Stay Healthy for the Holidays

A picture of Christmas garland with the blog post title "Stay Healthy for the Holidays Part One"

The holiday season is a wonderful time of the year! But with a house to decorate, gifts to buy, parties to throw (or attend), family gatherings, traveling and lots of unhealthy food to eat, many people end up stressed out, overwhelmed or worse yet, sick! I want to help you to make the holidays a much more joyous and healthy time! Here are a few things you can do to keep yourself healthy during the stress of the holidays!

Wash your hands

The holidays bring stress, sleep deprivation, the eating of highly processed, high fat, sugary foods….all of which lower the immune system. So as you go out for that shopping spree or to spend any time in public, where viruses and bacteria abound, make sure to wash your hands frequently. You will be touching door handles, shopping carts, counters and many other things that have been handled by a lot of other people, which makes for easy spreading of cold and flu germs. But, avoid antibacterial soaps, wipes and sprays. These widely used products, are filled with chemicals that are toxic to the body. The best course of action while you are out in public, is to wash your hands in a restroom.

Catch those zzzz’s

It is very easy to pack your holiday season with so many events and obligations that you find yourself getting less sleep in order to get it all done. But by not getting enough sleep, you actually lower your immune system and set yourself up to get sick! Also many people experience an increase in cravings for highly processed sugary and fat foods when they are sleep deprived. This happens as the body is looking for anything that will give it a quick burst of energy…but this reaction doesn’t last long. Ultimately consumption of these foods can stress your body and reduce the immune system even more!

Give yourself permission to say no!

Are you the type of person who struggles to day no. If you are, you’re not alone! It’s easy to say yes to things that we really don’t want to do out of guilt. But you aren’t superwoman and you have limits on what you can do…and that’s okay! If you give yourself permission to say no to those things that you really don’t want to do and allow yourself to let go of the guilt, it will set you up to be much less stressed and much happier.

Prioritize the events you attend

Limiting your obligations is sure to lower your stress level and give you some breathing room. Take some time and prioritize the parties and events on your calendar with your family. Choose those that are most important, and kindly decline those that will be too much.

Delegate, delegate, delegate!

If you are throwing a party, make sure you are not doing everything by yourself. Get your family or friends involved with setup, cooking and cleanup. Just think about what needs to be done and delegate the things that can be done by others.

Don’t even attempt to diet during the holidays!

Many people make the mistake of trying to diet during the holidays. But with diets come a feeling of deprivation which will make you much more apt to binge. The average weight gain over the holidays is 1-2 pounds. So instead of trying to lose weight, the goal should be to maintain your weight through the holiday season. Do this by being a little more choosy at the buffet at the party or event and selecting only those things that really appeal to you….don’t just take a little bit of everything. Make an effort not to overeat junk food and sugary goodies. Everything in moderation.

Don’t skip meals before a party or big meal

It is easy to skip meals in anticipation of a large Thanksgiving dinner or big holiday party. But that is just setting you up for a major binge…and it is going to set your blood sugar levels on a roller coaster ride which can actually cause anxiety and depression.

Balanced your meals

If you are going to a dinner party, choose a smaller lunch with good quality protein and some great fresh fruits and vegetables. If you are going to a large luncheon, then make yourself a small dinner.

Manage sugar cravings

When you eat a lot of sugar, you tend to crave more sugar and refined carbohydrates. This is actually due to the rapid rise and crash of blood sugar levels that happens when we consume those things. When your levels drop, so does your energy and the levels of serotonin and dopamine, two of the mood chemicals in the brain. This will lead you to reach for a few more Christmas cookies, or a triple latte for another pick me up. Doing this is a roller coaster ride for your blood sugar levels! If you are going to have some sugar or refined carbohydrates, also eat some protein, fiber and good quality fat!

These things help to balance blood sugar levels, so that you don’t experience a blood sugar crash! Increasing your consumption of healthy fats, such as coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, organic butter from pasture raised cows, pasture raised meat and poultry, free range eggs and raw dairy can significantly reduce your craving for not only highly processed sugar but refined carbs as well. Not only will it reduce your cravings, but because these foods are high in amino acids, vitamins and minerals, it will improve your mood as well.

Make the crock pot your friend!

During the busy days leading up to Christmas, it is easy to rely on fast food or processed convenience foods. This year make your crock pot your friend. There are a lot of crock pot meals that are incredibly simple to make. All you do it to throw the ingredients in your slow cooker, turn it on and let it cook all day. When you are ready to eat, it’s ready to go. This will allow you to still have some good quality meals instead of reaching for a lot of chemical filled, unhealthy convenience food. I have included some quick and simple slow cooker recipes that require very little time to prepare. My motto is “set it and forget it!” I have plenty right here on the site, so be sure to check them out!

Make healthy substitutions for classic holiday favorites

Do you really need to use that vegetable shortening in that cookie recipe or could you substitute coconut oil or butter? What about white sugar? Is there a healthier option such as erythritol or stevia? Yes, there are much healthier options that won’t change the taste of your favorites, but yet will boost the nutrient content and help to keep your blood sugar levels more stable. Eating healthy does not mean that you need to sacrifice taste or quality.

