Psst. You ready for the holidays?
More importantly, are you ready to stay on track with your health goals?
I know what you’re thinking. Health goals, shmealth goals. The party must go on!
But listen up. What if I told you that you could do both – party and take steps towards your healthiest self? That you can find a balance this holiday season, and that it’s easier than you think?
Yes, really – and without depriving yourself one bit!
In fact, with my 7 practical tips below, you’ll:
- Gain more mental, emotional and physical energy to deal with enjoy your loved ones, conquer Black Friday sales, and block-and-tackle a crammed schedule like a pro;
- Enjoy your favorite festive indulgences with zero guilt;
- Handle unexpected stressors without getting sick;
- Strengthen your immune system;
- Begin to tune-in to your body; and
- Get ready to knock out your health goals in the new year!
So, what are you waiting for? Here are my 7 tips to Eat, Drink and Be Healthy this holiday season!
1. Make every meal or snack count.
There’s no shortage of food during the holidays. Yet, how many of us feel truly nourished by the end of it all? The reality is: for the six weeks starting in mid-November, we’re completely inundated with festivities, holiday sales, food courts, skipped meals, workplace potlucks, and parking lot rage – it’s no wonder that we emerge on the other end feeling knackered and practically dragging ourselves into the new year.
Keeping yourself fueled = keeping yourself stress-free and healthy.
So, whether you’re hosting the Big Day or tagging along for the ride, make every meal or snack balanced, nutrient-dense and colorful with a good mix of lean protein, whole-food fats, fiber, colorful fruits and veggies and herbs & spices. Here’s why:
- Lean protein: ideal for stress relief, managing anxiety, warding off carb cravings (and “hangry” episodes) and boosting your immunity! Some great sources are cage-free eggs, wild salmon, organic chicken or turkey, beans, nuts and seeds.
- Whole-food fats: keeps your brain sharp, and belly satisfied. Some of my favorites are avocados, coconuts, almonds, walnuts, olives, eggs and wild salmon (yep, you get a 2-for-1 with some protein sources!). Hummus, guac and nut-butter are all big stars in the whole-food fat department.
- Colorful fruits and veggies: loaded with immune-enhancing antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Grab a good mix of crunchy and leafy veggies and remember: the more colors, the more antioxidant protection you’re getting!
- Whole-food fiber: stabilizes your blood sugar, gives you energy, and feeds your gut bacteria. Some fantastic options are whole grains, beans, veggies and seeds.
- Herbs & spices: contain major anti-inflammatory benefits, which are great for lowering stress and strengthening your immunity. Many of these also contain impressive anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties. My current go-tos are oregano, rosemary, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper and cloves.
And balance looks different for everyone! For me, it’s loading ½ my plate with crunchy or leafy veggies (‘coz let’s be honest, most of us don’t get enough) and at least ¼ with a filling protein and fat source. The rest is up for grabs!
2. Plan ahead
In an ideal world, we’d all eat 3 balanced meals and call it a day. But since the holidays are made for less-than-ideal situations, potential for skipped meals and loads of snacking temptations, it’s time to plan ahead.
And planning ahead calls for meal prep! Keep your fridge or freezer stocked with ready-to-cook, or precooked ingredients that you can throw together in a flash. My favorites are cooked beans and grains, roasted veggies (like squash, sweet potato and beets), quick-saute veggies (like peppers, mushrooms, asparagus and spinach), handy protein+fat sources like eggs, salmon, and nuts. This would be the perfect time to buy a whole roasted organic chicken, and stock up on smoked salmon or tinned sardines. It’s a lot harder to crave empty foods and succumb to mindless snacking when you have easy access to a wholesome (and delicious) meal!
Another strategy is to front-load your nutrition. For instance, say your day is packed with back-to-back errands, happy hours and your kid’s holiday recital. Carve out at least one meal early on that means business! Power it up with proteins and whole-food fats that keep you fuller longer, as well as energy boosting foods like green leafy veggies and whole grains. Swap out the syrupy pancakes for poached eggs and replace the hash-browns with an avocado. Blend up a wholesome smoothie with greens, fiber-rich oats, chia and flax seeds for the road. Grab a green juice or a mineral-rich bone broth when you’re out and about. Keep a handful of nuts (like raw almonds) handy in your car for a quick nourishing snack.
Charge up your battery with the good stuff when you can; your choices may be limited later!
3. Make friends with water
If you’re a water guzzler and already drink 6-8 glasses of water a day with no problem, you can skip this one. But if you’re like me – you sometimes forget to drink water AND know the holidays involve a glass or two of your favorite party-juice, then read on.
Around 70% of your body is made up of water. This means your cells, blood, organs, muscles and tissues all depend on your water intake. Plus, your body loses quite a bit when you sweat, pee and breathe!! And then there’s the booze-train, which will dehydrate you no matter how you sip, chug or shoot it.
