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Tips for Staying Healthy During the Holidays

Updated: Aug 22, 2022

Whether it’s the colder temperature, less physical activity, the festive seasonal spirit or simply the craving for warm, comfort (often unhealthy) food, some of us still pack a few extra pounds during this cherished time of year. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Read below for some helpful ideas on how to minimize holiday weight gain and feel healthier and happier when the New Year arrives!

Just Say No to “White Food”

Most holiday gatherings and quite honestly many gatherings all year round are composed of “white foods.” These include white bread, white potatoes, white rice, white chips (potato and corn), white sugar, mayonnaise, white flours, cheese, ice cream, etc. Though these decadent morsels are tasty, they are generally unhealthy as they substantially raise blood sugar compared to complex carbohydrates (vegetables and fruits and some whole grains). In excess, they can cause excess pounds and unwanted stored body fat. They are traditionally part of the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) which is definitely a sad way to eat all of the time. Many years ago in my 20’s and for most of my childhood, I was addicted to sugar, candy, baked goods, sourdough bread – and couldn’t get enough of them. Every holiday season, I’d overindulge. I’d justify it saying that I ate healthy most of the time and regularly exercised. I always felt terrible, bloated, lethargic and even a bit depressed. I couldn’t understand why I felt so down when I should have been happy and relaxed around family during the holidays. Years later, I would understand that it was from refined carbohydrate overload. Moderate or avoid these “white food” offenders and you will feel better on so many levels!

Dismiss the Desserts

If you reduce must indulge and you likely will (it’s the Holiday of course!), take a small piece of that sugary treat, have a couple of bites, then quickly pass it on to someone who isn’t reading this article (and should be) or simply toss it. Better to waste in the trash than “waste” on your body in the form of body fat, right? Even better if you can make your own dessert with healthier forms of sweeteners like pure maple syrup, honey, molasses, coconut sugar, agave nectar, stevia and more. Cut out the flours and make it flourless using coconut and almond flours. There are literally thousands of reduced sugar and flourless desserts floating around on the internet just waiting to be created, shared and savored by you and your family, friends and colleagues. Recently, I went to a Friends-Giving dinner with some girlfriends and made this healthy dessert recipe (slightly modified as I do with most recipes) – It was a hit! They loved it and asked for the recipe. Simple, tasty, flourless, no white sugar, no baking involved and pleasantly satisfied everyone’s sweet tooth.

Go Green (& Red, Yellow, Orange, Purple)

What rainbow colored foods are low in calories, abundant in phyto-nutrients, vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and water? Nope, it’s not M&M’s or Christmas cookies. Vegetables and fruits of course! These nutrient dense, power packed, healthy carbohydrates should make up a large percentage of your diet and the holidays are no exception. Fill your belly with dark leafy greens, broccoli, green beans, beets, carrots, apples, berries, purple cabbage and a cornucopia of other colorful produce. Higher in fiber, they are naturally filling and yet slow to metabolize due to the complex carbohydrates. This is much better for your blood glucose levels and avoids hypoglycemia (blood sugar crashes) brought on by refined carbohydrates like white flour, white rice, sugar, potatoes. Most of my close friends and family members know that when I join them at a potluck dinner party (holiday season or not), I typically bring a healthy salad that includes a variety of tasty fresh vegetables and sometimes includes berries. It’s usually one of the healthier options at these parties and the majority of people really enjoy it. Your body will appreciate you for choosing these nutritious carbohydrates instead!

Intermittent Fasting

Quite the trending dietary weight loss and maintenance practice these days! Intermittent fasting is known as cyclic periods of fasting or caloric restriction alternating with non-fasting or eating meals and snacks often in the same day or week. Different than more temporary or food restrictive programs like the Paleo Diet, the Ketogenic Diet or the Whole 30 diet (though all of those are excellent too), intermittent fasting is more of a consistent, long term lifestyle habit that can easily be incorporated into most people’s lives each day, week, month and all year long. There are three main types of intermittent fasting: alternate day fasting, periodic fasting and time restricted feeding. Alternate day fasting involves eating 25% less calories one full waking day and the normal amount of calories (or slightly more) the next day. Periodic Fasting (most commonly 5:2) involves eating 500-600 calories or 25% less calories 2 days a week and the other 5 days you are eating as you normally do. Time Restricted Feeding (most commonly 16:8) involves eating during certain hours of the day like 16 hours of fasting and eating during the 8 hours that you are awake. Time Restricted Feeding seems to be the most common with many of my patients and other people I’ve spoken with. First meal is around 11am or 12pm and you stop eating at 7 or 8pm. Health advantages include weight loss or maintenance, improved insulin resistance (better blood glucose regulation), lowered triglycerides and cholesterol, improved energy, digestion, mood, sleep and many other benefits. During the busy holidays, this is a convenient and fairly straight forward method to keep that scale from rising!

