That alone could cause a headache.

For some people, a drink every other day may actually be a healthy habit.

“We talk about how drinking a little bit of alcohol can be good for cholesterol,” Dahlberg said.

Another way to stay healthy is to make sure there is a designated driver, or call a cab to take you home.

Dazzle or frazzle

Crowds at the mall, traffic hassles and dark and gloomy days. Had enough yet?

When writing your to-do list, schedule time for yourself. When the clock strikes 1, 2 or 3, sit down and sip a cup of herbal tea. The food will still be there to cook after your 15 minutes of relaxation.

Before hitting the shower in the morning, take a few minutes in a quiet space to meditate. Before the kids stir and the day gets going, sit on the floor in a comfortable position, gently close your eyes and think about a quiet restful place you love, maybe somewhere you went as a child or a lake or the ocean.

Breathe in through the nose to the count of five, filling the lungs with oxygen. Breath out through the mouth to the count of five while imagining the stress of the holidays leaving the body and floating out into the atmosphere.

Winter wonderland walkin’

Exercise helps speed up the metabolism, which in turn burns calories at a more efficient rate. A brisk walk now and again may make for a more comfortable holiday period.

“Be held accountable for it,” Dahlberg said.

Teaming up with an exercise buddy or joining a walking group helps people to be more committed than trying to go it alone. Get the family together and go for a walk before the huge holiday dinner (or after). Play catch outside with the kids when others are inside hovering around the figgy pudding.

Cheeks like roses

Cold, windy weather and hot furnace heat means dry skin and that can lead to premature wrinkling. Extra moisturizing is important in the winter. Vaseline on wet skin is a good moisturizer. Drinking plenty of water helps the body to stay hydrated, too.

Sunscreen should be used during the winter months, as sun damage can affect the skin even on a cloudy day. Moisturizer containing sunscreen is a good solution.

People going to higher altitudes for skiing or other outdoor activities should take great care with their skin.

“Those people can be at higher risk,” Dahlberg said.

Lip balm should have an SPF of at least 15 and protect your eyes with shades that are UV treated.

Long winter’s nap

Sleep deprivation can cause accidents and decreased productivity. People often complain of a foggy feeling when lack of sleep is catching up with them. They may become irritable, depressed or unable to complete tasks.

“When you lose sleep it’s a lot more difficult to focus on anything,” Dahlberg said.

If you take a nap during the holidays to recharge your batteries, make it a one-hour snooze and take it before 3 p.m. That way it will be easier to fall asleep at night.

Stay away from caffeine and nicotine, which are stimulants and may make it hard to drift off into slumber.

Taking that brisk walk early in the day also might help you sleep better at night. Before going to bed, try some soft stretching exercises or take a warm bath to relax.

Even though it’s the holidays and there’s a lot to do, try to go to bed and get up at the same time each day to keep your inner clock regulated.

And get enough sleep. Studies suggest that Americans get only an average of seven hours of sleep a night, but sleep experts still recommend a solid eight hours.

“It’s a vicious cycle if it’s not followed,” Dahlberg said. “It’s a good cycle if you can get into it.”

Reporter Christina Harper: 425-339-3491 or harper@

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