How to survive the holiday season

Uncle Bill is making his usual loud attacks on your kids’ dressing habits. Your mother is hovering over everything you are doing in the kitchen.  Your husband is in a heated political argument with his brother, a pot is boiling over, your baby nephew is howling and you are ready to scream. You were up all night working on this Christmas dinner that no one seems to be paying any attention to. You are fatigued, you think because you are tired. You feel a little short of breath. You feel some palpitations. Then you faint and next thing you know there are oxygen prongs up your nose, needles and tubes in your arms and pinging noises all around you.  The doctor says you had a little heart attack and they are going to open up a clogged artery. Me? How could that be? I’m a forty-year-old woman in great health – this doesn’t happen to people like me! (Yes, it does, more often than you would think.)

It snowed, heavy and wet, you’ve got to go to work.  That kid from the neighborhood with the shovel is nowhere to be found.  Swearing to yourself, you go out and start to shovel a path to your car and to open the driveway to get to work. Halfway through an elephant steps on your chest and you cry out for help.  Luckily an ambulance comes soon and you are off to the hospital.

You look in the mirror, pull your stomach in and feel pretty good about how you look. You’ve spent months watching what you eat and exercising regularly and now it is really paying off. People at work and your boss are looking at you differently and your wife is very approving.  Then comes the first office party.  Lots of great food and afterwards you and the guys go out for a bunch of beers.  You can afford it because look how trim you are. Two weeks later, after many more rounds of holiday partying, you look again and wonder who that paunchy guy in the mirror is.  Six months of careful living down the drain in two weeks.

The holiday season is great and should be enjoyed full tilt. We all need that pause in our overscheduled, overloaded lives full of modern angst and stress.

However, just like waking up with a hangover and discovery of awful things you did while drunk the night before makes it clear that the prior night’s binge just plain cost you too much, so does overdoing partying. Heart attacks and strokes sure take the fun out of the holidays!

You can have healthy fun! You can really enjoy the holiday season and not overdo, not embarrass yourself, not end up feeling really lousy later on.  Just a little measure of reason can go a very long way.

  • Go a little slowly so you can savor the good food but also give your brain a chance to discover that you just ate stuff. Go too fast and you get far more down than you really need or want because it takes a while for the message to get ‘upstairs’ to the boss (your brain).
  • If heavy, greasy, unhealthy food is bad during the rest of the year, it is still bad during the holidays. There is no magic that takes unhealthy fats and excessive sugary carbohydrates and converts them to stuff that is suddenly, magically good for you.
  • “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive!” ourselves!  We adapted that quote from Sir Walter Scott (of Ivanhoe fame) for one of our lobby posters, with the addendum at the end to express how easily we all can fool ourselves into doing something our desires want and our brain says not such a good idea.  When desires overrule the brain, that’s when we get in trouble. 
  • A great professor and friend of mine (Dr. Michael Freedman of NYU), an expert on aging, said that the secret to a long and happy life is “everything in moderation except…moderation”. Take your food and drink in real moderation and you will live to fight and play another day and another and another for a much longer and better life.
  • Every unhealthy meal, full of unhealthy fats and excessive simple carbohydrates, takes a toll. Each one just a little, but you eat a lot of meals in your life and all those littles add up to a lot of bads (diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and so much else.)
  • One fatty meal stiffens your arteries for four hours after and stiffened arteries are one of the causes of heart attacks and strokes, both of which are actually more common after fatty meals in people with hidden atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Since virtually every single American has some degree of atherosclerosis, it is worth thinking really carefully about whether you really want that next fatty meal. Our website, handouts and dieticians have lots of information about healthy choices.
  • Remember that healthy food choices and real moderation in drinking are really enjoyable ways to live. You can get lots of good, very tasty food with as much variety as you would like. You just need to teach yourself to make a healthy way of life so natural and enjoyable that you naturally follow that way ever after. Can you do it? Of course you can – you are the absolute master of you! Your current way of life is how you taught yourself to be. If it is not working so well for you, you can learn to enjoy a better way just as well.

Will you start January for the better or for the worse? Will you be full of regrets or proud as a peacock at how well you did in the face of great excess temptation?  It is your life to live and only you will either reap the rewards or the pains. Good luck!

Michael E. Makover, MD FACP, Chief Medical Officer JIBEI