Make Healthy Food Choices
For many of us, the holidays are an excuse to put aside healthy eating and enjoy yet another holiday cookie or cocktail. For people with arthritis, an indulgent, unhealthy holiday diet may end up causing a painful flare. In addition, poor food choices may increase the risk for long-term health issues like osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. Remember to include:
- Healthy fats. “Omega-3 fatty acids clearly have an anti-inflammatory role, and high doses can help rheumatoid arthritis," Dr. Mody explains. Cookies and eggnog tend to be high in saturated fat — the wrong kind for RA. Make sure you get enough fish, walnuts, soy, and other foods containing omega-3s year-round.
- Vitamin D and calcium. “To prevent osteoporosis, you need calcium and vitamin D,” says Mody. Cold weather, specifically the decreased exposure to sunlight, affects your body’s vitamin D production, so it’s good to increase your intake of both during this time of year.
Be Sure to Manage Holiday Stress
“We don’t really know whether stress affects flares,” says Mody. But holiday stressors can influence people with rheumatoid arthritis in other ways. People may overtax their bodies, and especially their joints, by taking on too much during this busy season. “I like the holidays, and I want to enjoy them, so I have to pick and choose my activities carefully,” says Sara Nash of New York City.
Nash remembers her first Thanksgiving with rheumatoid arthritis: She hosted a huge Thanksgiving party but was almost too tired to enjoy Christmas festivities. Since then, she’s made a few compromises:
- Budget your energy. Nash says she loves going to holiday parties and seeing family and friends, but she still has to go to work and get enough rest. “Save energy for things that you want to do, and also for things that you’ll have to do,” she suggests.
- Make adjustments. “I’m pretty detail-oriented, and I love to cook from scratch,” Nash says. But after her first holiday season with RA, Nash began buying pre-cut vegetables to save her energy.
- Plan holiday travel carefully. For many, holidays mean a time to travel long distances to be with family. Nash’s parents live in Virginia, while her brother and sister live in California. “Traveling has a whole bunch of other considerations and things to prepare,” Nash says. “This year, I decided to travel for only one of the holidays, and stayed home for the other.”
- Enjoy local get-togethers. When Nash isn’t up for traveling, she spends her holidays with friends. Last year, she helped host a holiday dinner, explaining, “While I like to cook, it was nice because it wasn’t actually at my apartment, so I didn’t have to do any of the extra work like cleaning before and after.” Sharing the preparations with friends is a great way to make sure that you’ll have enough energy to actually enjoy the day.
- Meet new people and reconnect with others. “Allay the aloneness ... go to a group dinner,” White recommends. Churches and community centers have group dinners that are welcoming to all. And, she says, fix broken relationships. Reach out to relatives and friends. “We’re taught to be independent, but the truth is, we’re interdependent,” adds White.
Sometimes flare-ups can’t be avoided, no matter how hard you try. If you start to feel increased pain, take action and call your doctor right away. By budgeting your time and energy, you should be more able to enjoy the next round of holidays.