The holidays can be a time of joy and excitement. But it can also be a time of stress for many of us. The pandemic, stressful family situations, and financial burdens can be part of a recipe for a stressful holiday.  Eating well can help alleviate the stress in our bodies and minds, so this important choice becomes paramount during the holidays. But how can we eat well and take care of ourselves in this way when sugary treats, colorful cocktails and multiple holiday gatherings are plentiful? I offer four tips below for taking care of ourselves nutritionally during the “most wonderful time of the year”.

1. Load up on healthy fats and proteins.   

Have you ever found yourself hungry soon after eating a sugary bowl of cereal in the morning? That is because the sudden rise in our blood sugar results in a secretion of insulin from our pancreas. Insulin rushes the excess sugar into our cells for later use, leaving us feeling a “crash”, and wanting to eat again soon after to counteract that crash and possible hunger. Fat and protein, on the other hand, is slowly digested and provides our body with slow-burning fuel, keeping us satiated for hours.  Think bacon and eggs for breakfast, rather than cereal with orange juice. Other healthy fats and proteins include: coconut, avocado, nuts and seeds, butter, olive oil, organic full fat dairy, grass fed and/or pastured meats.  You may be hesitant to eat fat, especially saturated fat, if you remember the low fat movement of the 1980’s. Rest assured that the most recent research has found no correlation between healthy saturated fats and heart disease, and the American Heart Association even revised it’s recommendations in 2015 to include more healthy fats in our diet. So fry your eggs in butter, guilt free!

2. Wean yourself from processed sugars.  

Sugary treats are all around us during this time of year. No need to avoid them, just be smart with how much you consume. It is known that sugar can have an addictive quality, so by limiting your consumption, you are avoiding the cravings. First, become aware of added sugars in your food by reading the labels.  There are many names for sugar, and food manufacturers can get away with adding excess sugar by using different names in their ingredient list. Avoid foods with multiple forms of sugar in their ingredient list, especially if they’re listed in the top five ingredients. Look for grams of “added sugar” on the nutrition label and try to stick to 5g or less.  Four grams equals 1 teaspoon, to help you visualize how much sugar you would be eating. Try decreasing the amount of sugar in your drinks. If you want a Starbuck sugar cookie latte, ask for half the amount of syrup and you might be surprised how flavorful and sweet it still is! If you do any holiday baking, try subbing pure maple syrup or local honey for white sugar in your recipes. Coconut sugar makes a great substitute for brown sugar. These natural and unprocessed sugars contain minerals and other properties that our bodies can recognize and use. 

3. Have healthy “grab and go” snacks on hand.  

The holidays are one of the busiest times of the year, which makes it easy to just grab whatever we have in our pantry to eat when we’re on the move.  Try having healthy snacks on hand to grab instead to avoid the refined flours and sugars. Some examples include: mixed nuts with dark chocolate chips, plain yogurt with cinnamon and frozen berries, grass-fed beef sticks, guacamole with keto or almond flour crackers, apples with nut butter or cheese. Dr. Ludwig, the author of Always Hungry? states “When you cut out fast-acting carbs, the part of your brain involved with cravings and addiction calm down”. Therefore, the quality of your snacks is very important for taming the cravings during this time of year!

4. Eat intuitively.  

It’s easy for us to eat and not pay much attention to what or how much we are eating. We are busy and oftentimes eat on autopilot. We are also oftentimes not aware about how certain foods make us feel.  If we slow down and start paying more attention to how we eat and what we eat, we may learn a lot. I learned in nutrition school that some foods can cause our bodies to react in a stressful way, like with an increased heart rate. I quickly noticed that sugary treats do that to me, and just listening to my body in this way has deterred me from eating sugary things when I may crave them, as a racing heartbeat is not a comfortable feeling for me. This is part of the concept of “intuitive eating”, which is becoming a popular buzzword. There are ten principles of “intuitive eating”, according to the groundbreaking book by Tribole & Resch. The ones most applicable to holiday eating choices include: eating foods that give us pleasure, while stopping when we feel we’ve had enough; feeling your fullness, so you can feel satisfied but not deprived; coping with your emotions without turning to food; and honoring your health with gentle nutrition so you can feel your best while not feeling guilty for what you eat. If you’re going to choose to eat fudge at the annual cookie exchange, sit down and be present with your fudge. Eat it slowly, enjoying the texture and tastes it brings. Smile while you enjoy the company of those around you and the joy the event brings to you. And then let it go, without any guilt and shame. 

If you have been struggling with your digestion, cravings, moods, joint pain, or just knowing what to eat when there is so much conflicting nutritional advice out there, you may want to consider signing up for my Restart class!  The Restart class is a five week course that goes into depth on the foundations of good nutritional eating. We discuss digestion, blood sugar regulation, and the truth about dietary fats. The course includes a 3 week sugar detox which allows your body a vacation from sugar and processed foods to see how much better you can feel when you give it the right foods to eat! And it’s a group class, so you’ll have the support of myself and others going through the same thing. People who have gone through the course have experienced the following: increased energy, more restful sleep, decreased pain, clarity and focus, clothes fitting better, and decreased anxiety. Reach out to me to sign up for the next class!

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