The holiday season used to be a concentrated period in the last two weeks of December. Now, as soon as we hang up our Halloween costumes the Christmas lights are strung, the holiday shopping begins and the invitations roll in for holiday gatherings. Don't get me wrong - I love a good celebration as much as anyone else, but between the indulgent meals, cocktails, parties, traveling and the financial pressure of gift-giving it can be challenging to stay healthy during the holidays.
A key part of staying healthy during the holidays is to support the immune system. When our immune systems are challenged and suppressed, we're less likely to maintain our overall health. Most of the things we indulge in during holidays - chocolate, candy, processed foods, rich meals - are taxing for our bodies to process and hamper immune system function.
The immune system is mysterious to many people. It's not like the liver or the heart or a specific organ that we pinpoint and describe. The immune system is more like a series of bits and pieces that work together to form a total body defense. Part of it is the glands in our neck/throat, armpits and crotch region, part of it is the lymphatic system that excretes wastes and runs side-by-side with veins that carry fresh oxygenated blood, a massive part is in the lowest bit of our small intestine and of course there is the part located in our bones where blood is made. The thing is, we need all of these bits and pieces to be nourished in order for the total system to do its job.
Unfortunately, there are many things we do during the holidays that kick this system while it's down.
Immune System Abusers
- Too much food (and food that isn't health-supportive)
- Lack of sleep
- Lack of sunlight
- Lack of exercise
For more in-depth details about arming the immune system, you can check out this post about 5 Ways to Prevent Colds and Flus this season. You'll learn all about how diet, stress and lack of sleep kick our immune system down.
Stay Healthy During the Holidays
We're all over the immune power right now as we slide on into the chaos of the holiday season. If we know that we're going to be running a teensy bit wild health-wise, our best defence will always be preparedness.
There are a few super keys to ensuring health through holidays, and I want to ensure I have all of those bases covered for you. Today I'm focussing on the antidotes to the holiday season. If we know we're going to splurge, how do we offset the indulgences?
1. Avoid Late Nights
The late nights are usually the toughest part of the holiday season because we're sleeping (and eating) outside of our regular schedule. Take these measures to offset this:
- Load up on foods rich in healthy fats like organic nuts/seeds and their oils, organic ghee or coconut oil, and some cold water fish.
- Start high dosing on your vitamin C. You can take anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 mcg. Remember to take it throughout the day - as vitamin C is water soluble, you'll pee out what you don't absorb.
- Take some adaptogenic herbs like ashwaganda, rhodiola, maca and reishi.
2. Skip The SUGAR OVERLOAD
This one is easy. Don't do it! Be selective about the treats you indulge in and and choose wisely. This goes for cakes, cookies and booze!
- Make some of your own tasty treats from scratch and use whole, natural sweetener options.
- Booze is optional, but if you are going to drink, stay away from the fancy cocktails and stick with red or white wine, or simple mixes.
- Drink lots and lots of water to help stay hydrated. Sugar dehydrates us and can leave us craving more sugar. If you'd like to make water special, infuse it with herbs or fruit.
3. MOVE THAT BODY
Thanks to the late nights and sugar indulgences, your energy levels might drop, leading you to wimp out on your regular physical activity. Don't let it happen! Keep up with your physical health goals by taking on a group challenge or partnering with someone who will keep you accountable and committed. This way, even if you do indulge in late nights and extra food, your body will stay strong and it will be that much easier to get back to your regular routine in the new year.
- Use yoga websites, a DVD series or simply go for a walk. Aim to commit to at least 30 minutes of movement a day, whether that happens in an airport or in your kitchen. Move and shake.
4. KEEP THAT GUT HEALTHY
The core of our immune health starts in the gut. Make sure that in addition to supporting your adrenal glands through adaptogenic herbs and offsetting the effects of sugar with water, you're also supporting the health of your digestive tract.
- Make fermented foods part of your everyday eating habits.
- Supplement with a good probiotic (they'll be found in a health food store in the fridge section) and take them as directed until the bottle is done.
- Avoid glutenous foods that will cause further harm and imbalance in the gut.
