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For many of us the winter break is a time of celebration, love, sharing with family and of course, gorging down on delicious holiday treats.

It is also the season when some of us succumb to common illnesses such as the u, food poisoning and other germ related bugs.

The foods we eat at this time can be extra rich and fatty. We tend to indulge a lot more. It usually has something to do with the company, the laughter and the memories that each moment captures. Stories are shared with drinks in hand or over food, oftentimes with little attention to just how much is being consumed in one sitting.

If you have been trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle leading up to this holiday, get ready; the temptations will be great. Even the most health savvy person concedes and does a bit of (food) cheating during winter break.

So, how much should you cheat on your health during the holidays? That is a question that only you can answer.

It depends on what your health goals are and your discipline in accepting what you will need to do to get back on track.

That said; it’s not only about what you eat. Here are a few reminders of some of the ways that you can stay healthy during the holidays.

Germs and travel

Holiday travelling is a major part of the winter break. From the airplane to grabbing a taxi, partying to visiting friends, your exposure to germs can be epic. Don’t slack off when it comes to practising good hygiene. Take disinfecting wipes with you and use them on items (armrests, tray tables, door knobs, etc.) that you will need to touch. Some of the items that we use regularly such as our cell phones, keys and pens are magnets for germs. Always wash your hands.

Stay hydrated

During a long flight, the high altitudes and low humidity can make the cabin air dry. When this happens our airways are more vulnerable to viruses and bacteria. Staying hydrated can counter the likelihood of bugs easily getting into our system. It’s nice to relax on board with a drink of our favourite fermented beverages. Try not to overindulge. Alcohol dehydrates you. Drink lots of water and eat fruits. If you had to choose between using the bathroom regularly as a result of drinking water to battling a cold or u during your holiday, which would you choose?

Dress for the weather

Sunny days may be behind you once you get home. Dress for the weather. If you are in a cold climate, stay warm by dressing in layers. Moisturise your skin regularly. Ensure that you have on the correct footwear to avoid falling on slippery surfaces. Be alert. If you are in warm weather, continue to dress for it. Remember to moisturise and use sunblock. Stay hydrated. Keep in mind any health related diseases that may be affecting the area (mosquito-related diseases) and take the necessary preventive measures.

Personal security matters

You have been away for a while and some things may have changed. Observe your surroundings and ensure that valuables are secure. A lot of people tend to focus on their cell phones when out in public. Don’t be one of them. Pay attention to street signs and the behaviour of the people around you. Take friends (or a friend) with you. This gives you a chance to catch up and to have someone else present in case of an emergency.

Buy healthy foods

Tag along for holiday grocery shopping. Buy the healthy foods that you want to eat. This should include healthy snacks. Decorating, gift shopping and visiting loved ones can take away from the time that you would use to prepare a healthy meal. Use one day to prepare a few of the meals that you want. Put them away in the freezer. You can reheat by using your oven on days when you are too tired to cook.

Avoid peer pressure eating

Holiday dinners, confectionaries and beverages are quite rich with all the stuff that you have been trying to avoid most of the year. Don’t allow yourself to get cornered to t in. If you usually eat a smaller plate of food, stick to it. You can make a compromise by sampling the different foods that you like and want to try – in small portions. Keep in mind that your health needs are different from those around you. Pay attention to your allergies. Ensure that food is being handled properly and that the environment is sanitary. You don’t want to offend others by refusing to eat. Select foods that are less likely to make you ill afterwards.

Adjust your eating habits

If you are travelling from the Middle East to the West, the obvious difference in time zones demands that you adjust your eating and sleeping routines. Once settled, ensure that you have rested properly and are hydrated before going out. Some of the foods that you love that were unavailable in the Middle East are now accessible. Don’t binge on them. Allow your stomach to become reacquainted with these foods and have them in moderation – especially if they are not healthy foods. Formulate a new eating routine based on your western time zone. Keep it on par with the types of foods that you eat while living abroad. Say no to the foods that you don’t want. This will require discipline but you can do it! Your friends and relatives may not be pleased, but they will eventually respect your commitment to staying healthy.

Focus on the moments

The holidays are not just here for eating, folks! Focus on the moments. Get involved in some of the planning for family events. If you were usually the go-to person for a particular dish, whip it up! Catch up with friends who may also be back visiting, take pictures, create short videos – share your own stories. After a somewhat filling meal, put some music on and get up and dance. Encourage those present to join in. This will help to burn some of those calories that you pack on.


In some parts of the West, it is cold. You will be tempted to forego your usual exercises. Don’t. Make the time to work out at least twice in one week. This can be a modi ed form of your usual work out, since you may not have sufficient time. Try alternate workout routines that can be done at home. Move furniture around to get the space that you need and encourage others to join in. If you are conscious about working out with others around, wait until you have a moment by yourself. It could mean waking up a lot earlier or working out before bedtime. This will relax you and should keep you on the right track to staying healthy.

This list is not exclusive. I hope that you found the tips useful. Let me know what some of your top holiday tips are for staying healthy. Have a great winter break. Tweet us @teachmiddleeast by using the hashtag #healthyteacher.

By Carolyn Lee

Carolyn is the Editorial Director of Teach Middle East Magazine.