Happier new year? Don’t overdo holiday eating, drinking, travel, socializing

Champagne_1050x700-300x200Here’s hoping the holidays are going well for one and all. But, even as they fly away, moderation and some common sense about the seasonal celebrations is worth keeping in mind.

It can pay, for example, to be careful about what you eat in this festive time. Researchers at the RAND Corporation have just issued a study that finds that consumers are “more likely to choose unhealthy foods from November to December, and the subsequent holiday pounds they gain account for 60 percent to 70 percent of the weight they gain per year.” We’re all too inclined, the researchers said, to feast on “nutritionally undesirable foods” such as sugar-sweetened beverages, chocolates, cookies, candy, and ice cream, leading to added pounds that, alas, don’t go away quickly or easily. Bah, humbug, perhaps to these findings based on information on eating habits of 400,000 South Africans who were followed for four years? Or maybe the calorie-conscious might want to consider the Washington Post’s menu of party options and alternatives?

Or how about following the New York Times’ timely report on how the holidays—with their increased eating and drinking and staying up late or sleeping in—confuse our livers, those vital organs that researchers say closely follow circadian rhythms as they help to filter the blood and to regulate critical body chemistries to process food and liquids, including alcohol.

As Chicago gastroenterologist Garth R. Swanson, who was involved in recent liver research, told the New York Times, “You could potentially put yourself at risk just by doing a series of bad behaviors for a relatively short amount of time.” He and other experts urged celebrants to enjoy the season’s best—but not too much. They said it is important, especially for the body to readjust into the new year, to avoid excess consumption of food and alcohol and, for the liver’s sake,  to maintain regular eating and sleeping times and hours.

The New York Times also has written about what it calls “family jet lag,” post-holiday feelings that may be marked by exhaustion and lack of focus due to a series of seasonal factors. Americans, experts said in interviews with the paper, may take weeks to recover from the draggy condition akin to traditional jet lag because they traveled too much, kept up too hectic a pace, and have been tossed into too close and intense contact with too many friends and families.

The high expectations that too many of us put on having “picture perfect” holidays with loved ones with whom we actually may have disagreements with can create high stress and anxiety that wears us out more than we think, the experts say. They point out that families this year may be deeply divided by the results of the recent presidential election and disputes about what changes will follow.

The experts tell that paper that Americans should allow some down time or periods of quiet, reflection, or even meditation while visiting relatives, or if they are visiting and staying with you. Friends and families also should set, in advance, some boundaries on their holiday expectations, as well as topics suitable for discussion. In other words, while it may be brisk outside, some chill time for everyone in the gang can be beneficial for us all during the holidays.

Moderation matters, as I like to say. And by the way, the experts also caution that this also applies to New Year resolutions. Those are more likely to be kept if they’re realistic and kept appropriate and small, not sweeping and grand. They should be discussed widely so loved ones can help in their accomplishment, and they should focus on changing one behavior at a time. The year’s long, so don’t get down on yourself if your resolutions take time to follow.

May 2017 be healthy, happy, peaceful, and prosperous for all!

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