Personal note

Yesterday I presented “The Angina Monologue” at the Midwest Worksite Wellness Conference in St. Paul. Notice the word “wellness” in the title; this conference was about finding ways to help people live their healthiest lives rather than dealing with disease.

The keynote speaker, Dr. David Hunnicutt of WELCOA, a not-for-profit organization and one of the most respected resources for workplace wellness in America, presented some alarming statistics: a stunning 94% of Americans are sick, very sick, or on the edge of becoming sick. One example he presented was the alarming rise in obesity and its strong relationship to diabetes; there are not enough internists to help this potential flood of patients manage this ongoing disease.

What was even more dismaying is that 93% of American think they are healthy.
This is a serious disconnect between reality and belief.

From my own experience, I know that a serious illness can strike you when you turn your back for even a short time on healthful practices. I also know that it is possible to build a healthy and joyous lifestyle by focusing on small habits, small changes, and mindful vigilance.

The saying, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die,” is only too true.
The holidays, with their emphasis on excess, are coming up fast; we’ll binge now and worry about it later.

If you don’t want to wake up on January 1 with a headache, a stomach ache, and a lot of extra pounds you will try to spend the dreariest months of the year shedding, the time to pay attention is right now.

(Note: this article has appeared in previous holiday seasons, but I think the lessons are well worth looking at again. I have added a couple of extra tips that have occurred to me as I follow this routine time and time again.)

Healthful Holiday Hints 

The holidays are a particular challenge for those of us who know we must be vigilant every day to maintain our health through good eating. But everyone needs to be careful not to put on weight that is going to be hard to lose later on, or worse yet, develop a health problem. Here are some of the challenges, and how to meet them.The holiday party, with its buffet of delectable treats, many of them high-fat- cheese plates, crackers, cookies made with real butter, rich drinks such as egg nog, can be faced and handled in a healthy and satisfying way if you know how.

Try not to arrive at the party with a “Whee! This is a holiday! All restrictions are lifted” attitude. Don’t be panicked by the thought that that particular spectacular dessert or dip will never, ever show up in your life again, and you’d better take advantage of it in this extremely limited time period in which it is available to you.

Do try the following tricks to keep yourself well and to avoid post-party remorse:

  • Drink a glass of skim milk before attending the party. It’s nutritious, filling, and will keep you from giving in and wolfing down too many hors d’oeuvres. And it’s great padding if you decide to have that one alcoholic drink you allow yourself at a party.
  • Bring a bottle of sparkling water with you, in case none is supplied. Fill your glass with this festive-looking drink, or dilute your one glass of wine with it, making two or more bubbly spritzers.
  • Station yourself as far away from the table as possible, so that you won’t be continually tempted by the sight and smell of food.
  • When you do approach the buffet, fill up on vegetables (easy on the dip) first; then select the richer “goodies.”
  • Decide in advance what you will eat, and how much of it. Want to treat yourself to a little bit of cheese? Pick the harder type of cheese (lower in fat). Try putting it on a vegetable, such as a celery stalk, rather than a cracker.
  • Avoid automatic eating by keeping your hands occupied with holding a glass(of the above mentioned sparkling water or spritzer) while you are engaged in conversation.
  • Don’t try to match the speed or amount that your partner is eating (easy to do), particularly if your partner is larger than you are. After all, would you put the same amount of fuel in a small compact car as you would in a big SUV? No? Well, then …
  • Do mindful eating: Savor each bite by leaving each one at the front of your mouth longer than you usually do. Then slowly let it move through your mouth, noting the point at which that particular food really stimulates your taste buds and enjoying it to the max.
  • If you don’t get a real thrill from a certain food, be willing to discard the rest of it uneaten. If you’ve looked the tray over and selected one brownie, be willing to get rid of it if you think it doesn’t taste like the best brownie the world (or at least you) has ever known.

In short, make sure the actual experience of the feast matches your anticipation by making mindful, better choices. To be stressed is to feel you have no control over your life. By making these good choices, you will end up not only healthier, but happier as you realize you savored the experience and at the same time maintained some control over your future.