Healthy through the Holidays
Christmas is coming closer and with it lots of occasions and temptations to indulge, especially in sweets and alcohol. Don't worry, I am not going to tell you to say no to everything. Not only would that be unnecessarily cruel, but even potentially counterproductive, since joining in on social gatherings and savoring traditional Christmas foods can create enormous joy and satisfaction (read: “relaxation”). Emotional and mental stress from missing out can negatively affect health and well-being in a way not to be underestimated. However, this is not a free-ride ticket, because too much sugar and alcohol (and also wheat, refined vegetable oils and additives, which are also popular ingredients in Christmas “goodies”) creates unhealthy physical stress and inflammation. So it's about finding that (individual) line between being overly strict on the one hand and abusing your body on the other hand, in order to minimize total stress (the sum of emotional and physical stress) and to get you through the holiday season with joy AND health.
Before I give you my tips of how to navigate the Christmas time in a joyful and healthy way, let me quickly recap WHY overindulging in sweets and alcohol can be problematic:
· They deplete the body of important nutrients
· They deregulate blood sugar
· They increase inflammation
· They make you store more fat, especially around the belly
· They contribute to estrogen dominance, PCOS and insulin resistance
· They lower immunity
· They contribute to the overgrowth of bad bacteria and yeast in your gut, increasing the risk for digestive issues, autoimmune conditions, skin issues, mood issues and more
· They cause bad teeth (more due to demineralization than bacteria in the mouth)
It might come as a surprise, but excessive mental or emotional stress can do the same!
This is why our goal should be to optimize joy and health, while minimizing total stress (defined as the sum of mental, emotional and physical stress). Here are some strategies to help you do so:
Choose quality over quantity
Whatever goes into your body should be of the highest quality, because that's what you deserve! It is much better for the body and much more enjoyable for the senses to choose one high quality praline, than to eat a whole pack of cheap ones. Likewise, even if the quality is not top, you could choose to just have a tiny piece, slice or sip of <fill in the name of your favorite treat> to join in with the others. For me personally, this is what works best. I don't have the frustration of “missing out”, I still get the pleasure of “the taste”, while I don't have to stress about “trashing” my body. Less is really more!
Take your time to savor
Goes together with the previous one: Select treats that are REALLY worth it and/or go for a tiny portion and then savor them slowly and consciously with all your senses. The pleasure will be so much more intense and fulfilling than when you gulp down a whole box of <fill in the name of your favorite treat> while being semi-distracted. Just because you have more of something doesn't make it taste better – quite to the contrary…
Get into the kitchen
Instead of buying cookies and Christmas sweets from the store, get into the kitchen and make your own! Not only will you be able to control the quality of ingredients (tip: only choose high quality, organic ingredients) and go for more blood sugar-friendly recipes (tip: usually the ones using gluten-free flours like almond, chestnut or coconut flour and combining those with lots of healthy fats like butter, coconut oil, avocado, eggs and/or nuts), but you will also be likely to eat less, because you are aware of the effort that it takes to make them! The pleasure of eating something self-made is also usually bigger than just eating something store-bought. So an absolute win-win!
Always act from a place of Love
It all comes down to this: Ask yourself: What would be the most loving thing to do right now? The answer can vary depending on the circumstances, your individual constitution, your bigger goals and the quality of the temptation. Generally, if you care about your health and your body, the most loving choice would probably be to say NO to the temptation most of the times - especially if the treat in question is of low-quality (as most of those available commercially or on Christmas markets are). This is especially true if you have a bigger goal, such as recovering from a health-related condition (or preventing it) or optimizing your fertility, or if you know, that your body is simply more sensitive than other peoples` bodies. Even if it makes you feel temporarily frustrated, teaching yourself the concept of “delayed gratification” can be a very loving thing to do, as most parents would confirm. Because even if we usually think about sweets and alcohol as a reward, they are most often rather a punishment to our physiology.
However, sometimes the most loving thing to do is indeed to say YES to the treat, independent of its quality. This could be the case if the taste reminds you of your childhood (and that memory is actually a good one), or if it simply belongs to a certain experience to make it feel “complete”. It could also be worth to say YES if eating the treat would make another person extremely happy - like your grandma, who prepared your favorite cake just for you. (However, in other cases, saying NO might be what is needed in such situations, in order to set clear boundaries and stop eating just to please others.)
So, there are no clear rules, you really have to judge for yourself from case to case. To do so, really check in with yourself and be honest about your true needs and motivations. Do you really need that additional cookie or are you simply bored and looking for a distraction? Does it really make a difference whether you drink Glühwein or a tea on the Christmas market? Do you really need it to complete the experience, or rather to avoid the discomfort of sticking out? Does having dessert really provide you that much of added value and if so, could a small portion do the trick? As a general rule of thumb, indulging should bring you EXTREME joy and pleasure, not just some “ordinary” version of it. You should want to really take your time and savor your treat. If you just gulp it down, you are probably betraying yourself about your true motivations. As mentioned before, you could also say yes AND no, by allowing yourself to have the treat, but only a tiny amount of it.
So make this Christmas a true feast of LOVE - for yourself, and of course also for others. Which leads me to another (similar) post, in which I also talk about choosing truly loving Christmas gifts (so Christmas gifts that do not HURT the health of another person), that you can read here.