In this guest post, Naturopathic Doctor Melissa Willms shares how to have fun AND stay healthy this holiday season. Sign up for our e-newsletter to keep the health tips (and product deals) coming - straight to your inbox!
December is typically a busy month of parties, potlucks, concerts, family gatherings and last minute trips to the mall. The holidays are an exciting time, but they can seriously sabotage your healthy habits. Don’t let the temptations of the season get you side-tracked from feeling your best, both body and mind. Start the New Year without guilt by following my top 10 tips to healthify the holidays.
1. Blend your breakfast. If you have minimal control over your meals during the holiday season, start your day with a super healthy smoothie. You can pack so much nutrition into a delicious blended beverage and given the right ingredients, smoothies can be a meal replacement. Start with a clean vegetarian protein powder, a large handful of spinach or greens of your choice, a cup of unsweetened almond or coconut milk, 1 Tbsp of flax seeds, 1 Tbsp of coconut oil and water or ice to desired consistency. Try to avoid the fruit or keep minimal to reduce the sugar and carb content and prevent digestive discomfort. Fruit and protein do not digest well together and can lead to bloating and gas for some people. If you absolutely must, use berries as a source of low glycemic sweetness, antioxidants and fibre.
2. Smart Sinning – If you are going to indulge, choose smartly and wisely. Save the treats for times when it’s really worth it; Grandma’s famous sugar cookies, Aunt Alice’s peanut butter balls, a serving of stuffing with your turkey dinner or your favourite glass of wine. Temptations are everywhere over the holidays and if you give in to all of them, you will seriously detour away from your health goals and will be left with a bloated belly and a sugar hang over.
3. Be a Kid Again – For children, socializing means running around and playing. This December, find your inner child and choose to be active instead socializing over cocktails or dinner. Go for a winter hike, try down hill or cross-country skiing, build a snow fort, go tobogganing or ice-skating. Winter is a great time to find your inner child, be active, get out in your community and have fun.
4. Indulge in Liquid Gold - Although it is tempting to reach for the fancy sweet coffee drinks while running errands or brunching with friends, liquid calories only add inches to your waistline, cause blood sugar and insulin havoc and leave you feeling hungry and unsatisfied. The caffeine in coffee will increase your cortisol level, which increases anxiety, stress, weight gain and belly fat. Keep the sweet coffee drinks as a rare treat and sip on Green Tea the rest of the time.
Green Tea (and varieties such as white and oolong) have been shown in research to be chemo preventative, are full of anti-aging antioxidants and contain metabolism enhancing EGCG. Green tea contains some caffeine but its stimulating effect is balanced by a nutrient called L-Theanine, which is calming to the nervous system and helps reduce cortisol. That is why L-theanine is often used to treat anxiety. Green Tea truly is Liquid Gold!
5. Grazing be gone! – When we look at how cows eat, they graze on grass all day long. Translated to humans, grazing can be dangerous territory for weight gain. It is harder to keep track of how much you are eating and it sets your blood sugar and insulin levels on a roller coaster ride. Every time you put something in your mouth, insulin sends a signal for your body to deal with the influx of calories—either burn for fuel or store as fat. Most of us are sedentary, sitting at a desk during the day so we don’t burn enough energy. Therefore, the additional calories go to fat storage. Minimize snacking and grazing between meals to give the body more of an opportunity to burn fat and less of an opportunity to store it. Aim for 4-5 hours between meals without snacking for ideal fat burn.
6. Take a load off. It is easy to fill your holiday schedule with events and places to be. Keep some days unplanned. Give yourself down time to lounge, watch movies, cuddle, make a puzzle, get creative (adult colouring books are all the rage these days), or even consider going away on a holiday. If your days are too busy, stress and cortisol levels will skyrocket and lead to weight gain, insomnia, anxiety and indigestion. Schedule down time to be present, enjoy meaningful conversation, laugh, and reflect on your experience of the past year.
7. Protect your immune army. Keep your immune system in top shape by keeping up your morning smoothie routine, participating in regular exercise and drink lots of water. You can also dose up on immune supportive nutrients such as vitamin A, D, C, Zinc, B12 and a probiotic.
8. Drink water!! Lots of it. Dehydration is often misinterpreted as hunger, resulting in the consumption of more calories than necessary. It is also important to hydrate because holiday parties mean dehydrating holiday cocktails. Use the age old trick of alternating an alcoholic drink with a glass of water or try adding seltzer water to a glass of white wine or diluting a sugary cocktail. Herbal teas that are caffeine free also count as water so consume liberally. My favourite tea during the holidays is Rooibos Chai.
9. Beat the bloat. When you have less control over your meals, rely on digestive enzymes to help reduce bloating and a sense of fullness. Digestive enzymes act to supplement your body’s natural pancreatic enzymes, bile and hydrochloric acid, making it easier to digest rich meals. If you forget your enzymes, drink a cup of lemon water before your meal and sip on a cup of peppermint, ginger or chamomile tea.
10. Be gentle, kind, and realistic. December is not the best month to lose weight so don’t put pressure on yourself to do so. This will only cause you stress which ultimately leads to more weight gain. I like to encourage maintenance over the holidays. If you can get through without gaining additional weight then you are doing well! And don’t beat yourself up for going off track. Instead of “falling” off the bandwagon, “choose” to step off momentarily and “choose” to step back on again. Don’t give up on weeks or months of healthy habits because you “cheated” and had a slice of caramel cheesecake at Christmas dinner. Savour every mouthful and the next day, start with a healthy smoothie and a mug of green tea. Life is about balance and you shouldn’t expect perfection. Instead, practice your healthy habits on a regular basis and leave some space to indulge in the little things that make life special and meaningful.
Dr. Melissa Willms is a Naturopathic Doctor at Sanas Health Practice in Kitchener, ON. This green smoothie lover strives to empower her patients to achieve optimal health through cleansing and detoxification practices and nutritional based medicine. She regularly gives public seminars at Goodness Me and other community organizations. She has special interests in thyroid disease, women’s health, infertility, menopause and weight loss. Dr. Melissa has transformed her own life and strives to foster the same passion for adventure, life balance, and optimal health in each of her patients. Dr. Melissa Willms is a member of the following associations: OAND, CAND, College of Naturopaths of Ontario.
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