Whether it’s new or years in the past, having a heart problem presents unique challenges during the holidays.
From negotiating piles of treats to an overloaded schedule or relatives offering unsolicited advice, here are a few tips for keeping the joy in the season:
- Flex your “no” muscles. You now have a rock-solid excuse to say no to whatever doesn’t particularly bring you happiness. “How about we skip the gift exchange this year? Since having my heart thing I’ve been trying to take it easy.” If you’re like me, and you tend to take on too much, perhaps you’ll also appreciate this advice from author Greg Mckeown in Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less: “this requires… not just getting rid of the obvious time wasters, but cutting out some really good opportunities as well” to leave you time and energy to breathe, relax, and enjoy whatever lifts you up. Less shopping, more hugs, I say.
- Shift your mindset from “I shouldn’t eat that” to “What can I eat (or do) that will make me feel more energized?” You know yourself… is it a balanced breakfast? A nourishing snack when dinner will be late? A blast of fresh air and movement or a few minutes of stillness and a cup of nice tea?
A good sleep? Whatever it is, make that the priority, and let the Christmas cards wait. (People like Happy New Year cards anyhow.)
- Be prepared for the food shamers. Commenting on other people’s food choices is never okay, but after a cardiac event the “helpful” people seem to come out in force: “Are you sure you should eat that?” “Shouldn’t you be a bit more careful about your diet now?” Have a response ready: “I’ve found that restrictive diets just lead to more cravings, so I’m enjoying my favourites in moderation.” Or a subject change: “The tree is lovely isn’t it?” You should never have to justify what or how much you’re eating. More tips in this comprehensive post from dietitian Abbey Sharp.
- If you prefer to eat something lighter, bring it yourself. Holiday parties are often heavy on the crispy appetizers and liquor, short on fruit and vegetables. But hosts are usually delighted to have you contribute a salad or a bowl of fresh berries. A veggie tray from the grocery store is likely to be ignored, but with a little extra planning, you can deliver something positively festive.
I often make this gorgeous Refreshing Pomegranate Salsa created by my friend, dietitian Kristyn Hall, if I want a crowd-pleaser. (Stay tuned next week for more dietitians’ heart-healthy holiday favourites.)
- Don’t fall into the “all or nothing” trap. Yes, tune up your eating habits if you like, but the quest for perfection not only not necessary, it can backfire. There’s no guideline that dictates NO salt, NO sugar, and NO saturated fat, and if you try to hold yourself to that kind of extreme standard, a bite of shortbread could send you into a month-long downward spiral. (This is one of the 10 pitfalls to avoid that I discuss in my free video series, “How to Eat Well For Life After a Heart Event.” Access it here.)
- Be a picky eater. I’m all for enjoying the goodies, but let’s be honest, sometimes the treats that pop up in December aren’t really all that special. Skip the Timbits some well-meaning vendor brought to the office so you can save it for the good stuff.
- Skip the guilt. A couple of years ago I wrote a whole post about holiday food guilt, it seemed so pervasive amongst my clients. Many people fall into this cycle of eating more than they’re comfortable with, feeling guilty, going overboard with restriction as penance, until they feel so deprived that they snap and overdo it again. Cutting out the guilt and ensuing restriction can help break this so-called eat-repent-repeat cycle, plus make your holiday season a lot more enjoyable. If you do eat (or drink) in a way that you regret the next day, consider it an opportunity to explore what might have led you there. Or just let it go and move on.
Hopefully your cardiac scare leads you to a greater appreciation of what matters at the holidays, so you can let go of the small stuff. (It’s all small stuff, right?) Reconnect with loved ones, go for a wintery walk, do some baking (if you enjoy it), and soak up the spirit.
p.s. I’ve been collecting favourite heart-healthy holiday recipes from dietitian colleagues, so subscribe to the email updates if you don’t want to miss that one next week.