Healthy Holidays: For many people, the holidays are a double-edged sword. Although this time of year is filled with joy and fun activities, it can also derail your goals to stay healthy. This article will provide you with some clever tips to get the most out of your holidays without interfering with your healthy lifestyle so that you can slide into 2022 feeling good.
Have you ever seen someone being interviewed for celebrating their 100th birthday, and they share that their “key to a long life” is a glass of scotch every day? The takeaway here isn’t the bad habit, but rather their attitude towards the habit. Stressing out about the holidays and everything out of your control during these times will only compound the impact.
It’s not about saying yes to everything and everyone all the time. Cultivating firm boundaries (the capacity to say no) is essential throughout life. This applies to controversial conversation topics around the dinner table or participating in activities you simply don’t want to. Learning to say no is one of the most significant ways to mitigate stress. But for the things you do want to do (or simply can’t get out of): don’t compound the problem with worrying about it too.
Another tip for managing stress during the holidays is don’t over commit. From holiday parties and family brunches to late nights out: avoid saying yes to everything. If you have a big family event during the day, try telling your friends that you will try and make it out that night, depending on how the day festivities go. It’s easier to honor your energy levels when you’re not also worrying about letting someone down.
Mindfulness exercises throughout the holidays can help you relax, too 1. You may be eating and drinking more than usual, but stressing out about it only compounds the problem. Instead, try a short meditation upon waking up or before going to bed or practicing gratitude around the table before a meal!
Overeating is a common fear as we enter the holiday season. Although food is typically much more abundant and less controlled during this time of year, there are many ways to keep on top of overeating.
At buffet-type lunches, focus on eating protein and fat first. Protein and fat are much more satiating than other foods, so ensuring that you are well-nourished first will prevent you from filling up on nutrient-void foods that will keep you going back for more 2.
Using smaller plates is another way to keep your portion sizes down. Even if you go back for seconds (or thirds!), your overall consumption won’t be as much by limiting how much food you can get on your plate.
Slow down while you eat. This is obvious, but the slower you eat, the more likely you are to realize when you are satiated and full. The holidays are typically a time where more family and friends may surround you, so take the opportunity to connect with those around the table and have a chat as you eat! It will naturally slow you right down.
If you know that a particular location will offer nothing even remotely healthy, consider having a small, fat, and protein-rich meal before going. You could also bring some healthy snacks (like preservatives and sugar-free jerky), which can help balance your blood sugar levels.
Intermittent fasting is a great way to mitigate overeating by restricting the daily period you eat 3. For example, if you have a much later than usual dinner, you could fast for the following 16 hours, giving your body some time to properly rest and digest.
Finally, try slipping in an entire 24-hours of fasting when you can. Even one day a week will do wonders to balance out more over-indulgence from the previous six days!
Overindulging in alcohol over the holidays is another common situation. However, there are many things you can do while you drink and after to mitigate the negative impact of alcohol on the body.
Go organic and preservative-free whenever you can. Having the lowest toxicity alcohol helps prevent the worst kinds of hangovers! Avoid mixing spirits with high-sugar juices or pop, and stick to soda water with lemon or bitters instead.
You can take binders while you drink as well as the following day to prevent a bad hangover. For example, popping a BIND capsule while you drink and another one (or two) the following morning will help bind to the toxins that make you feel terrible the next day.
Dehydration is another common reason for a bad hangover, so make sure you drink lots of clean water while you drink alcohol! This is another reason to opt for soda water with any spirits. You may also want to have a glass of water in between every alcoholic drink.
Have you tried non-alcoholic cocktails? Many fantastic companies are making mocktails for those who want to partake in holiday celebrations without drinking alcohol. Whether or not you drink alcohol, sneaking in a few mocktails will help lower your overall alcohol load and help reduce the likelihood of a killer hangover.
Before you drink and the next day, it is essential to nourish yourself properly. Think of a balanced meal full of healthy fats and proteins so that your body is not slammed with a glycemic spike from alcoholic drinks. If you are hungover the next day, avoid highly refined sugars and fats (stay away from the fast food), which will only dig you into a deeper hole.
If the hangover does hit: prioritize rest. Your body is capable of handling a lot, but it also needs time to recuperate. So allow time for a lazy morning, a good nourishing meal, and perhaps an afternoon nap!
Your circadian rhythm is vital for generating whole-body health, which depends on a regular sleep/ wake cycle. Unfortunately, holiday madness can quickly derail your sleeping routine, but there are a few hacks you can implement to help get you back on as quickly as you fall off.
Exposing yourself to daylight as soon as the sun rises (or as soon as you wake up) is a great way to help set your circadian rhythm for the day 4. Natural light is king, and unfortunately, the opposite (artificial blue light) can take a toll on your natural rhythms, especially after dark 5. So whenever possible, stick to natural light, like a big candle-lit dinner. Salt lamps and red light bulbs are another great way to mitigate blue light and add a festive ambiance!
Getting your bare feet on the earth during the daytime is another way to help naturally recharge your batteries and balance out your electrons 6. Try going for a barefoot walk in the park the morning after a late night; it will do wonders.
Be mindful of caffeine giving you a false sense of alertness after a couple of late nights. If you can make time for it, you are better off taking an afternoon nap to let your body rest properly instead of guzzling caffeine to get you through the day.
