dreamstime_m_34562867Holiday traditions are a treasured part of the season. They create warmth, wonder and closeness with family and friends. But often the special memories we grew up with are no longer compatible with our new, healthier lifestyle and can leave us feeling far from healthy.

What if we take the time to create new holiday traditions this year? Traditions more in line with our year-round efforts. Could we actually enter 2015 feeling good about ourselves?

If holiday stress and overindulgence leaves you kicking yourself on January 1st, you are not alone. Heart attacks, along with heart problems in general, are in fact more common this time of year. Stress, travel, changes in diet, and disrupted schedules are factors to blame according to the Mayo Clinic.

With a few simple adjustments, the holidays can be a time of joyous celebration while still maintaining your focus on health, and the traditions you create today can last for many years to come.

Live in the Moment

Making lists, checking them twice and constantly thinking about the next thing you have to do is a common state of mind for those attempting to create the perfect season for loved ones. When it’s all over, the flurry of activity often leaves you wondering: What happened? Where did the time go?

No step is more important than living in the moment. It sounds simple, but actually takes a conscious effort of mindfulness. If you are able to achieve mindfulness, it will add time to your day, appreciation for those around you, and depth to your actions.

When you start your day reacting to your ‘to do list,’ texts and phone calls, you tend to spend your entire day in a reactionary mode. Before you dive into your long list of holiday chores, take time in the morning to sit quietly, clear your mind, and set your intention for the day ahead (Today, I will be happy; Today, I will be kind to a stranger; Today, I will embrace time with a loved one). This little exercise is magical, as it can truly alter your daily experiences.

Living in the moment also allows you to make better choices as it enables conscious thought to be put into action. Do I want to eat that piece of pie, or shall I focus instead on the conversation around me? Do I want to zone out in front of the TV or create a memorable board game with family?

It is with the unconscious mind that most bad decisions are made: having another drink without considering the consequences; eating seconds without thinking about how they will make you feel.

Starting with the simple step of mindfulness is key to keeping you on track.

Creativity can add to healthy holiday treats

Creativity can add to healthy holiday treats

Create a Rainbow of Colors

Fall colors tend to be brown, beige and orange, and so does our food at the Thanksgiving table. Beyond the occasional cooked carrots and sweetened cranberry sauce, the turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, dinner rolls, and even the bean casserole tend to match the hues of the season.

Think color first and you are certain to incorporate more vegetables into your holiday feasts, while creating a more appetizing array of choices for your guests. Also consider more nutritious options for traditional favorites: replace white mashed potatoes with sweet potatoes and/or cauliflower mashers (which taste so much like potatoes, they can fool you!). You can also use pureed vegetables to thicken soup, or use pureed pumpkin or applesauce in baked goods instead of butter or cream.


Involving kids can create traditions for the next generation

Rethink Holiday Snacks

Counters covered with chocolates and cookies are a common holiday sight. Why not put the focus on good-for-you foods? Green and red apple slices with yogurt or almond butter, a variety of fancy nuts in holiday dishes, dried fruits in seasonal colors, or Christmas trees built from fruits and vegetables are delicious substitutes for sugary sweets.

This doesn’t mean the tradition of cooking or baking has to be abandoned. The internet is chock full of healthy, fun concoctions to create with family, friends and little ones. Look for the healthy spin on your traditional favorites.

Snacking can also be a saving grace for parties and holiday feasts. Pack a small bag of nuts, dried fruit and light Baby Bell cheese to keep you from indulging on the buffet “because there was nothing else to eat.” Better yet, be the one to bring the healthy dish to the affair – others will thank you!

Encourage Outdoor Activities

Many people shift their family holiday activities indoors, and that often means baking fattening cookies or plopping down on the couch to watch sports. We are fortunate to live in one of the few places in the country that allows outdoor activities year round, so take the time to do something different with family and friends. 

Golf and tennis are great, but why not take the family to a neighborhood park for a game of football or catch? Encourage a walk around the block before or after meals to aid in digestion and create conversation, or plan a night of caroling around the neighborhood to share laughter and smiles with those around you. These different interactions incorporate everyone and build relationships–along with priceless memories.

Catching up with friends can be a priceless holiday gift

Catching up with friends can be a priceless holiday gift

Focus on Family & Friends

We often spend more time during the holiday cooking and shopping than we do connecting with family and friends. If we concentrate more on socializing, making new connections, or time for coffee with an old acquaintance, we will come away with a more balanced, satisfied mind. 

Reminiscing and enjoying meaningful conversation are an important part of a balanced life and will make you feel much better than a new watch or batch of Christmas cookies.

Another great way to put your family holiday in perspective is to spend time helping others, participating in a charity fun run or walk, or helping those less fortunate by volunteering at a community dinner. This rewarding action helps families and friends re-establish ‘tradition’ from the standpoint of quality time, giving back, and making a difference.

It’s All About Balance

Remember that holiday traditions should be about enjoying time with family and friends, and being grateful for what you have. Slowing down the pace with conscious mindfulness, maintaining your year-round focus on healthy food choices, eating and drinking in moderation, and keeping physically active can help you face the New Year with a healthy heart, vibrant mind, balanced body and satiated soul. 

And that is a tradition worth repeating year, after year, after year.

Sources: 1) EverydayHealth.com. 10 Healthy Holiday Traditions to Try By Wyatt Myers, Farrokh Sohrabi, MD; 2) http://www.naturalhealthmag.com/mind-body/6-healthy-holiday-habits#sthash.fAfht3bW.dpuf

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