Did you know that the average American consumes about 3000 calories on Thanksgiving and Christmas? Most people will gain weight over the holiday season and typically half of that weight will remain until the following summer. While I am not an avid calorie counter this does remind me that it is important to have a plan in place so I do not sabotage the hard work I did the other 11 months of the year. Preparation both mentally and physically are key to success.
In addition to preparing a nutrient dense holiday feast try these ideas to optimize digestion and see how you respond physically, mentally and emotionally. This may the beginning of some valuable new traditions.
Don’t shirk exercise, move when you can.
For some the holiday season can last up to 6 weeks. During the hustle and bustle of the season it is really easy to put fitness on the back burner. Instead of letting it all go and hopping back on board January 1st, make it a priority (this is a conscious decision) to keep exercise in the mix. In fact, activity will help you better handle those “choice” meals you are making during all the errands and festivities. Exercise makes you more insulin sensitive and studies suggest that exercise can overcome slip ups in diet as long as they are not continual and consistent.
On feast days, consider moving dinner up a couple hours and take an after dinner walk. Again, exercise is known to boost insulin receptivity and the movement will help you beat those post meal blues. Allow the kids to play at a park or start a family tradition of flag football.
Stay away from stress.
Make time for some stress management. Stress is detrimental to your health and can mess with your blood sugar balance. A meal that may not have been that bad for you in a relaxed state all of a sudden becomes a major body burden when eaten in a stressed state. Digestion begins in the brain. Employ tools to manage stress like deep breathing (download a breathing app that sends you reminders), reflex points, essential oils and mental reframing. Don’t forget those workouts are a great form of stress management too. This will not come naturally for most of us. You must decide to make this happen 🙂
Remember Digestion begins in the brain.
Take a few moments pre-meal to sit down take a big deep breath and show some gratitude for your food. This will trigger salivary amylase to begin digesting those delicious carbs. Chew, chew, chew your food and set your fork down between bites. Turn off that Thanksgiving football game and enjoy the company of your family. Take time to set a beautiful table and add some mood lighting. This puts you in rest and digest mode so your body can properly digest your meal. Stop and think: many of our ancestral traditions were not created to make more work but rather to set us up to rest, digest and enjoy the company of our friends and family. Reframe your perspective.
Consider a little intermittent fasting during the holiday season.
Restrict your eating window and allow your body to rest and recover from those seasonal indulgences. Digestion takes up most of your energy stores. When you rest from this process the body then has time to prioritize detox and healing. This process, called autophagy, occurs when we restrict our eating window to 8-10 hours, giving the body 14-16 hours to rest and digest. Fasting can be done many ways, but typically you can either have a late breakfast or an early dinner. I try to restrict my eating to daylight hours.
Pair your starches with healthy fats.
Feel good about ladling a generous helping of gravy over those mashed potatoes. Fats help to balance the blood sugar spikes that result from a meal high in starch, and are imperative for management of inflammation. Furthermore, those good fats will help you to feel more satiated so you are not going back for seconds and thirds of that sweet potato pie.
Hydration. Hydration. Hydration.
Water is the number one deficiency in most Americans. Every organ and cell in the body needs adequate hydration in order to function well. When we do not get enough water, our body prioritizes some areas of function, like digestion, at the expenses of other areas, like brain function and detox. Some research has shown that dehydration is at the root of many of today’s diseases. In the chaos of holiday prep and planning it is easy to let hydration slip. Set a reminder on your phone or fill 2 quart jars in the morning to remind yourself to get hydration in. Associate hydration with certain activities. For example, I typically hydrate when driving. Now I get thirsty any time I am in the car. Start your day with a full glass of water, not coffee. Add a pinch of sea salt, not table salt (!), for added electrolytes and minerals. Sea salt is a great adrenal boost as well.
Don’t throw away those bones!
One of the best things about a Thanksgiving or Christmas Turkey is the amount of healing broth you can make from the bones. Bone broth provides minerals and amino acids important to the gut lining. It is great to sip for a snack or to use as a base for soup. On average I get 17 quart sized jars of broth from my Thanksgiving Turkey!
Remember eating well is a form of self-respect.
When you are tempted by friends and family to indulge a little too much remind yourself that you are respecting your body and your health. Prepare yourself for the inevitable pressure by establishing a non-negotiable baseline. For example, I always remain gluten free, opt for healthy fats, forgo dessert (because I cannot control myself around sugar), and limit myself to no more than 2 really good alcoholic drinks (no cheap wine or crappy mixers for me!). While I loosen up my daily diet some times, I know this is what I absolutely need to feel good and I stick to it. FOMO (fear of missing out) is for the birds, I would rather not miss out on feeling good.
Furthermore, have your excuses ready when you get pressured to participate. I once had a friend tell me she related her “no” foods with going to bathroom when making excuses to friends and family. She says, “No one ever wants to discuss bowel movements!
Lastly, consider your future self, this is called responsibility debt, do not put off healthy habits until January when you can continue to incorporate them today. We all know that something will come up at the beginning of the year and then we get in this cycle of putting things off and allowing our future self to take care of it. Before you know it you hit 2019! Repeat for 10 years and you get the picture. Again respect yourself by not abdicating responsibility to your future self.
Check out this great illustration of responsibility debt. I am linking this for me, not just you 😉
Ditch the guilt.
One of the things I teach in my classes is to remove guilt from the equation. Guilt can make a “choice” meal indigestible when it may not have affected us otherwise. The motto is “Whatever I eat, I choose it consciously, I enjoy it thoroughly, and then, I let it go.” Think of your meals as “choices” not “cheats” and plan those choices. Think about your food before devouring it. When you do make a choice, consider it an experiment, put on your lab coat and discover how those choices make you feel.
An invaluable supplement to have on hand is some activated charcoal. This will help you detox those “choices” a little better. However, do not use charcoal as an excuse to indulge too often. If you have more than 4 “choices” in a row you are off track and need to reevaluate your plan.
We all know the holiday season is not a time for strict rules and regulations and it is OK to loosen up a little. What is your plan for January? Don’t start thinking about this January 1, have a plan in place now with a solid start date. Preparation is key to success. Sign up for a detox, clean eating challenge or exercise plan. However, pick one and enlist some help/accountability, don’t overdo it and set yourself up for failure.
Remember the reason for the season. Do the dishes tomorrow. Enjoy your family today.
On feast days, remember the reason for the season and give yourself grace and time to just be. Dishes will always be there, our loved ones may not be 🙂
Emphasize celebration and gratitude, not food. While food is certainly a part of the fun it isn’t what this season is about. Reframe your brain to prioritize family, friends and gratitude.
“Eat to live, don’t live to eat.”
This post was originally written for Crossfit Round Rock.