I don’t like eating food that tastes yucky and I will only eat foods that taste fantastic and that are satisfying as well! And forget about low-fat! If you think that you will have to skip the sweets when eating healthy, think again! I use great unprocessed sweeteners that are so good that you will never believe you are not using white, processed sugar. There is also no low-fat here! The body needs good, high quality fats that are full of balanced omega 3 and 6 fatty acids!

Skip the caffeine boost

Caffeine actually does more harm than good when it comes to boosting your energy levels. So instead of grabbing that espresso, latte, cola or energy drink pass them by. Caffeine may give you a short lived energy boost, but can cause negative health effects such as heart arrhythmia, high blood pressure, liver dysfunction, headaches and nausea. Caffeine prevents the body from absorbing vital minerals and vitamins and inhibits the production of the soothing, calming, natural anti-depressant serotonin. And it can also affect blood sugar levels which can significantly affect moods.  These beverages also often contain large amounts of sugar that can leave you feeling lethargic after your blood sugar drops.

Stock up on healthy grab and go snacks!

Having some healthy snacks available while you are out running from place to place can help keep you away from the fast food restaurants, convenience stores and vending machines. It’s also going to help keep your blood sugar levels even, which will help to keep your stress and anxiety at a lower level!

Don’t drink your calories!

It is easy to go overboard with sugar laden beverages during the holidays. The best rule of thumb is to limit the amount of eggnog, punch, cider, wine and spirits. Definitely no soft drinks, lattes or energy drinks! Try to limit yourself to no more than one or two glasses a day…saved for special occasions preferably. Just indulge sparingly and save your indulging on beverages for the special parties or dinners and not every day!

Reduce Stress

We already know that the holidays can be one of the most stressful times of the year. We end up with too much to do and too little time! But this year, there are a few things that you can do to reduce your stress level. This will help you to keep your immune system and energy at a better level.

Kick the Holiday Blues to the Curb

A lot of people struggle with the blues during the holiday season. This mild to moderate depression can have different sources. Some people are dealing with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and start feeling depression in late fall when it begins to get dark earlier. For others, it is a result of excess stress during a time of excessive business. And for many it has to do with an increase in consumption of foods that lead to unbalanced blood sugar levels. Here’s a few things you can do to help combat the holiday blues!

Get more light

To fight against the affects of seasonal affective disorder and the resulting depression, it is good to get a minimum of 30 minutes of full spectrum light a day. Sunlight is the best source but a good 150-200 watt full spectrum light bulb is another source. Make sure that the light is in front of your face, so that your eyes absorb it. Bright light increases serotonin levels in the brain, and when those levels fall too low, depression and anxiety are the result!

Balance the blood sugar

The rapid rising and falling of blood sugar levels is one of the quickest ways to induce both anxiety and depression. Eating refined sugar and carbohydrates will not only send your blood sugar on a roller coaster ride, but it will also deplete vital serotonin levels in your brain, which will make you crave more refined sugar and carbohydrates, which will further deplete serotonin levels.

It becomes a very unhealthy snowball effect. Of course, low serotonin levels are linked to anxiety, depression, impulsiveness, having a short attention span, feeling scattered or blocked, having intense cravings for sweets or refined carbohydrates. A great deal of the people who are seeking out medical attention for depression and anxiety have unbalanced blood sugar issues which have caused a deficiency in serotonin. Unfortunately, doctors who prescribe SSRI antidepressants are actually compounding the problem! These drugs do not produce or supply serotonin to the body, but they force the body to release what serotonin stores it already has….and if someone is already deficient in serotonin, the drug is only going to make matters worse! I’m going to tell you about one of the best types of food to increase to begin balancing out your blood sugar levels next!

Add more high quality animal protein and good fats

Low serotonin levels in the brain are one of the top causes of both anxiety and depression. Stress, medications, sugar, caffeine, tobacco, chemical food additives and processed food all work to strip away serotonin levels which, in turn leaves people feeling stressed out and blue. One of the best ways to build up serotonin levels is through eating protein….particularly animal protein. Animal protein, such as pasture raised beef, pork, chicken and turkey, wild pole caught fish, free range eggs and whole dairy products (preferably raw) are the only balanced sources of the full range of amino acids that the body and brain require to function effectively.

Nuts, seeds, legumes and some fruits and vegetables may contain certain amino acids…but not the complete and balanced types that animal protein contains.  Consuming high quality fats like extra virgin olive oil, extra virgin coconut oil, real butter from pasture raised cows and lard provide the body with the type of good cholesterol that the it needs to produce neurotransmitters, the chemicals that help to control our moods. The increase in low fat diets has caused an increase in mood related disorders in the past several decades because people are not getting enough of the good fats they need for their brain to function properly.

Low fat diets have also caused the body to go into a type of starvation mode. They are literally starving for quality fats! Avoid processed vegetable oils. These oils are highly processed and often have been extracted with the use of chemicals. They are naturally rancid and so have to be deodorized with even more chemicals. They are also incredibly high in omega 6 fatty acids. Too much omega 6 brings the body out of balance in its fatty acid levels.

Get your vitamins

During this time it is a good idea to take a high quality multivitamin. Stress and poor eating can strip away those vital nutrients and so it is important to replenish them regularly. Vitamins such as the B complex group can help you to be less stressed out and have more energy. Vitamin C is important for immune system function. Calcium and magnesium are also important for stress.

Doing these things can help to keep you healthy during the holidays…and keep you from feeling miserable!

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