Eating Well for the Holidays

Many of my clients find the holiday season to be a challenging time of year, I completely get it. There have been times in my life where I have found them challenging as well. Years ago, the holidays would be a time of over-indulgence in food and alcohol, and a significant increase in inflammation and my waistline.

From about mid-November through New Year’s we are inundated with food, drinks, parties, and big family dinners – we often don’t have direct control over the food and beverages that are served. When you combine it with the stress, anxiety, and the emotional ties these foods have…this time of year can bring added inflammation and a few extra pounds to our bodies. I believe this realization is why so many people wait until after the holidays to get started making positive changes in their health.

The three most common problems lurking during this festive time of year are related to over-indulgence in booze, not being present in your body, and guilt.  And rather than tell you all of the science behind why you shouldn’t over indulge and what it does to your health, let’s focus on a few common problems and solutions to add to your wellness toolbox this holiday season.

The good news is, despite not being in control of what is being served to you over the holidays, you ARE in control of your body and what you put in it. I officially grant you permission to be in charge of YOU!

Common Problem: Look at all the deliciousness! I must eat it all! OR Granny worked so hard on this, it would be rude not to clean my plate.

Solution: Whether the emotion behind this is reliving your childhood treats, nervousness around family or friends at a holiday gathering, or guilt that creeps up about someone working so hard on this meal…know that there are 3 important steps here: give up, be present, and give in.

1. Give Up. Give up on unnecessarily restrictive diets, killer cardio plans, crazy body wraps, silly shake programs, counting points-carbs-calories, and Herba-Plexus--Level-Thriving-mess…well you get it. These are Band-Aids at best, they simply temporarily mask the trouble. They NOT solutions. These overly restrictive plans especially this time of year lead to stress (and cravings and over-indulgence) and nutrient restrictions (and cravings and over-indulgence). Not to mention a whole host of other health problems.

This is not a license to give up necessary restrictions, for example do not eat gluten or dairy if you have leaky gut. It IS license to have a banana or some honey or even a piece of dark chocolate if you like. It IS license to STOP counting. And most of all, it is license to get in touch with your body.

2. Be present. Being present in your body is crucial to avoiding overindulgence (anytime, not just in your holiday pants). Stop, take a breath, ask yourself, “am I physically hungry?” If you aren’t hungry, a simple “no thanks, I’m not hungry” will be perfect.

A common question I get is, “how do I know I am physically hungry?”

Physical hunger is hunger for fuel. It doesn’t occur based on time or social circumstance.  Physical hunger isn’t urgent, it comes on gradually. Physical hunger isn’t picky, it can be satisfied with any type of food. Physical hunger allows you to stop eating when you are no longer hungry. Physical hunger causes satisfaction and not guilt. Physical hunger has physical signs like a growling stomach growling or energy levels dipping.

Spoiler Alert: If you are craving a particular food…you aren’t physically hungry. By pausing and shifting into being PRESENT you allow the moment to identify the cause (stress, anxiety, fatigue, joy, sadness) and find an appropriate non-food solution for it.

3. Give In. Yes, you read that right. Give in to the dish/meal. If you are physically hungry, just freakin’ give in!

Have that pumpkin pie and be FULLY present with it. When you are fully present while you are eating, you AREN’T double-fisting food into your mouth…you are taking a bite at a time, savoring the textures, the flavors, the smell, the sensations.

If you opt for the less healthy treat, then remember the Law of Diminishing Returns. The first bite is bliss, the second bite is really great, the third bite is good…by then you don’t need anymore.

Check in after about every 3 bites, especially if you are new at this. Be present and see if you are still physically hungry or if the treat is as magnificent as the last bite. Once the pleasure return has diminished, push the plate away.

Common Problem: I had a few too many last night and now I feel awful and I am craving lots of starch and sweet stuff.

Solution: This is common, many people crave carbs or sugars after having a few too many adult beverages. Alcohol is processed in our bodies through similar pathways as sugar, so a single glass of red wine or a single serving of a quality liquor over ice generally won’t trigger a hangover or the snowball of cravings in the following days...indulging in multiple drinks or high-sugar drinks like beer or mixed drinks is a recipe for not feeling well and having trouble getting back on track.

The easiest solution here Is not to overindulge. And there are a few ways to do this. My very favorite is sparkling mineral water or club soda with a twist. Sipping on this at your holiday soiree is usually enough to keep the peer pressure at bay.

If you did overindulge and its already too late, ease yourself out of it by rehydrating your body with water all day long the following day, add a squeeze of fresh orange and a pinch of pink Himalayan salt in each glass. This will help your cells put all of the incoming hydration to good use and keep your insulin leveled off and your need for fries or sweets to a minimum.

Common Problem: I saw this article too late, I have already over-indulged on food and/or booze.

 Solution: Be gentle with yourself, and begin self-care. Choose to forgive yourself, grace over guilt. You can’t change the past, make optimal choices for your body, mind. and spirit NOW, in the present. Be gentle with yourself, recover and get right back on track. Take a gentle yoga class to kick start your body’s detox process, get outside in nature to renew your spirit and reduce inflammation, indulge in a massage to reduce your stress.

Remember, a little mishap doesn’t mean you have to give up and start over. One food, one meal, one over-indulgence (even a handful), don’t wait to start over, begin fresh in the very next moment.

Audrey Christie, RNComment