Eating Well for Happy, Healthy, Pain-Free Holidays

Expert tips about eating and drinking that can help you reduce back pain at holiday meals, celebrations and everyday gatherings.

Forget about all those vague promises you make to yourself about eating better and watching your weight during the winter holidays that focus on food and fun times. This year, have a plan in place and get specific about making the lifestyle choices that can help you stay as healthy and pain-free as possible.

As the holiday season continues on into the new year, follow these suggestions to help you enjoy the festivities while keeping pain in check.

Put Seafood on the Menu

Oily or fatty fish—wild salmon, Atlantic mackerel, Arctic char, anchovies, sardines, herring, farmed rainbow trout, and North American albacore tuna—are loaded with inflammation-reducing and pain-fighting omega-3 fatty acids. (Omega-3’s also help lower triglycerides, an unhealthy fat that can contribute to plaque development in the arteries and, ultimately, heart disease).

Whatever holidays you celebrate, borrow some ideas from the traditional Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes, where salmon spreads and dips, seafood risotto, seafood pasta, and other fish dishes are served on Christmas Eve. If you don’t eat seafood, ask your doctor if omega-3 supplements are right for you.1,2

salmon with asparagus dinnerSalmon is loaded with inflammation-reducing and pain-fighting omega-3 fatty acids. Photo Source:

Spice Up Your Life

Many herbs and spices—especially ginger and turmeric—contain active ingredients that won’t cure your pain but may provide some relief from painful conditions, such as arthritis, especially if used regularly over time. Studies have shown that both seasonings can be as effective at relieving pain as prescription and over-the-counter medications in some circumstances.3 What better time than the holidays to spice up your meals with tasty, pain-killing ingredients?

Watch Those Portion Sizes

It’s just too easy to pack on extra poundage during the holiday season and, in fact, studies have been performed that document a trend toward winter holiday weight gain, even among those who are carefully monitoring their weight.4 Carrying around extra weight stresses your body in many ways, and worsens skeletal pain by putting pressure on your spine and joints.

Here are some tips to help you avoid overeating at any meal:

  • Food Tip #1. Keep track of what you eat. This is especially hard at parties, where random snacks are often placed at every turn.
  • Food Tip #2. Eat only from a plate. Instead of picking up (or accepting) random handfuls of food at parties, make a small plate and try to sit down to eat it, so you will be aware of just how much you’re eating.
  • Food Tip #3. Eat slowly. This is another tip that’s harder to put into practice at a party, but worth practicing when you’re trying to stay in control of your diet. Slow eating allows your brain to get the message that your body is full so that temptation subsides, and it becomes easier to stop eating.
  • Food Tip #4. Forget about “banking” calories, or starving yourself throughout the day in anticipation of eating more that night. You’ll be so hungry by the time you do eat, that you’re more than likely to overeat more than a day’s worth of calories. Instead, eat light meals and snacks at normally scheduled times throughout the day and pay attention to what you eat the party.

Work it Off

Taking weight off isn’t nearly as easy as putting it on, and even if you do lose weight after the holidays, that loss may not be as effective at relieving pain as not gaining in the first place.5 Your best bet is to prevent weight gain throughout this festive season by paying close attention to how much you eat and getting enough exercise before, during (and continuing after) the holidays. And since this is a busy season filled with food temptations, “enough” probably means squeezing in an extra hour or two of exercise than you normally get throughout each week. So plan your time wisely to include extra physical activity.

celebrating, toastingCelebrations throughout the year may include toasting by drinking alcoholic beverages. Photo Source:

Put the Brakes on Booze

Although alcohol is known to reduce both physical and emotional pain in some circumstances, and drinking in moderation has been shown in some studies to reduce inflammation in the body, the key word here is moderation. See the article, Alcohol: Pain Killer or Pain Causer?. Like eating, drinking is something that can be much harder to control during a festive holiday season than at other times of the year.

Here are a few tips to help you curb your consumption:6

  • Drink Tip #1. Read up on alcohol’s short- and long-term effects on your brain and body.
  • Drink Tip #2. Plan ahead. In advance of every event, remind yourself how and why you want to limit drinking.
  • Drink Tip #3. Pace yourself so that you have no more than one drink per hour.
  • Drink Tip #4. In between alcoholic drinks, drink a glass of something non-alcoholic, preferably water.
  • Drink Tip #5. Remember that caffeine will only help you with respect to the drowsiness associated with alcohol; it won’t help you improve your judgment capacity or physical coordination.
Updated on: 12/09/19
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