By Deja Becknell, BSN
nutraMetrix Health & Nutrition Writer
The holidays are famous for cancelling any plans you had to keep your diet. We all know holidays mean food, and lots of it. Endless options can make it hard not to overindulge, this time only comes around once a year, right? Well, you can still enjoy your favorite dishes this season with just a little planning and mindfulness. Try these tips to help keep gut health in check over the holidays.
Consume Seasonal, Nutrient-Dense Foods
There are many ways you can cut down on the sugar and amp up the nutrients during the season. For example, many recipes today offer sweetener options such as applesauce, inulin fiber and even coconut sugar as a lower glycemic option. Try filling at least half of your plate with fiber-rich vegetables. Cook them in ways that enhance their natural flavors rather than hiding them in heavy sauces. It might be time to try something new and maximize your spice cabinet instead! The main goal is to get a good mix of different foods, control portion sizes and make healthy food swaps when you can. This doesn’t mean you should deprive yourself of the carb-filled foods you love, just slow down and savor smaller servings. Check out a list full of awesome (and healthy) recipes here.
Don’t Skip Meals
It may be tempting to skip breakfast and lunch around the holidays. Some people deem this as a necessary sacrifice, saving room for all of their favorite dishes later on. Sound familiar? It’s easy to assume this can prevent excess calorie intake, but it can actually wreak havoc on both the waistline and blood sugar levels. Avoid over-indulgence by eating balanced meals throughout the day before heading to your holiday table. When you skip meals, the body goes into survival mode and the brain fixates on food. As a result, your body craves food, and lots of it. This makes the meal more enticing, but also makes it harder to stop eating once a comfortable fullness has been reached. Instead of skipping meals you can try:
- Eat smaller meals throughout the day
- Choose healthy snacks. Those high
in fiber can help you feel fuller for longer. Some ideas include:
- Almonds, cashews and pistachios
- Apples, berries, bananas and grapes
- Carrots, bell peppers, celery and cucumber
- Plan your meals in advance if you know you’ll be busy.
Make sure to drink water before reaching for more food. Drinking water can help you not only feel fuller and more hydrated, but you’ll also be less likely to swipe that second piece of pie. If traveling, you may have to take matters into your own hands by planning ahead and bringing a water bottle with you – that way you can keep track of how much you’re consuming in a day. Unlike the summer months, when you’re primarily losing water from sweating, colder climates can dry out the skin. Increasing water intake is a great way to tackle this problem at the source. If you plan to consume alcohol, follow up each glass with a cup of water (your body will thank you in the morning!).
Add Digestive Enzymes
Every year, many people look forward to celebrating with sugary and fatty foods. We all know the importance of what we put into our bodies, but whether or not your body can break that food down is equally as important. The key to feeling great is to maintain a healthy gut environment on a consistent basis and taking digestive enzyme supplements can help support this process.
Increased fat intake can delay stomach emptying. This means that a huge meal could sit in your stomach longer than usual, causing discomfort. Large amounts of food can also increase the amount of undigested material in the gut, which can become a food source for all kinds of bacteria (both good and bad). The large numbers of bacteria can produce increased amounts of gas, contributing to bloating. Digestive enzymes help to break down macronutrients (protein, carbs, fat) and micronutrients (fiber, vitamins, and minerals), thereby helping your body to absorb the nutrients it needs as well as eliminate waste.*
Mindfulness refers to the practice of being aware and staying present in the moment. Eating mindfully can help you avoid the “any and everything goes” mentality that often results in overindulgence.
According to a study by Cornell University, the first three items in a buffet line are likely to make up 65% of your plate just because you see them first (Wansink & Hanks, 2013). Cut down on overeating by doing a full tour of the food options available and mindfully choosing the foods on your plate. This may mean you avoid the temptation of those store-bought cookies in favor of grandma’s sweet potato pie. There will likely be no shortage of carbs this season. Have some. Focus on the flavors and enjoy what you’re eating. After finishing your first helping, take at least a 20-minute break and reevaluate before eating again. It typically takes this long for your stomach to send the signal to the brain that you’re full.
Go for a Post-Meal Walk. Don’t Pause Workouts.
Think twice before you fall into a food coma this year. Walking is one of the best habits you can practice during the holiday season. Moving your body is a great way to promote stimulation of the stomach and intestines, helping food to move through more rapidly. Studies show taking a brisk 10-15-minute walk after meals can help ease digestion and stabilize blood sugar levels. Bring a walking buddy with you!
Skip the Guilt
This should be a time of relaxation, celebration and spending time with loved ones. If you do get off track, don’t give up. Everyone has off-days where they eat in excess and consume things they shouldn’t, so don’t beat yourself up about it. The most important thing is to take it as an opportunity to learn, set a new goal, and move forward. Surrendering in defeat and shame only makes it that much harder to tackle those New Year’s goals.
The thought of eating healthy during the holidays can seem daunting. If you do go overboard, remember not to get stuck in a rut. Try to get back on track as soon as you can. Setting boundaries for yourself, eating mindfully and making room for a variety of foods can set the stage for healthy habits even after the season has ended.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
5 Healthy Eating Tips for the Holidays. (2019, November 20). https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/library/features/holidays-healthy-eating.html.
Wansink, B., & Hanks, A. S. (2013, October 23). Slim by Design: Serving Healthy Foods First in Buffet Lines Improves Overall Meal Selection. PLOS ONE. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0077055.