With the holidays fast approaching, it is that joyous time of year again for gift shopping and giving, parties galore, family gatherings and best of all lots of delicious food and drinks! The holiday season starts off with a bang with candy and sweets on Halloween. Then come turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and apple pie on Thanksgiving. Finally finishing with more of the same delicious food on Christmas and New Year’s just one month later. Inevitably, as people tend to overindulge on all these tasty treats, many folks find that their waistlines increase after the holidays. Usually in my practice, I find that the typical patient gains anywhere from 5-10 pounds in just 2 months – sometimes more! I also find that people tend to feel more lethargic, have increased frequency of colds (read my latest blog article on how to prevent cold and flu during flu season here) and overall feel sick and tired after the holidays. Does this describe your experience during or after the holidays? I hope not!
Holidays Should be About Balance
Frankly speaking, with more time off from work, the holidays should be a time for cultivating positive relationships, reflection, catching up on sleep, relaxation and, most of all, balance. The holidays unfortunately cause so many individuals to become so far out of balance that it literally makes them sick! Feelings of worry about money and buying gifts, stress about having to deal with unhealthy relationships, expectations about what the holidays should be or the burden of carrying on traditions dominate people during this time of year. Combine all this stress with the aforementioned negative dietary changes listed above and it’s a wonder anyone can stay healthy during the holidays.
Ok, I really don’t mean to be negative. I really wanted to write this article to encourage everyone out there to want to feel good during and after the holidays. I also want to provide you some tips that I have found helpful to stay trim and healthy during the holidays. Here we go!
Each Holiday is Just ONE Day!
Remember that each holiday is only one day. If you want to go and indulge a little more than you normally would on Thanksgiving or Christmas, this is more than ok. Enjoy it! But most people can’t remember to turn off the “on switch” once turned on. The overindulgence continues for days and weeks blurring space and time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Get back to your routine and healthy way of living the day after the holiday. I know this sounds militant, but really this is your best chance from preventing new bad habits.
If it’s White Don’t Bite!
For whatever reason, the holidays have become notoriously associated with eating more sweets, cookies, pies, cakes, candy and breads. All of this (unless using special gluten-free or sugar-free alternative recipes) stuff is loaded with fat, refined carbohydrates and sugar. If you want to really know where the weight begins to increase during the holidays, this is one of the main root causes. The majority of weight gain and symptoms that occur during the holidays are resultant from “inflammation.” Basically when we eat sugar and refined foods, this creates extracellular fluid retention. This leads to inflammatory weight gain, usually by about 5-10 pounds. It also causes our immune systems to go haywire, having to deal with these inflammatory foods. This can lead to fatigue, joint pain and flu-like symptoms.
So I usually advocate my patients adopting the rule “If it’s white, DON’T bite!!” This means avoiding these types of foods altogether (just say NO!) or minimizing the damage by just having one serving of these types of foods at a meal. For example, have a small piece of pie instead of a mammoth slice with a huge dollop of whipped cream. Or have one cookie instead of three. These examples may sound rudimentary, but in order to prevent inflammation and the holiday bulge, remember this tip most of all.
Curtail Alcohol Intake
Besides food, alcohol can also negatively contribute to our health during the holidays. In fact, the holidays can often turn into one big month long party! Alcohol, just like all the sweets I mentioned above is basically a “white food.” Not only does it contribute extra calories to your daily calorie count, it also creates inflammation and dampens your immune system just as well as a slice of pie or cookies. It can also act as a depressant in most people, which in turn could actually make holiday stress or depression worse. So party it up, have fun – but limit your alcohol intake this holiday season!
Continue to Exercise
For whatever reason, people feel that the holidays are a time to totally forget about exercise. What’s up with that? This is totally backwards. The holidays are the BEST time to exercise. Most people have extra time off – why not exercise more? This would be a great time to start an exercise program, incorporate more variety into an already existing program or increase the frequency and duration of exercise. Exercise not only has the obvious benefit of helping to burn off extra calories that may have been consumed during the holidays, but it has the amazing ability to help reduce stress, improve sleep and improve our immune system. There are NO negatives associated with exercise. Why not try a brisk 30 minute walk after having your Thanksgiving meal this year? That is if you can button your pants!
Have ONE Plate at Dinner
Ok, this is the most obvious tip and often the most difficult to follow. Depending on the size of your family gatherings, there could be upwards of 10, 12 or 15 dishes at your holiday meal. Everything looks so good, you just have to try one of everything! Or do you? I think this may be where most people slip up during the holidays. They often have more calories and food in one meal than they do in multiple days. Have you ever eaten so much at a holiday meal that you have had to unbutton your pants afterwards? It is hard to do, but wrap your brain around treating this holiday meal just as you would with any other meal or any other day. Go and have a little bit of a few items but limit yourself to just one plate. Do not have a full-sized second plate or third plate. Focus on protein and vegetables, less so on the white stuff (mashed potatoes, heavy casseroles etc). You can also eat normally throughout the day, having a regular breakfast and lunch. This will prevent you from starting dinner out hypoglycemic (with low blood sugar) and ready to chow down on whatever you can get your hands on. Stabilizing blood sugars throughout the day is of the utmost importance when it comes to preventing overeating later on in the day.
Eat Before You Attend that Holiday Party
Are you a health conscious eater who notices that when you go to work or social gatherings that they have nothing for you to eat? Most of it is usually processed, full of dairy, gluten and sugar? One tip that I give to people to prevent eating any of this stuff and feeling miserable afterwards is to eat before you go to that holiday party. Maybe you don’t need to eat a full meal, but just enough that you won’t munch on anything that you are going to regret later on. If you are going to eat anything at holiday parties, I usually try and focus on protein (meat, eggs, etc) and vegetables (no cookies are not a vegetable!) rather than the white stuff, like pasta, bread, cookies, other sweets.