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It’s the Most Wonderful (and Unhealthy) Time of the Year

December 25, 2015 Barbara Ballinger

Have yourself a “Merry little Christmas” or a “Happy Hanukkah.” It’s that wonderful time of year when holiday music junkies take note! You can get in the holiday spirit while listening to “Jingle Bells” or “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel” and other iconic holiday songs or sing them—gathering family and friends, bundling up and heading out into the brisk winter night armed with your voice to do some caroling. And to further fuel the holiday fires, there will be parties for hosting and marshmallows for toasting, according to crooner Andy Williams, and candy canes…aglow, if you add in Bing Crosby’s Christmas ditty.

That’s the fantasy. And then there’s the reality.

Yup, amid all the holiday cheer, it’s a time when most of us will put on extra pounds and then make those resolutions (again) to shed the extra weight, get healthy, and try to erase some of this year’s wrinkles and frowns. So before I settle down for a long winter’s nap, I like to get my get-fit plan going before the first crispy latkes sizzle and Christmas cookies appear, both of which I find hard to resist. That’s why I’m sharing with those who are about my age and also understand the wisdom of having a list and checking it definitely more than twice, some of my current priorities that are helping me start 2016 in better shape, both body and mind: Here are 11 I’ve come up with. Feel free to share with me any you find helpful.

#1. Eat wiser. There are so many food blogs and cookbooks to guide us and some help from cities like New York that post food content and are limiting salt intake at least in restaurants. I’ve found my daughters’ “Skinnytaste Cookbook” book helpful, along with Mark Bittman’s advice to be vegan before 6 p.m. in his book “VB6: Vegan Before 6” which has helped many lose weight. Also, doing without gluten is no longer that hard with so many gluten-free recipes and foods available, including breads made with flours other than wheat that taste pretty good! And though it doesn’t say give up the bread, etc. I have found that loving a cookbook or food site such as Amanda Hesser’s “The Genius 52 Cookbook” and website makes cooking at home more pleasant and helps me with portion control and salt. In fact, I’m trying to work my way through her entire book’s recipes before next year ends. Also in the works: Always having some breakfast and lunch, rather than skipping any meals and finding myself ravenous by 4 p.m.

#2. Step out more. More than two years ago my primary-care physician advised me to get a Fitbit tracker, even before it became a craze and chic accessory. In fact, Fitbit and I became such good buddies that when I misplaced it the first time, I was heartbroken, wrote the company, and said I felt a tragic loss since we went everywhere together. The company took pity and sent me another. Then, I lost it again in the washing machine, which is quite common when I didn’t remove it from my gym top. At least I was wearing it. Fortunately, it survived the washing machine cycle.

My regimen: I try to do more than 10,000 steps a day, often don’t, but sometimes with a long walk I can hit 16,000 steps. Because I have a sedentary job, I try to take the stairs as often as I can, including in my own two-story home or any office buildings I visit. The fit-bit doesn’t register with exercises like Pilates but what the heck. It needs a rest, too.

#3. Add weight training. I needed it (again) after sobbing as the pounds piled on and the clothing fit tighter. My holiday and birthday presents to myself weren’t another lipstick or blush, which I buy when I can’t fit into clothing I love, but a series of weekly sessions with a trainer who is tough, not quite boot camp but still pretty demanding. The first week I could barely walk and knew I was on the right track. I plan to keep going ’til I hit my magic number.

#4. Go Cardio, Pilates, and yoga for variety. Sadly, I had also stopped hitting the gym as frequently, on the days when I wasn’t training or doing my twice-weekly Pilates, which I love for the body, core, and brain boost. I’ve made some of my favorite friends at Pilates’ mat, tower, and reformer classes and love the instructors, who are young and encourage me to progress. I’m now trying to do cardio at least two to three times a week. I’m also reconsidering yoga, which my beau, Fixup, and I tried, though I kept looking at his watch and nagging him, “How much time do we have left?” We thought it would be a good go-together activity and it is, but we need a different form of yoga that’s not as painfully slow.