Moderate the Booze

If you knew or remembered how many calories in a glass(es) of wine, cocktails, beer, you might think twice about overindulging. But most people don’t consider that. Why would you when you’re in the company of good, fun people at a holiday gathering? It’s liquid – how heavy and caloric can it be? It is deceiving how truly caloric it is. Alcohol gets converted into sugar and if in excess, gets transformed into triglycerides or fat. Add in dining out at restaurants, holiday parties, potluck gatherings, and now you’ve got a little (or a lotta) belly come January that wasn’t there Pre-Holidays. For every alcoholic beverage, always be sure to drink 1-2 glasses of water and get a good workout in the next day to sweat out the toxic and storage effects of alcohol. Plus, alcohol is a depressant (and can be a stimulant) that not only interferes with deep sleep, it depletes precious vitamins, minerals and alters the biochemistry of neurotransmitters (i.e. Glutamate and GABA) – chemical messengers that communicate throughout the body and affect emotions, thoughts and behaviors. Excess or daily consumption of alcohol can lead to mood swings and diminished motivation and desire for positive changes in life – like better health. Always a friendly reminder: moderation (or elimination for some) is paramount.

Hydrate to Happy

If you live in California, you know full well that we are having an extremely dry and warmer than usual Fall season. Add in colder evening temperatures, heated homes, offices and other buildings and you’ve got the perfect recipe for drier skin and drier nasal airways, sinuses and lungs. And ‘tis the season to drink more coffee, pumpkin lattes and peppermint mochas, green and black tea and other caffeinated beverages that deplete our bodies of water and nutrients thanks to the diuretic effects of caffeine. I love a delicious, bold cup of coffee and the occasional latte or mocha. But I also developed a super healthy habit many years ago of carrying a clean, reusable water bottle with me everywhere I go and refill it multiple times a day. Yep, I visit the restroom quite often in a 24-hour period. But my body appreciates it immensely. Our bodies are composed of 60% water and thrive on clean, filtered water. This season is just as important as any other season. Strive for 7-9 cups of water per day, add humidifiers to your homes and workplace (if possible) and use essential oil diffusers with a few drops of eucalyptus, peppermint or other respiratory supportive oils. Like anything, developing a new, positive habit just takes time.

Move your Muscles

Just because it’s getting chillier and darker earlier, that’s no excuse or “hall pass” to be sedentary. If you’re paying for a gym membership, use it. If you live in a region where it’s still sunny with blue skies and little rain (poor California), take advantage of this time before the winter hits. If you live in a rainy, colder climate, layer up and hit the trails or the sidewalk. Only have 20-30 minutes? Not a problem. No need to work out for 60 minutes as tradition has told us. I often tell patients, “30 minutes is better than 0 minutes.” Even better, work those powerful muscles. Why is that so important? The more you challenge your muscles and the stronger they become, your total metabolism increases and that means fat loss, smaller clothes size and you look and feel amazing! Plus a stronger core makes you less prone to injuries, not to mention sexier. About 2 years ago, I joined a new gym and started taking group exercise classes of cardiovascular exercise and muscle strengthening exercises. These classes (rather the fitness instructors) have challenged me in ways that I never would have on my own accord or with exercise DVD’s. My body has become stronger and leaner because of the increased muscle strength and my energy and metabolism have skyrocketed! If consistent exercise is already part of your life, great job! If it’s slipped to the back burner of life, restoke that fire again. This lifestyle habit has the power to transform your life in so many amazing ways!

Sleep The Pounds Away

Ahh, sleep…Who doesn’t love a good night’s rest in your cozy, warm bed as the daylight hours diminish until the winter solstice? While sleep is crucial, it is also essential for a plethora of health benefits. Sleeping is not merely an inactive, sedentary state. Rather this is the prime time for recovery, repair and the production and release of hormones, neurotransmitters, proteins, beneficial gut bacteria and rejuvenation of all of our organs – skin, brain, heart, muscles, GI Tract and more! Cortisol, one of our stress hormones, is usually at it’s lowest and that means there’s less catabolic destruction and more time for positive growth.

Furthermore, when our bodies are consistently getting deep sleep, it not only makes us happier humans, we digest our meals more efficiently, our metabolism increases and this means we burn more fat and maintain our weight much easier. Cheers to sleep!

Food for the Mind & Soul

What simple practice is nourishment for the mind and soul and has the power to improve your total health? Gratitude! Feeling grateful for aspects in our lives can produce profound results. It can be the feeling of community, belonging and love from your family, partner, friends, coworkers and neighbors. Or the peaceful mornings to savor your cup of coffee or tea, your pet that greets you with unconditional love, a stunning sunset, your good health or your relentless beating heart that is keeping you alive on this beautiful planet. Or perhaps it’s the stranger that said hello and gave you a smile on a rough day that you needed it most.

Health benefits of regularly practicing gratitude are abundant and include greater psychological and emotional health, better sleep, mood and digestion, compassion towards others and self, stronger optimism, resilience and more harmonious relationships at home and work. Recently, I sat down to write 3 things I’m grateful for before I went to bed and I ended up writing 15 things instead. I was pleasantly reminded of how peaceful and calm I felt as my cup of life overflowed with gratitude and joy. Regular practice will help you as well!

Warmest wishes for happy and healthy Holidays!

Dr. Kristi Tompkins

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