This time of year, it’s not unusual for there to be a glut of posts related to maintaining weight during the holidays. Most share the same advice that’s been shared year after year after year. We’ve heard the advice multiple times to eat a healthy meal before going to a party, to bring a healthy dish to share, to alternate alcoholic drinks with a soda and lime, and fill your plate with veggies before diving into the chocolate fountain. It’s wise advice, but it’s time to breathe some new life into holiday health tips. A good place to start when considering holiday health is to eat fewer carbohydrates. (Easier said than done, right?) For advice on how to eat fewer carbs on a daily basis, please read my post “Simple Ways to Cut Carbs from Your Eating Habits.”
My hope was to share some unique strategies for staying healthy during the holidays. You’ll have to be the judge of whether or not I succeeded. Here are my tips for staying healthy (and sane) during the holidays:
- Cut yourself some slack: Nothing is worse for your health than setting unrealistic expectations, constantly feeling you’ve failed, and then beating yourself up for being normal. Negative emotions have been shown to cause systemic acidity, which leads to inflammation and disease. Maintaining a positive outlook is essential to good health. My advice for the holidays is to ENJOY. Don’t be overly strict and don’t obsess about what you’re eating. I share tips on how to maintain food balance below, but my recommendation is to give yourself permission to enjoy the holiday festivities but to make wise choices and enjoy moderate serving sizes. When you splurge, enjoy and savor every bite to the fullest and then move the heck on.
- Focus on the people, not the food: Many people focus more on the food they’ll eat during the holidays than on the fact they’ll have extra time to renew relationships and spend time with friends and family. There’s no need to point out how cockeyed that is. A simple change of perspective can make a huge difference in how you eat and imbibe during the holidays. Try to eat to live instead of living to eat. Focusing on catching up with friends and family instead of on the foods and beverages that surround you will help keep you away from the buffet table. Instead of focusing on a plate loaded with indulgences, choose instead to entertain the little ones (so their moms can enjoy the buffet table), help the host and hostess, spend time with the grumpy relative no one else dares to, organize a group game, start a family poker game, etc. I know from experience that when I focus on the people I’m with, food temptations fade into the background.
- Focus on serving instead of receiving: This is another simple change in perspective that positively impacts body, mind and spirit. Take advantage of every opportunity you have to serve others. Volunteer at a local community agency, offer to help elderly neighbors with holiday chores, babysit for friends who have little children, reach out to people you know who do not have family nearby, or serve a meal at a homeless shelter instead of eating your own holiday meal at home. The end result of doing so is that you will most likely eat less (and will definitely drink less alcohol), and will receive an emotional and spiritual blessing that will positively impact your body chemistry. It is an undeniable truth that “he who refreshes others is himself refreshed.” When we focus on blessing others and let go of the “me, me, me” mentality, we inevitably find that we are blessed far more than those we serve.
- Maintain moderation in all things: One piece of pecan pie isn’t going to destroy your health, but five pieces could definitely have a negative impact. As I said in point one, give yourself permission to enjoy a single, small piece. Once you decide to splurge, put boundaries around the splurge, enjoy and savor every single bite, and then stop. Can’t live without a piece of pecan pie? No problem! Commit to having one, small piece and don’t budge. Ask friends or family to hold you accountable if that will help and not annoy the crap out of you. Research that measured the release of serotonin (a feel-good hormone) during meals found that we enjoy the first bite of any meal more than any other bite. Take advantage of this by taking a moderate serving and then putting special focus on that first bite. Chew it slowly, savor it and enjoy it. You may find that you won’t even need to finish the entire piece if you put extra effort into enjoying and savoring the first few bites. (Offer the remainder to Uncle Bob … he’ll love you for it!)
- Take a probiotic and Vitamin D: Taking supplements is not a substitute for eating well, but probiotics and Vitamin D are both known to boost immunity and improve health. They each offer special health benefits that can help counteract the negative effects of overindulging in sugar and alcohol. It’s a simple fact that most people eat foods during the holidays that are richer and which may put a strain on digestion. Taking a daily probiotic (or taking one with every meal) will help maintain the correct balance of bacteria in the digestive tract and is known to greatly improve immunity and reduce inflammation. When choosing a probiotic, choose one with at least 30 billion active cultures and which has at least than 8 strains of beneficial bacteria. Two of my favorite OTC probiotics include Renew Life’s Ultimate Flora (ignore the fact that they call it their “Senior” formula – it can benefit anyone of any age) and Udo’s Choice Advanced Adult Probiotic. Vitamin D is also known to greatly improve immunity and reduce inflammation. Most experts recommend that adults should take at least 2000IU/day. One of my favorites is Carlson’s Solar D Gems.
- Do the obvious: You know the drill: drink plenty of water, get enough sleep, don’t stop exercising, wash your hands frequently, avoid the sour cream dip that’s been unrefrigerated for eight hours, eat more veggies, don’t have unrealistic expectations of friends and family and a “perfect holiday,” etc., etc. Make a commitment to make your health a priority. It’s okay to focus on yourself during the holidays. Do it!
- Detox after the holidays: One of my standing traditions is to use the first week of January to cleanse and detoxify. I choose a different approach and use different techniques based on gut instinct each year, but know that starting the year off with a detox definitely improves my health and helps eliminate any harmful toxins consumed during the holidays. Even doing a detox as simple as eliminating all coffee, alcohol and sugar for 3 – 7 days can be very beneficial. For those in the Indianapolis area, I am teaching my Detoxification and Cleansing class in January. This year I’m following the first-level class with a two-week, hands-on, participatory workshop. Feel free to click the links below to learn more about these classes. (The first-level class is already close to being full, so I anticipate offering it as a webinar in February. Stay tuned for details.)
How do you maintain balance and health during the holidays? Please share!