#5. Look younger. I don’t want to be the modern female version of Dorian Gray and am working to eliminate some of those wrinkles near my eyes that are finally appearing. My younger daughter, a salesperson in her “free” time from her main job as a child psychologist, is promoting Rodan + Fields’ skincare line and I’ve become an advocate of the eye cream, which I think is working.

#6. Get an annual. When you’ve hit the Medicare number, you get a welcome to Medicare visit with your internist but then you only get a well visit, which really involves no serious talk or tests, unless you’re willing to fork over your co-pay. I was this year to be sure I am OK, and went to my doctor. We discussed my weight gain, I explained what I’m doing to get off the pounds with a high-five from her, and a promise to return in six months. What’s more important than following through? Not much! And at this age, I try to be diligent about my dentist visits, mammograms despite changes in how often I still value yearly visits, that colonoscopy, eye exam, and more.

#7. Read more. I had slipped some this past year with work and certain TV shows I love–“Parenthood,” “Good Wife,” “Madame Secretary,” “Downton Abbey,” “Modern Family, and my all-time favorite, “The Affair” on Showtime As a result, I abandoned reading nightly, so now I’m dialing down and turning off the TV except for “The Affair” and “Downton,” and picking up a book (I haven’t gone digital with this yet.) I’ve already enjoyed “Provence, 1970” by Luke Barr and am now reading “Alice Waters and Chez Panisse” by Thomas McNamee (yes, food is a favorite). Reading expands the brain cells and I like to share books I’ve loved with friends and learn what they, too, are reading, including Margaret who’s voracious in her appetite for good literature, along with Peggy, Marilyn, Susan and Jeanne. But since reading some junk is also good and relaxing, I occasionally splurge on “People” magazine.

#8. Positive influences but “hello” on the phone and in person, and “bye-bye” Facebook. I cherish my friends near and far, whether we talk, see one another in person, or email. But to stay in touch, I’ve decided I’m going off Facebook or not showing up as often. It’s taken simply too much of my valuable time and doesn’t offer in-depth communication. I’m also not hanging on to friendships that have become toxic. There aren’t many fortunately in my life but there’s too little time ahead for me to share any time or space with folks who harp on every negative action I’ve taken when there are so many positive things I believe I’ve also done. We all make mistakes and should apologize when appropriate but authentically when we know we’ve been “naughty not nice” rather than be shamed into offering forgiveness.

#9 Go younger. Being with friends of all ages is important, which is why I try to include my now 96-year-old mom with my friends who are happy to engage in conversations. She’s smart and knowledgeable. But for me it also means mingling with younger folks whether at Pilates, in my volunteer work at my college with thirtysomethings, with my daughters’ friends who sometimes visit, in my freelance writing where I found I hit it off with a 22-year-old at one office where I spent time editing and writing. We chatted about our dating, families, food interests and more, and she understood when I explained working with her made me feel a bit like I had stepped into the movie “The Intern.”

#10. Add more music, laughter, and flowers. Work can become so serious; so can all the news which I love reading about in my daily “New York Times” newspaper fix or on TV. But I’m trying to incorporate more music in the background from classical to rock and anything that adds cheer when I’m cooking or not tackling serious writing or editing, Laughter also means adding some books with a funny take or being with friends with funny bones. And adding some fresh greenery, flowers, and wonderful smells helps add cheer in and life the dead of winter, whether it’s a simple flower or two in a bud vase or big lush bouquet.

#11. Reach out. It’s really not hard to remember a good friend’s birthday or anniversary, or any occasion. There are all sorts of cute little books where you can list occasions, or if you’re on Facebook it keeps track and reminds you of the birthdays of your Facebook friends. People love knowing you’ve thought about them, and if they do so in return, great, but if not, who cares!




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