by: J Gulinello, Nutrition Therapy Practitioner
Eating healthy around the holidays…BOOOO! Who wants to eat healthy around the holidays? Isn’t that half the fun of the holidays? To let go and really, really…REALLY indulge?! I think the answer to that question is both yes and no. I think it’s far more complicated and also depends on your goals in health, performance and life in general. Health has multiple elements to it. Psychological health is a big part of how we feel on a daily basis. Sure it’s important that our physical body feels good but we must not discount psychological health. This is where the answer to the opening question is YES! The holidays are typically a departure from how we normally eat. Very often if we’re traveling we are eating on the go and when we get to where we are going we are bombarded with a variety of delicious choices that, even if we are serious about maintaining a healthy lifestyle, make that next to impossible! With a better understanding of nutrition and how the body works we can have our preverbal cake and eat it too!
Let me start by saying I am not a proponent of the calories in/calories out model of weight loss and weight gain. This is a dramatic oversimplification of the processes of the human body and discounts too many proven scientific understandings. While calories do matter, they are only part of the equation. I am happy to go into much greater detail on this at another time. For the remainder of this article I won’t focus as much on what to eat because that is highly individual and honestly would take up far too much space in a quick tip article. So that being said perhaps the first way to not fall off the healthy eating wagon during the holidays is mindful eating. This has so many connotations, from excess snacking to eating while standing in front of the television or even just eating when bored. The first question to ask yourself, and I mean literally say this to yourself in your head or out loud if you’re alone…or not, if don’t mind people thinking you have an imaginary friend, is “am I actually hungry?” Seems simple but you may be surprised at your answer. Very often when I take a second to analyze how I feel, the answer is no or not really. Sometimes we eat because our bodies get used to eating at specific times or in specific settings. The idea is to nourish yourself when nourishment is truly necessary, this is our evolution. We are not set up for constant nutritional input. We actually evolved for the feast and famine cycle. There are many mechanisms in the body that keep us functioning in that cycle. So let’s all take a deep breath and truly be mindful. That one single step alone will create a better set up for the body when we actually do choose to eat…Oh you can let that breath out now.
The next holiday problem we face is over eating. There are several ways to approach this problem but let’s face it, it’s the holidays, and we will overeat to some degree. I find that two little tips can help us lessen the impact of a caloric free for all. You may have guessed that drinking plenty of water throughout the day is very important, especially with increased alcohol consumption around the holidays. What you may not know is that a tablespoon or two of apple cider vinegar diluted in a small amount of water maybe with a little lemon about thirty minutes prior to eating can help aid in digestion. It will increase the acidity in the stomach and prime the digestive system for the incoming onslaught of delicious food. Since we don’t want to dilute the stomach with too much water, dilute the ACV with as little water before the meal as you can tolerate. Also to keep the acidity in the stomach up while we eat, just sip water during the meal, just enough to keep things moist…no gulping! The other small trick is to chew your food. Yup, grandma was right! Chew! Chew! Chew! This is another form of mindful eating. If you find it difficult to chew each bite for thirty seconds, try putting your fork down in between bites. This generally will slow the process down and again, not to beat a dead turkey here, but aid in digestion. It will also allow for the systems in the body that are responsible for releasing satiety hormones to do their job. Very often we eat so quickly that we are actually full before we feel full. This obvious problem results in overeating and some distress after the meal.
One last tip I’d like to discuss is something known as intermittent fasting, time restricted eating or compressing you eating window. Sounds scary right?! I promise it’s not, in fact we all fast and time restrict our eating every day…unless you’re waking up every night and sneaking to the fridge and stuffing last night’s leftovers down your throat! That’s right, when we sleep we fast! Obviously the time varies between our last meal of the previous night and the meal that breaks your fast the next day…aka breakfast. Contrary to popular belief, breakfast is not a requirement for living. I know that cereal manufacturers tell us it is the most important meal of the day but the truth is that we are in a beautiful, mildly ketogenic (fat burning) state in the morning and the longer we can delay our first meal the greater metabolic advantage we gain. Too many to list in one article but everything from gut repair to improving insulin sensitivity are just some of the benefits from pushing that first meal until a little later than we are used to. You can use this practice in everyday life, but specifically around the “eating holidays” it can truly become a powerful weapon to help us eat healthier and more importantly, handle, digest and process what we do choose to eat more effectively.
I always like to practice what I preach so I personally engage in each of these tips almost every day and the longer you practice the easier it becomes. In fact most of this is second nature to me by now and it truly makes a difference. I am just a regular person who chose to train himself to do things a little differently. It works the same as exercise, the more you do something the more it becomes a routine, it’s just what you do, it requires such little effort over time. A bonus tip for all of you who have the opportunity to make this one happen. I try and exercise even on the holidays. The past few Thanksgivings I have signed up for a road race for charity. It has the benefit of giving and also getting your potentially diet killing holiday off to a great start. For those of you who won’t be home for the holidays or can’t make an early morning road race happen, take the time to take a walk after dinner. Even a short walk in the post digestive state can help the body activate fat burning enzymes and keep them going for hours after. So take advantage of this bio hack and grab a friend or family member you haven’t had one on one time with in a while and take a walk together. The benefits go far beyond just reconnecting.
These are obviously only a few general ideas of how to stay on track and healthy around the holidays yet still enjoy why we love them so much. Eating in a relaxed state, being truly grateful for your food and taking a moment to be mindful before we eat can help put the body in a parasympathetic state that is crucial for proper digestion. There is so much nuance to modern nutrition and the constant barrage of advertising, newest trends and nutritional gurus can over complicate what should be intuitive for human beings. I look forward to meeting many of you and helping each of you attain your fitness, health and nutritional goals. I am a believer in the critical role proper nutrition plays in the body. After all, food is the fuel we life off of. Whether we are trying to lose weight, build muscle, fight disease or simply live an active and healthy life, nutrition is the first step in all of these goals. The body is an amazing machine and will function, for a time, no matter how we treat it. So let’s choose to treat it well and watch it return the favor.
Finally, I want to share with you one of my favorite quotes that summarizes the way I view nutrition…”Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” I wish you all a happy and healthy holiday season.
J Gulinello NTP, Certified Personal Trainer