Drinking water not only helps your body digest and absorb the food you eat, but more importantly helps your organs process and eliminate the crap that doesn’t serve you (including the remnants of alcohol). Hydrating your body also relieves stress, anxiety and fatigue, regulates your body temperature and makes your skin glow (and who doesn’t want that?).
So, fill up your reusable water-bottle, keep it close – and if necessary, set an alarm to drink up every few hours. Sounds ultra dorky, but it works.
4. Get off your butt!
I don’t care if you do the hula-hoop, walk the Turkey Trot with your mom, take a hike with your dog, rock a power yoga class, or have a dance-off with the kids. Moving your body during the holidays (ideally for at least for 20 minutes every day):
- Gets your blood pumping, and helps your body detox itself (the skin is a major detox organ, so you get extra points if you break into a sweat);
- Helps your body generate energy, lifts your mood and clears your mind;
- Relieves stress and improves your sleep;
- Keeps your muscles active, toned and ready to knock out those fitness goals in 2019!
Bonus: get some sunlight while you’re at it – it’s a major mood booster in the winter months!
5. Support the good guys in your gut
Yep, I’m talking about your good bacteria. Think of them as the friendly workers lining your digestive tract all the way from your mouth to your colon, breaking down your food so it’s easily digested, protecting your immune system from pathogens, microbes (bad bacteria) and viruses, and potentially lifting your mood in the process!
Your good bacteria thrives on fermented food – so plain yogurt, kefir, raw sauerkraut, sourdough, kombucha, kimchi and miso are all excellent food choices for them. You know what else these guys love? FIBER, found in prebiotic foods like whole grains, most veggies and beans or legumes.
On the flip-side, too much sugar (particularly artificial sweeteners), refined carbs, chronic stress, antibiotics and conventional meat and poultry foods containing antibiotics, can throw off the delicate balance of your gut flora, leading to digestive issues and making you vulnerable to food allergies and infections.
So, keep your gut bacteria happy and healthy – especially if you tend to get sick during the holidays!
6. Sleep, snooze, power-nap.
Sure – it can be tough to prioritize sleep when you’re hosting relatives, or have 24-hour partying on the brain. But grabbing those zzzz’s when you can, ideally 7-8 hours every night and maintaining your body’s circadian rhythm, is one easy way to ward off holiday stress, anxiety, carb cravings and the tendency to overeat. Getting too little sleep also messes with blood sugar balance! There is some evidence to show that people who sleep less have higher cortisol levels (stress hormone) at night and lower insulin sensitivity in the mornings – which over time can lead to weight gain and low-grade inflammation.
To deepen your sleep during the holidays, lay off the usual suspects at least 2-3 hours before bedtime, namely: caffeine, sugar, food, alcohol and screen-time. Keeping your bedroom nice and dark (away from flashy holiday lights!), and powering down with an herbal tea or essential oils (I love a bit of lavender on my pillow) helps as well.
But even a 10-minute power-nap can go a long way! Make the time to rest, down-regulate, and conserve your energy reserves when you can.
7. Be mindful.
This means checking in with your body and asking yourself deep questions like: Do I really want the slice of pie that’s calling my name, or just a taste of it? Do I need to take a break from food? Am I eating for the sake of it? Will that giant pretzel satiate me, or leave me feeling empty? Am I hungry, or actually thirsty?
Being mindful could also be as simple as chewing your food, savoring every bite – and tuning in to how certain foods (and drinks) make you feel. Spacey, agitated, bloated and gassy, or cozy, focused, energized and happy?
Finally, mindfulness could involve being present with your loved ones (with a mandatory break from smartphones if necessary) and knowing when you need space to recoup. One of my clients calls this “protecting her time.” If you have a daily meditation practice, keep it going strong during the holidays. And, if you don’t, the holidays are a brilliant time to start (even a 2-minute daily practice can make a difference)!
So, don’t write off your health goals yet! Being intentional this holiday season, with even a couple of the above 7 tips can do wonders for how you start off the new year.
Do you have strategies to balance the fun and your well-being during the holidays? I want to hear about them – let me know in the comments below!
Need help getting healthy during the holidays, or staying on top of your health goals in the new year? Wonder why I go on and on about leafy greens? Curious about how the heck my services work? Sign up for my 15-minute FREE consultation session, and let’s talk!
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Mukta Gadkari is a Bay Area based Nutrition Consultant, educator and coach, and owner of Mukta’s Nutrition Kitchen. Her mission is to empower busy working professionals to find their balance and live healthier, happier lives through diet and lifestyle changes. She’s a lover of food, travel and big dogs, and thrives on kitchen experiments, yoga and sunshine.
To learn more about Mukta’s consulting and coaching services, click here.