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8 Ways To Survive The Health Minefield That Is Winter

Just vow to be mindful. Aim to make more healthy choices this season than last.
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I lovingly refer to the stretch sandwiched between Halloween and New Year's as "the health minefield."

Halloween is over. (Although too often treats are still laying around. Hint: ditch the candy.) The holidays are coming. Temptation is everywhere.

I would never propose denying oneself "all" and hibernating at the gym — I am all about finding pockets of joy — but the truth is, when we're honest, austere denial is not a real danger for most us.

The trick is to find ways to navigate the minefield; to find balance between flippant and often "teenage-esque" rebellious over-indulgence and austere hermit-like antisocial behaviour. (For example, stop using the "life is short... I deserve it this one time" line to rationalize a holiday treat if you have been indulging daily for a month.)

You don't have to be perfect — perfection is not possible. Just vow to be mindful. Aim to make more healthy choices this season than last.

Remember, it is always easier to keep up than to catch up.

Eight ways to navigate the minefield

1. Prioritize sleep!

I get it. Life has to "get done," especially during the holidays, but sacrificing sleep sets your "tomorrow self" up to make unhealthy choices. You will be tired, need a "kick," and grab sugar and coffee. Plus, when you don't get enough sleep, your body produces more ghrelin, the "hunger hormone." Ghrelin encourages you to crave sweets. In contrast, getting enough sleep encourages your body to produce more leptin. Leptin helps you feel full.

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2. When you fall off your fitness horse, get back on a more informed rider.

We all fall. Falling is part of being human. The question is, not "will I fall?" but "when I fall, how quickly can I course correct and what can I learn from the experience?" Falling can either destroy you or make you stronger. Learn from every experience. Get back on your horse as quickly as possible. Get back on a more informed rider. Don't snowball. One cookie is not the same as five cookies. One missed workout is not the same as three missed workouts.

3. Don't let your "norms" change.

Long days filled with holiday obligations (especially in dark, cold climates) are stressful for the body and mind. Thriving requires better, not worse, nutritional choices.

It is hard enough to motivate oneself to get to the gym and make healthy food choices in the best of circumstances, let alone when the body is lacking critical vitamins and minerals (e.g., surviving on alcohol and leftover Halloween candy).

For example, deficiencies in vitamin D can contribute to chronic pain, chronic kidney disease, osteoporosis, parathyroid gland dysregulation, and poor eyesight and hearing. Who needs chronic pain or thyroid irregularities (i.e. exhaustion) when trying to survive family Christmas?

Of course you are too busy to work out if you don't carve out time.

Indulge and enjoy yourself, but sugary and nutritionally vapid foods should still be "special" — not hourly occurrences. Whenever possible, fill your body with the nutrients it needs to be its best self — only then will you have a fighting chance of having the energy to get to the gym and actually enjoy your social interactions.

Talk to your doctor if your concerned about energy and/or mood. Request blood work, especially if you're pregnant. With awareness comes choice. Only once you know you're low in a critical vitamin, such as iron or vitamin D, can you decide on the appropriate course of action — supplementation, diet etc.

4. Make healthy choices convenient and unhealthy choices utterly inconvenient.

Create a plan that makes healthy choices convenient (hard-boil eggs to grab for breakfast and put out gym clothes before bed) and unhealthy choices inconvenient (throw out Halloween candy).

5. Preparation, preparation, preparation.

Of course you are too busy to work out if you don't carve out time. Schedule your workouts, get a fitness buddy, and/or walk at lunch.

6. When you can't make the gym, try the "piggyback" method.

Piggyback motion onto activities you already do. Turn your daily dog walk into a workout, walk during conference calls, or take a yoga mat and do planks as you watch your child's sporting practice. Some motion is ALWAYS better than no motion.

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7. Embrace that not everyone is going to like your health decisions... and not everyone matters!

Let go of the need to be "liked" by everyone. Make yourself proud. Sure, your colleague made a cake, but you don't have to eat the entire thing to make him happy. Try a bite and leave the rest. Or, say "Thanks, I appreciate the thought, but I am trying to make healthier choices." Not everyone is going to like you or approve of your health actions, and that is okay. Decide which people in your life you respect. Care what they think. Decide on you. Do you.

8. The worse your day, the worse your week, the worse your month... the more important the workout.

The stress of the holidays makes it more important, NOT less important, to work out. Carve out time, and remember that some movement is always better than none. Only have 10 minutes? Great. DO IT! When you're lacking motivation, make yourself do something for 10 minutes. If you stop after 10, no problem — at least you did something. Most likely, once you start, you will continue.

The fitter you are, the better coping mechanisms and functional strength you will have to survive the rollercoaster that is a day. Make daily motion, especially during the holidays, non-negotiable. Have realistic expectations; they are the seeds of happiness. Expect that November and December are hard "health months." They are often dark, cold, and filled with obligations. Instead of waking up being surprised and frustrated by this fact, plan accordingly. When you make a less-than-ideal health choice, learn from the experience and course correct as quickly as possible. A realistic, growth-oriented mindset is the only way to survive — and possibly even thrive — this holiday season.

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