December 22, 2017 | Sherry Dillon, RN, CPHRM

Heart Failure, Health, and the Holidays

Enjoying the holidays with family and friends are amazing—filled with food, fellowship, and fun! For the person with the chronic condition of heart failure, however, it can also be a detrimental time of year if a careful plan to navigate through the season is not executed. Here are a few tips that will help conquer this time of year.

Have a Plan

It was Benjamin Franklin that penned the following words as it relates to proper planning, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” An individual with heart failure + the holidays + lack of planning = disaster! Let’s avoid the Emergency Department visit this year, shall we? A plan:

  1. Know who your support systems are that will help you through this season instead of sabotage you. you know the “sabotager” I am talking about…the well-intentioned loved one that says, “just one cookie won’t hurt you,” or “c’mon it’s the holidays, live a little.” Those are the folks you can name right now and you’ll want to avoid…or at least be prepared to defend yourself with an answer that will stop them in their tracks… “I’m here for the family and friendships not the food,” could be a great push-back. Better yet, stick close to your support systems, if they’re hosting they’re the people that make food dishes with you in mind. You also know who they are— so select their invitation over others.
  2. Host your own party. That will assure you have food made especially for you and others that are also on a health journey. You’ll be surprised at how others will appreciate this step.
  3. Track your successes—and plan rewards as you get through each get together successfully! Build incentives into your plan (ie. Schedule a massage, buy the purse you wanted, or treat yourself to long weekend of Hallmark movies).
  4. Know that one food item, that one sinful snack that you’re going to give into and either choose to avoid it all together or allow yourself a small portion. A small portion will not land you in the ED but over-indulgence might. Know yourself here and act accordingly! If you can’t eat “just-one”, don’t do it!


A common problem with heart failure is retaining fluid—when this happen it puts extra workload on the heart muscle. Therefore, too much fluid in over small periods of time can cause you’re a setback. Tracking during the season should be daily and diligently! You cannot afford to miss one day.

  1. Track fluid intake. If you’ve been prescribed a diuretic, make sure you take it accordingly as well. Watch for signs and symptoms of fluid retention (swelling, tiredness, difficulty breathing, wet cough). Don’t drink too much, follow your doctor’s recommendations
  2. Track daily weights. Do not skip this step especially during the holidays. Daily weights will increase sometimes by 3-5 pounds in day (or more) and is a key indicator if fluid is being retained. Adjust fluid intake as needed if you experience a weight gain. And, don’t forget to weigh yourself at the same time every day (morning is preferred).
  3. Track swelling in your ankles or feet. You can either measure your ankles daily or simple apply pressure to your ankles or feet with your thumb—if your experiencing swelling your foot will sink in and slowly return to normal (this is called pitting edema). If your skin quickly bounces back—no issue. If you can count 1, 2, 3 you have a varying degree of pitting edema. In this instance fluid intake reduction is important.
  4. Track your blood pressure daily and log it.
  5. Log it—this is tough at best. But during this season, you’ll want to really keep a log of food, weight, medications taken, and activity. This will help you and your doctor make adjustments as needed.

Make Healthy Substitutions for Sodium

While high fat, high sugar foods are not good for anyone, those that have heart failure should also try to avoid. But, it’s the SALT and too much of it that can throw those that suffer from heart failure into a tailspin.

  1. Absolutely do not add salt to any dish (assume that the chef already seasoned it)
  2. When cooking use sea salt instead of iodized table salt as a better alternative
  3. Or better yet, other seasoning is preferred—there are many brands out there that provide alternatives to salt.
  4. Read labels (low or no sodium additives are preferred)
  5. Don’t eat the ham. Eat the turkey.
  6. Avoid the pickle and olive bar; enjoy the carrots and celery instead
  7. No beer—really. Wine would be a good substitute
  8. Chips? Don’t do it. Try crackers that are low in salt instead
  9. Remember that a health heart diet is one that is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium

Keep Portions in Control

  1. Choose smaller plates; smaller portions
  2. Small frequent meals are better than one big meal; this will allow your body to process the food slowly

Keep Up the Action

Try a family walk after dinner! A goal during this season will be 30 minutes of walking or more at least 3-5 times a week.

Media Contacts

Shane Andreasen

Bravado Health


Bravado Health Media Line


(561) 805-5935