The holiday season is always a mixed bag when it comes to well-being.
One one hand there’s tons of celebrating which includes meeting up with friends and family with lots of fun, eating and drinking. Along with all of this is the added stress that comes with juggling different things and being scheduled within an inch of your life.
To make things worse, people often don’t get enough sleep, can over-use caffeine to compensate and eat stuff that they might normally avoid – fast food court anyone?
This can all wreck havoc on your overall sense of well-being, healthy eating and living goals and of course, the very thing that bears the brunt of it all, your digestive tract.
The good news is, with a few simple tricks [dare I say “hacks”?] up your sleeve, you can still enjoy the holidays without abandoning your health goals or at the expense of your digestive health.
11 Ways For You (And Your Gut) To Survive The Holidays
Fiber & protein: fiber and protein-rich foods are a great way to fill up and to help keep you feeling satisfied. This isn’t about not eating some of your favourite foods during the holidays but a way to leverage fiber & protein’s ability to keep you satisfied without blowing the bank. Whether you’re heading out to shop, run errands or off to a party, fiber and protein are your ally to staying on track while giving you the nutrients you need.
If you’re at a party, getting in some extra vegetables or whole fruit at the buffet table along with some protein will help you to keep your healthy eating goals on track. And remember, healthy holiday-ing is a marathon, not a sprint. You’ll have lots of opportunity to enjoy treats etc so there’s nothing wrong with “pacing yourself”.
By not over-doing it, your digestive tract will be happy and so will you. You’ll have less indigestion, less bloat, less gas, and you’ll sleep better.
Mindfulness: simple in principle, a little tougher to put into practice. With a little effort however, mindfulness will go along way to help you any time of the year. When you’re eating, bring your attention to what you’re eating. Taste it. Feel it in your mouth; notice the textures. Savour the flavour and ENJOY the moment.
We often eat on autopilot, not being present and before we know it, don’t even remember eating anything. The impulse? To have more of course and why not? You didn’t remember enjoying it the first time around.
Also, being mindful is more than just “the present moment” too. It’s also about having a plan. As the saying goes people don’t plan to fail, but they often fail to pal. Be strategic, think about what you’ll have, stick to it, and don’t deviate. There’ll always been another time to enjoy some holiday fare.
Sleep: this is pretty straightforward. Get more sleep. Sleep as much as you can, e.g. get the 7 to 8 hours when you’re not out late etc. Being sleep deprived is not cute, sexy, admirable, awesome. No one is thinking ‘how does he/she do it? So busy, so much on the go…..”
Sleep increases the stress adaptation of the body which can lead to cravings for salt, fat and sugar. It can lead to more impulsive behaviours because when you’re stressed, you’re under the influence of cortisol and adrenaline more than usual.
Also, the more tired you are, the less likely you’ll have the energy to make healthier meals etc. Aaaaaaaaand, I think you can appreciate the potential impact of stress on your digestive tract. You’re more likely to feel gassier, more bloated and have more reflux and indigestion.
Running on empty is oh so great, isn’t it? 🙂
Probiotics: normally I don’t recommend taking probiotics willy nilly but in times of stress, and when you’re eating things you wouldn’t normally eat, a good quality probiotic can help to soothe digestive woes. I like BioK+, and while not clinically proven to help with indigestion per se, anecdotally it works I find and according to clients.
The single, most influential impact on your gut bacteria balance is diet. Research has shown that moderate to significant changes to your normal eating routine can impact the balance of your gut bacteria within 24 hrs. Giving your microbiota some support with a solid probiotic might just be the answer you’re looking for.
Don’t bank your calories: continue to eat 3 regular meals and planned snacks as usual. It might seem to make sense right? “Hey, I’m going to be eating a lot tonight so I’ll skip breakfast and lunch. Here’s the rub. When people skip meals as a strategy to manage their calories before a big party, they set themselves up to overeat, partially because they get super hungry. The response? Yup, your adrenaline (stress hormone) level is higher and you can get ‘hangry’ – sorry, I hate that word but when in Rome.
Bottom line? Compensation or worse, over-compensation for the calories you’ve missed.
Don’t go to parties hungry: Plan a snack to help manage your appetite before hand. Enjoy some soup [with protein, veggies, lentils etc], some veggies and dip, or fruit and yogurt, or 1/2 an apple with some cheese etc before your party. If will help take the edge off and you’ll be in control rather than being a slave to the influence of – yup again, adrenalin.
Limit alcohol (by extension ASA, ibuprofen & acetaminophen): Choose your holiday beverages wisely. It is not just the energy in alcohol [trust me, they add up] – it is all that comes along with drinking. Drinking lowers your inhibitions and with that, some resolve. Drinking can increase your chance of eating more than you bargained for.
Hey, I’m no prude. Enjoy anything that you want, just do so in a conscious way because you can “have your cake and eat it too”…it’s not all or nothing. It’s not about being “good” and then abandoning that over the holidays… Aim for more lower calories drinks and moderate how many holiday drinks you have.
Also, alcohol is a well known stomach and gut irritant and if you end up “enjoying” a little more than you planned to, you’ll likely reach for pain-killers. Ibuprofen is extremely hard on the the digestive tract and acetaminophen is super hard on the liver. Hey, without some info, you can’t make some informed choices…enjoy responsibly!
Peppermint oil: this has been a folk medicine remedy for a very long time. Peppermint tea or fresh peppermint can help ease digestion. For a more standardized product, you could try a peppermint oil supplement that’s been enteric coated to prevent stomach irritation. Many do find help with peppermint tea but the amount of active ingredient is very small. A standardized supplement is usually more helpful.
This product, IBgard is designed and clinically proven to help with IBS but like the probiotics, anecdotally, clients have found it to be beneficial as a digestive aid from time to time and on a more limited basis, e.g. a couple of times a day over the course of a few days. If you’re prone to some indigestion, considering giving it a go when you find yourself ‘indulging’ a little more than usual. While not dangerous, it could increase some upset of you’ve had a few drinks of alcohol.
Be active: spin, walk, run, jog, snowshoe, ski, treadmill, weights, swim…just get active. No, exercise will not cause you to “drop pounds”. Regular exercise has little to no impact on weight unless you’re training like an Olympian.
This isn’t about weight.
This is about being active to improve your overall metabolic health which helps how your body processes the fats, carbs and protein you eat – any time of the year. It’s about supporting your mental health, keeping the effects of stress at bay, lowering your risk for depression, ‘boosting’ your immune system (provided you don’t over do it). It’s about taking a break from life and it’s demands. It’s about the pure ENJOYMENT of moving your body. It’s about recreation, leisure and getting out to enjoy nature or socializing if you’re like me and enjoy group classes.
Keep it simple: pare back as much as you can; keep your attention on one task at a time. Only computers can multi-task, not humans. If you’re trying to do too many things at once, you’re not doing any one thing well and this includes healthy living and choices. Keep the stress down by keeping everything as simple as possible. You (and your gut health) will be thanking you in the New Year.