The holidays are full of family, friends, food and great memories. But they aren’t always compatible with a healthy lifestyle. When the holiday season rolls around, temptations are everywhere­ and parties and travel disrupt daily routines. It’s easy to get a little lax on the healthy eating and exercise that we typically maintain.

Coupled together, all those festive parties and the stress the holidays can bring can mean a hit to our overall well-being from November to New Year’s. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Fortunately, it’s possible to maintain a healthy lifestyle year-round.

“It’s important for people to think in terms of habits versus “diet,” Lisa Spriet, MSc, RD, wrote in her article “Tapping into the Connection Between Nutrition and Mental Health” in the July/August issue of Plans & Trusts. Spriet examines the connection between poor diet and mental illness, chronic disease development and what organizations can do to address the indirect expenses associated with absenteeism and presenteeism. “Healthy eating should start with achievable and maintainable small goals, and then build from there,” Spriet writes.

Research shows that good nutrition throughout a person’s life cycle can enormously impact various areas of mental health.

A focus on nutrition can:

– Reduce risk and severity of depression

– Aid in the treatment of depressive disorders

– Reduce anxiety and stress

– Improve mood and satisfaction with life.

Eating Well for Mental Health

Everyone deserves to splurge on their favorite holiday foods; the key is that splurging doesn’t become a way of life for the next few months. Fill up on nutrient-rich foods like whole grains high in fiber, lean protein, fresh fruits and veggies, and healthy fats to maintain some balance in your holiday routine while still eating what you love. Then splurging on those once-a-year favorite holiday goodies is unlikely to have as much effect.

Spriet offered this example of a day of healthy eating that can improve our mental and physical health.


*Natural  yogurt  (probiotics, vitamin D, protein) topped with

*Blueberries (Fiber, fruit)

*Oats (complex carbohydrates, prebiotics, B vitamins) and

*Walnuts and chia seeds (omega-3 fats, prebiotics).

Shift workers should consider packing breakfast the night before, along with lunch and perhaps dinner.  Making a batch of “overnight oats” to be used throughout the week can help with this effort.


*Whole grain bread with added psyllium (whole grains, prebiotics, B vitamins), with

*Sliced roasted turkey (protein, B vitamins)

*Avocado, spinach and tomato (vegetables and fruits, prebiotics).

*Sliced vegetables and apple on the side (vegetables and fruits, prebiotics).

Workers who don’t have a scheduled lunch break should consider speaking up to make one! They can also consider packing “snackable” lunches like whole grain crackers with low-fat cheese, veggies and hummus, and sliced fruit.



*Plain kefir (probiotics, vitamin D)

*Chia seeds (prebiotics, omega-3 fats)

* Avocado, spinach and strawberries (fruit).

Employers that offer snacks at the workplace could consider adding a smoothie bar or offering yogurt with fruit and veggies and hummus as snack options. They should avoid muffins, cookies and other processed snacks.


*Baked salmon (protein, omega-3 fats, vitamin D)

*Quinoa and lentil pilaf (whole grains, protein, B vitamins)

*Steamed asparagus (vegetables, prebiotics).

Those used to ordering dinner from work or at home may want to delete the delivery app and do some prep on their days off. Employers that provide dinner should make sure a salad is available.

Spriet writes that no one food that has to be totally eliminated, research shows that a high intake of certain foods has negative effects on mental health. These foods include:

*Red and processed meats

*Foods and beverages with added sugars, such as baked goods, soda, ice cream, etc

*Refined grains such as high amounts of white bread or pasta, cookies, muffins, etc

*Trans fats such as that found in fried foods and processed foods

*Refined oils used in processed foods.

Supporting Healthy Eating in the Workplace

Holiday work parties and the onslaught of delicious holiday cookies present extra opportunities to overeat. Instead of coping with the guilt of over or under-indulging in holiday desserts, choose your treats in advance or portion them out to save yourself those feelings of post-party regret. Spriet suggests employers encourage healthy eating not just around the holidays but year-round by:

*Offering and making use of dietitian coverage

*Engage employees in healthy initiatives

*Change the food and beverages offered at meetings or in the workplace

*Make and take scheduled nutrition and physical activity breaks during the day.

Spriet says creating sustainable eating habits can be difficult. Small achievable goals instead of drastic changes are an essential part of making permanent dietary modifications. Taking a lifestyle approach to healthy eating versus a “diet” approach is essential to seeing mental health benefits.

Eat mindfully and don’t forget to enjoy yourself! Happy Holidays!

Tim Hennessy

Editor, at the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans  Favorite Foundation Product: Plans & Trusts Benefits-related topics that interest him the most: retirement security and mental health Personal Insights: Tim enjoys spending time with his family, watching movies, reading, writing, and running.  

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