Be Healthy, Happy and SOCIAL in 2024!

After the holidays, a time of over-indulgence, over-stimulation, staying up late, and overall craziness (or maybe that’s just my family?!), many of us feel like hibernating for the rest of the Winter.  For others, however, the social life never sleeps, even after a busy holiday season.

So, if you’re on a weight loss journey, does that mean you have to stop having fun?

In short, the answer is “No!” In fact, the primary reason that traditional dieting doesn’t work in the long term is that it tends to be overly restrictive, promotes unrealistic food exclusions (sometimes entire food groups!), and isolates a person with obesity who is trying to manage their health and weight. I am here to encourage everyone on a weight loss journey to open your minds to the possibility of having healthy fun, to do some thoughtful planning, and to think outside the box when it comes to going out with friends and loved ones. Socializing and relaxation are ESSENTIAL to good health and longevity, so think of this as healthy partying!

In so many cultures, celebrations and gatherings usually occur around food. It’s unavoidable since we eat several times per day, so pretty much any activity will run into meal time! But the most important thing to keep in mind is that food shouldn’t be CENTRAL to your socializing but rather a healthy and enjoyable part of it.  Your focus should be on connecting with others, relaxing and having fun, and on being present for your loved ones and community. 

The next time you have a plan to go out, try your best to look forward to what you will do, who you will see, and where you will be. Focus on being present in the moment rather than stressing about food.  With that being said, it does take a little thought when you are trying to practice healthy habits in some maybe not-so-healthy environments.  It can be really challenging to plan and enjoy activities that don’t revolve around food, so here are a few strategies for navigating your social life and proactively planning some fun that’s NOT all about food.

Planning Ahead

While some socializing may be spontaneous, for the most part, it’s best to plan ahead as often as possible. Not only can this help you meet your health goals, but it can also lower anxiety about food choices and lead to a more enjoyable time!  Here are some things to think about when you are doing your social planning:

Restaurants: If you have a dinner reservation, make sure you go online and review the menu before you go. Look for options that will fall within your nutrition goals It’s ok to relax sometimes, and you don’t have to be perfect. But be mindful about not over-doing it. If possible, order first at the restaurant so you won’t be influenced by anyone else’s orders! In fact, your healthy choice might inspire others to follow your lead! It’s a win-win!

Parties/Banquets: For events where you may not have much control over what’s served (or when!), it’s best to have a high-protein snack before you go out (ie greek yogurt, protein bar, string cheese, protein shake), so you won’t go to the event feeling like you’re starving.  This can help you make more mindful choices and eat a reasonable portion. Additionally, if you are going to be drinking alcohol, it’s highly recommended NOT to drink on an empty stomach.  

Drinking (water AND alcohol!): Be very mindful of your dietitian’s recommendations if you are a bariatric surgery patient. Any patient who has had bariatric surgery is at higher risk for alcohol abuse after surgery. This does NOT mean it would necessarily happen to every person, but it’s best that you are aware of the statistics on the matter.  If you do drink alcohol (and it’s appropriate with the timing of your bariatric journey), keep it to moderate intake (for men that’s 14 drinks per week, for women, it’s 7 drinks per week), stay well hydrated (alternate alcoholic drinks with plain water), and of course NEVER drink and drive.  Your health journey and how much you weigh will not make a bit of difference if you die in an accident.

Get Creative!

Being on a weight loss journey CAN actually be fun! This can be especially true if you surround yourself with a supportive community and you allow yourself to try some new things.  Getting outside your comfort zone on a weight loss journey is CRUCIAL to prevent yourself from falling back into unhealthy patterns. If we want to get different results with our health, we gotta be willing to try different stuff, right?!.

Here are a few ideas to try or to inspire your own creative ideas!

Attend a sporting event. You can get in lots of steps walking to and from the stadium while you absorb the excitement of the crowds and even have a sense of community with the fans! Use the stairs or ramps instead of the elevator for even more activity (and if you can’t yet walk up the stairs, try to walk down)!  If you’re worried about the snacks, you can bring your own if that’s allowed, or stop for a healthy meal before heading to the stadium. Many stadiums now have sit-down restaurants with lots of healthy choices.

Play a sport. Pickleball is a growing craze that can really get your heart rate up, improve your mobility and is highly social and fun! Some other suggestions include joining a league (softball, volleyball, soccer, basketball, bowling), sign up for a class (karate, dance/Zumba, yoga), or form a walking/jogging club. Many gyms and community centers have 6 to 8 week classes, so that’s a weekly commitment to socialize and exercise (two things that should DEFINITELY go together!  

Winter Fun.  Having the winter “blues” is a REAL thing (Seasonal Affective Disorder appropriately abbreviated S.A.D). Also, getting in physical activity in the winter can be difficult, so here are some ideas to be healthy AND have fun!: (*If you don’t live in St. Louis, hopefully this will inspire you to search for similar options in your community!)

  • Try ice skating at Forest Park or Shaw Park or snow skiing at Hidden Valley. Exercising in the cold weather burns LOTS of calories! You can pack a nutritious meal to fuel your activity!

  • See the Tilles Park Christmas lights! Pack a thermos with sugar-free cocoa or hot tea along with some healthy snacks and take a walk through the park. If you can’t make the walk, you can cozy up in a horse and carriage ride! 

  • Walk around to see the holiday lights at Anheuser-Busch brewery in St. Louis. There are a variety of foods, including some healthy options.

  • Attend a Christmas or choir concert together.

  • Go Christmas shopping together. You can get in LOTS of steps and make lighter work of your shopping list when you work together!  Plan ahead for a healthy food option so you’re not making an unhealthier decision in an exhausted moment! 

  • Go to a hockey game! (Let’s Go Blues!)

Plan a gym date. Hear me out, ok?! Getting dressed up in cute workout gear and sweating with your sweetie can REALLY get your heart rate up (if you know what I mean)!  Follow up with a recovery smoothie and a chat at a private table. If you don’t belong to a gym, you could pack or pick up a healthy meal and go to a beautiful park!  Enjoy your meal and then a brisk walk afterwards! (getting in a short burst of physical activity immediately after you eat can improve your metabolism).

Learn something new. When you are trying to create a new, healthier lifestyle, there is  LOT to learn. Even learning can be fun if you have some support along the way.  Ask a friend, your spouse or a co-worker to try a class together! There are so many fun things to learn that can be part of a healthy lifestyle. Why not learn how to cook or garden? Attend a self-help or meditation seminar. Learn how to cook healthy meals or how to strength train.  Make a list of the things you really want to learn,  and get busy looking online for options available to you.