5. MANAGE THAT STRESS
Stress might be the greatest hinderance to your health of all. Find strategies to manage and process your stress. This will include:
- Getting plenty of rest and avoiding super late nights.
- Taking care not to overload on sugar.
- Exercising regularly.
- Maintaining health in the gut.
Wait a second... Yes, my friends, taking care of your health through the holidays will help to bring down the stress levels associated with the holiday time.
Breathe deep, eat well, laugh lots, have fun and all will be merry and well!
6. Stick to a regular routine.
Don't make the last six weeks of the year a no-holds barred bonanza where you forget all of healthy habits you cultivate all year, like sleeping regularly, keeping digestion humming along, drinking clean water, exercising, meditating and breathing, practicing gratitude and of course, eating delicious and healthful food.
As much as you can, wake up, go to bed, eat, work and exercise at the same times each day. This can be tricky with holiday schedules, but do your best.
7. Cook and eat from scratch.
You know I'm a big fan of cooking everything from scratch, whether we're talking about bread or kombucha or salad. Fill your plate with plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, gluten-free whole grains, healthy fats, along with occasional organic animal products.
If your family is all together, why not cook together? The holidays are a great time for you to spend time in the kitchen together having fun and learning new culinary skills, especially for the children in your home. If you want to have a treat - like chocolate or cake or strawberry licorice - make it yourself! That way, you'll ensure you're not consuming any preservatives or harmful ingredients.
8. Eat Mindfully
How we eat is equally important to what we eat. If we're eating while stressed out, in the car, on the run, on the couch or not paying attention we're more likely to overeat and feel terrible afterward.
Instead, cultivate mindful and conscious eating practices. Unhealthy eating patterns are often caused by tension and stress. When we experience stress or negative emotions, we lose energy. Unconsciously, we want to eat to replace that lost energy with food - especially that comfort food. Simply noticing how we feel before we reach for that chocolate cake or third beer is the first step.
Take time with your meals and enjoy them at a table with your friends and family (the holidays are a perfect time to practice this!). Linger at the dinner table - not to eat more, but to spend more time chewing and savouring as opposed to gobbling. The more awareness we bring to what, where, when and why we are eating, the sooner great health will unfold before us.
Holiday Party Survival Guide
It might be easier to stay healthy during the holidays when you're at home, but when out at a shindig more temptations surround you! Here are some ways you can navigate a holiday party:
- Drinking is optional! Cranberry and soda is delicious. You can also bring your own mocktails.
- Eat a small, healthy snack before the party so you don’t arrive starving.
- Get a plate! Take assorted appetizers onto your plate instead of grazing and picking throughout the party.
- Bring a dish to a potluck that could serve as your entire healthy meal.
- Don’t be shy about asking what something is, or asking for yours to be plain.
- Keep to the lighter desserts - fruit and cookies, or small slices of the ones you want to try.
- Find someone to split a larger dessert with.
- Keep drinking water.
- Avoid the “But it’s the holidays” mentality - every action has a reaction and a result. Will your action produce the results you are after?
- Careful of canoodling. Germs do spread! Keep your hands washed and away from the face.
- Get as much rest as you can before the party. People who are sleep-deprived are more likely to make unhealthier choices.
Holiday Recipe Inspiration
A smooth, frothy and festive dairy-free beverage that's a healthier alternative to sugar-laden eggnog.
This apple cider recipe is definitely worth mulling up.
There are few things that are more enticing than the ooey gooey deliciousness of apples and cinnamon baking in the oven.
You'll want to have friends around when you bake this nut-free, gluten-free and dairy-free gingerbread cake. Partially 'cause it's nice to share, but also otherwise you'll want to eat the whole thing.
Crispy Gluten-Free Ginger Cookies
A simple crispy ginger cookie recipe that is dairy-free and has double ginger power by using fresh grated ginger and crystallized ginger.
Pumpkin Spice Latte
A delicious pumpkin spice latte using whole and unprocessed ingredients. No need to visit the local coffee shop when this cuppa is on the scene!
Header Image: iStock/ Lilechka75