Healthier Holidays: Finding Balance Amid the Emotional Stress and Overindulgence

Yes, the holidays can be a challenge, says interventional cardiologist Thomas Quinn, M.D. But don’t buy in to the idea that sensible eating and exercise are a lost cause from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. For most folks, there are just a handful of winter days of celebration.

“When you eat and exercise thoughtfully 80 to 90 percent of the time, it’s fine to really enjoy yourself the other 10 percent,” says Sutter East Bay Medical Foundation’s Quinn, who sees patients in Oakland and Antioch.

Thomas Quinn, M.D.

Thomas Quinn, M.D.

And just as abandoning all your healthful habits for the last six weeks of the year isn’t a good idea, it’s also not wise to adopt too strict a regimen.

“If you feel deprived, no plan will stick,” says Quinn, who helps his patients figure out what is healthy for them and what they will actually do. “Many of my patients are motivated to make changes in their lives, but they don’t know how.”

So, here’s Dr. Quinn’s advice for a more balanced approach to the overindulgence and emotional stress of the season:

Stress Less

“You can’t control external factors, but you can control your reactions,” Quinn says.

For example, when stuck in freeway gridlock, you can honk and push ahead into every gap or you can accept there’s nothing you can do and put something enjoyable on the stereo. “Realize you made a choice to react the way you did and you can make a different one,” he says.

What about emotional reactions sometimes triggered at family holiday gatherings?

“Just hear the words. Don’t interpret them,” Quinn says. “Ninety percent of human communication is non-verbal, so try to be in the moment and to resist the tendency to interpret the intent.”

For support and ideas on stress reduction, he recommends John Kabat Zinn’s Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness.

Healthier Holidays: Exercise. No Excuses

Healthier Holidays: Exercise. No Excuses

Exercise. No Excuses

“People don’t find excuses for not brushing their teeth or not taking a shower or not cleaning their clothes. You can treat exercise the same way,” he says. Choose an activity you like, start with five minutes each day and make it a habit. If you know first thing in the morning is the best time for you to exercise, get up a bit earlier.

Enjoy Real Food

Quinn likes Michael Pollan’s advice in Food Rules: An Eater’s Manifesto: “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

He suggests enjoying a healthful diet daily. Enjoyment is key to sustaining good eating habits, he says. And when you indulge, quickly return to the routine you love.


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