Tips for Healthy Holiday Shopping

December 3, 2013

Black Friday marked the official start to the holiday shopping season, and while shopping for gifts represents charity, love and generosity, it can also pose some surprising risks to our health.

Just a few easy precautions can protect from hidden health hazards of holiday shopping.

Just a few easy precautions can protect from hidden health hazards of holiday shopping.

Nutritionist and health educator, David Leal, and certified diabetes educator and registered nurse, Maggie Scheerer, of the Texas A&M Health Science Center Coastal Bend Health Education Center offer advice on how to overcome some hidden hazards of holiday shopping.

1.  Pack a snack.

In the hustle and bustle, many people forget to stop and eat, but going longer than three or four hours without food can cause us to overeat when we do finally sit down to a meal.

“If we eat too much in one sitting, our bodies can’t digest appropriately,” Leal said. “And for those who have trouble regulating their blood sugar, overeating causes blood sugar levels to go too high and take longer to come down.”

Leal recommends preparing for long shopping trips by packing nonperishable snacks that contain complex carbohydrates and protein, such as fruit, peanut butter, or string cheese.

2.  Be wary of food courts.

Mall food courts are convenient, but their offerings can wreak havoc on a healthy diet. If possible, Leal recommends avoiding them altogether and opting instead for a balanced home cooked meal.

But if you find yourself with no other choice, look for options that contain fresh vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains. Pizza or burgers still your only options? Leal says go ahead and take your pick, just be extra cautious of portion sizes.

“Consuming any food – even pizza or hot dogs – helps manage our appetite so we don’t overeat later,” Leal said. But keep portions appropriate, skip on sides like fries and chips, and avoid beverages high in calories like juice or soda.

3.  Drink plenty of water.

Shopping is excellent exercise. While we may not feel like we are breaking a sweat while shopping, our bodies lose extra water at this level of exertion, so it’s important to keep hydrated. To prevent dehydration, stow a bottle or two of water in your tote or coat pocket.

“Sometimes we mistake thirst cues for hunger cues,” Leal said. “But try some water before you eat to make sure you’re not thirsty. Remember, we’re supposed to drink at least 64 ounces of water a day.”

4.  Take your medication.

Being away from home for extended periods of time can distract from strict medication schedules. To prevent missed dosages, take your medication with you and set your watch or phone alarm for the appropriate times.

And if you have diabetes, Scheerer recommends checking your blood glucose more frequently than usual due to the extra exertion.

5. Prepare to walk.

Because you can walk miles in a mall, it’s important to take certain precautions. Take breaks and rest when needed and wear comfortable, supportive shoes and socks.

For those who have diabetes, poor circulation, or joint problems, Scheerer also suggests checking your feet thoroughly for sores when you get home. Catching and treating sores early can prevent them from worsening to the point of needing serious medical attention or even amputation.

6. De-stress.

Spending extra money, fighting traffic, and checking off long shopping lists can certainly raise stress levels. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, stress hormones can make blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels go up, which can have long term effects on a person’s health. To help alleviate the stress that accompanies holiday shopping, Scheerer recommends making and taking time for yourself.

“Set aside time for the things and events that you really enjoy,” said Scheerer. “Listen to Christmas carols, enjoy a cup of your favorite coffee or tea, read a magazine or relaxing book, attend the Nutcracker Ballet, or admire holiday decorations. Just help yourself feel more relaxed.”

Lindsey Hendrix VR Publisher

— Lindsey Hendrix

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