The holidays bring both happiness and stress. We’re excited by the festivities, the time with loved ones, the great food. But we also have more to do: events, shopping, decorating, entertaining. These extra responsibilities combined with all the celebrating can really throw us off.
By January, we’re beat, we’ve neglected our workouts and we may have packed on more than a few pounds. How do we indulge in the holidays, safeguard our health and maintain a healthy weight? We go in with a healthy eating, sugar-blocking plan and support our efforts from all angles.
Food, food everywhere
During the holidays, there’s no refuge from tasty, high-calorie foods. Colleagues flood the office with every variety of food basket, each holiday meal is richer than the last one and sweets seem to magically appear out of nowhere. From Halloween to New Year’s, there’s simply no escape. Quite often the problem begins small. We say, “I’ll have just one treat.” The trouble is that one treat can create a cycle of dependence: a short-lived blood sugar spike, followed by a crash and the craving for more instant-energy, sugary treats. “Just one” leads to “just a few more.”
Make smart food choices
It’s unlikely we can completely resist the holiday smorgasbord. However, we can set limits and stock up on healthy antidotes to sugar and its close cousin, “comfort carbs.” One simple tip is to keep low-sugar (i.e., low glycemic index) snacks on hand, such as nuts, green vegetables and lean protein.
Wholesome, fiber-rich snacks, as well as nutrition bars that are high in fiber, can also help to slow the absorption of sugars. Whole-food examples include oats and granola, raspberries, almonds and pistachios, peas and beans, and many vegetables. By slowing sugar absorption with extra fiber and protein, we can minimize glucose spikes and help prevent weight gain. Furthermore, with wholesome snacks on hand we can lessen the need to make rash choices. It’s OK to indulge; just be sure to balance it out.
Drinking: Moderation is key
While we’re on the subject of indulgence, try to limit wine, beer and spirits. Alcohol can spike blood glucose and stimulate sugar cravings. The worst offenders are sugary mixed drinks, sweet wines and cordials or liqueurs. Drink a glass of water between alcoholic drinks and don’t drink to excess. Do you really need more than one or two cocktails?
Control blood sugar with exercise
In addition to burning calories, exercise controls blood glucose and lowers stress. Remember, the workout doesn’t need to be strenuous to be healthy. Thirty minutes of moderate exercise each day will go a long way. In particular, I recommend qi gong, tai chi and yoga. These exercises are gentle on the body; they incorporate mindful breathing and are shown to reduce stress, benefit the brain and support overall health. Less stress means you’ll be less tempted to soothe yourself with food.
Get more sleep
Sleep disruption can contribute to a variety of health issues. In particular, lack of sleep has been linked to increased cortisol, weight gain and other metabolic issues, including type 2 diabetes. Try to go to bed around the same time each night. This becomes difficult during the holidays, as parties, shopping and secret late-night gift wrapping compete; again, we succeed by setting limits. While it may be tempting to squeeze every last bit of fun from that Christmas party, it’s a good idea to leave a little on the table for next time.
Take the right supplements
Supplements can mitigate dietary excesses. In my clinic, I use American ginseng, seaweed-derived alginates, the mineral chromium polynicotinate, alpha lipoic acid, cinnamon and other ingredients drawn from traditional herbalism and leading nutritional research. These natural agents help to balance blood glucose, reduce sugar cravings and maintain a healthy weight. Look for a comprehensive metabolic formula containing these or other natural ingredients that can maintain healthy blood glucose levels and promote the metabolizing of sugars and fats.
Circulation support is also important, as we tend to be more sluggish during the colder months, which can lead to metabolic imbalance and eventual weight gain. I recommend supplements containing the powerful circulation-boosting enzyme nattokinase, along with hawthorn berry, Chinese salvia and other ingredients such as medicinal mushrooms and L-carnitine. These natural ingredients can aid circulation, provide antioxidants and help maintain healthy inflammation levels, all important in supporting a healthy weight.
Above all, make the enjoyment last. By choosing wisely during the holidays, we reduce the need to take drastic action once the party’s over.