Movement and exercise are not about burning off the calories you consume. The benefits of moving to go much deeper than calories in calories out! A little bit of gentle movement right after a meal helps balance your blood sugar levels, which is especially important after a high glycemic (more sugar) meal 7.
Going for a 10-minute walk after a big meal is a great way to support digestion and balance your blood sugar levels. Although it might be tempting to slip into a food coma, try rallying up your family and friends for a walk in the neighborhood.
Having a meal set in a park is another excellent way to encourage a little movement after a meal. Try planning a picnic lunch (if weather permits), or maybe a walk to the park afterward.
Keeping to your exercise routine is not just about physical health but also mental health. Regular exercise helps you mitigate stress, which promotes mental health 8. Anxiety is usually heightened during the holidays, so make some time to get moving and prioritize your mental well-being.
Although your never-ending to-do list and social engagements may keep you busy, make sure to prioritize proper hydration. Dehydration zaps your energy, will interfere with sleep quality, promote food cravings for salty foods, and won’t do your hangovers any favors.
Starting your day with a big glass of filtered water with some lemon juice and a pinch of salt is a great way to get the ball rolling. Hydrating in between any alcoholic or caffeinated beverages is also critical since they both act as diuretics.
Remember that fruit and vegetables are another great way to stay hydrated. Loading up on the two throughout the day will help you stay hydrated even if you’re not drinking as much water as you should be. You can also have a big pitcher of water with fruits or sliced cucumbers and lemon to encourage more water throughout the day.
There are a few great supplements you could consider to bridge the gaps during the holiday periods. Some help manage stress, others boost digestion, and others are general support for your immune system.
Adaptogens are great to support you through stressful times. Adaptogens help the body find homeostasis and are an excellent bridge during more chaotic times. Some of the top contenders for stress mitigation include ashwagandha, Siberian ginseng, and Rhodiola 9.
Digestion and gut health are essential for whole-body health. So during the holidays, when you may be indulging a little more than usual, some digestive and gut supports can come to the rescue. Some good supplements for digestion include digestive enzymes, betaine HCL, and probiotics 10.
General supports for the immune system are always good when stress is increased (because stress lowers the immune system’s capacity). Some of the top general immune supports include vitamin D3, vitamin C, and zinc 11.
The holidays can throw a wrench in your health plans, but they don’t have to! Staying on top of your health goals at the end of the year can be done by firstly managing stress. Learning to say no, having boundaries, and making time alone amidst the chaos is vital. You can limit overeating with simple hacks like using smaller plates, filling up on protein and fat first, and using intermittent and 24-hour fasts.
Hangovers can be buffered by staying hydrated, sticking to clean alcohol, and using binders. Getting out in nature and exposing your eyes to daylight helps set your circadian rhythm for the day (instead of relying on too much coffee). Going for a walk after meals helps balance your blood sugars, and exercise helps your physical and mental health. Finally, stay hydrated! It will help mitigate cravings, poor sleep, and hangovers.
1 “Mindfulness Meditation: A Research-Proven Way to Reduce Stress.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, https://www.apa.org/topics/mindfulness/meditation.
2 Noakes, Manny. “The role of protein in weight management.” Asia Pacific journal of clinical nutrition vol. 17 Suppl 1 (2008): 169-71.
3 Johnstone, A. “Fasting for weight loss: an effective strategy or latest dieting trend?.” International journal of obesity (2005) vol. 39,5 (2015): 727-33. doi:10.1038/ijo.2014.214
4 Blume, Christine et al. “Effects of light on human circadian rhythms, sleep and mood.” Somnologie : Schlafforschung und Schlafmedizin = Somnology : sleep research and sleep medicine vol. 23,3 (2019): 147-156. doi:10.1007/s11818-019-00215-x
5 “Circadian Rhythms.” National Institute of General Medical Sciences, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, https://www.nigms.nih.gov/education/fact-sheets/Pages/circadian-rhythms.aspx.
6 Lockett, Eleesha. “What Is Grounding and Can It Help Improve Your Health?” Healthline, Healthline Media, 30 Aug. 2019, https://www.healthline.com/health/grounding.
7 Hijikata, Yasuyo, and Seika Yamada. “Walking just after a meal seems to be more effective for weight loss than waiting for one hour to walk after a meal.” International journal of general medicine vol. 4 (2011): 447-50. doi:10.2147/IJGM.S18837
8 Sharma, Ashish et al. “Exercise for mental health.” Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry vol. 8,2 (2006): 106. doi:10.4088/pcc.v08n0208a
9 Panossian, Alexander, and Georg Wikman. “Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress-Protective Activity.” Pharmaceuticals (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 3,1 188-224. 19 Jan. 2010, doi:10.3390/ph3010188
10 Guilliams, Thomas G, and Lindsey E Drake. “Meal-Time Supplementation with Betaine HCl for Functional Hypochlorhydria: What is the Evidence?.” Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.) vol. 19,1 (2020): 32-36.
11 Team, Wellness. “8 Vitamins for an Immune System Boost.” Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, 3 Aug. 2021, https://health.clevelandclinic.org/eat-these-foods-to-boost-your-immune-system/.