For many of us, the holidays are filled to the brim with sugary treats, heavy meals and perhaps a drink or a dozen. Now that the holidays have come and gone, we may feel lousy or simply that some of our health habits have fallen by the wayside. Perhaps it is time then for a post-holiday habit refresh to steer ourselves back on track and keep ourselves accountable.
As you know, I’m not a fan of the diet mindset and the work I do centres on:
- helping people learn to cook and eat
- sharing health and nutrition information so you can make informed decisions
- encouraging you to think critically about behaviours and how you could support health on an ongoing, sustainable basis – not just at certain times of the year
Still, I recognize that early in the year people are extra motivated to establish habits. Ultimately, a post-holiday habit refresh involves nutrition, lifestyle, movement and mindset. Since I’ve been in this field, I’ve learned that working on any of these elements on their own is going to beneficial, yet if we’re looking at total and optimal health we also need to look at how all of these things work together.
The effect of a healthy lifestyle altogether is much greater than the sum of its parts.
Here are a few guidelines to get you started, or at least think about starting, to bring about a healthy year ahead.
Post-Holiday habit Refresh: food and nutrition
Choose Low-Glycemic Foods
High glycemic foods are those that are immediately digested and hit our bloodstream quickly, leading to highs and lows in our blood sugar levels. This can lead to some dire consequences, which I wrote about in more detail here.
High glycemic foods include:
- refined and processed grains (white rice, white bread, packaged cereals, crackers, etc.)
- foods low in protein, fat and/or fibre
- sugary foods (pastries, refined sugars, candy, cookies, cake, etc.)
- sweet fruits, such as bananas
Focus on low-glycemic foods such as:
- Loads of vegetables (dark leafy greens, broccoli, cabbage, onions, garlic, tomatoes, cucumber – basically, things that aren’t super sweet)
- Whole grains, such as rice, wild rice, buckwheat and quinoa
- Fresh herbs and spices
- Quality protein sources, whether animal-based or plant-based
- Nourishing fats, such as ghee, coconut oil, avocado, nuts and seeds
Eliminate or Avoid Sugar
I’ve been sugar free for well over two years now and this has made a massive difference in my life. I sleep better, I have more energy and I feel like my brain is running at a more effective level (which allows me to be more present with my family as well as all of you).
My 7 Day No Sugar Challenge is a great place to start. (In fact, this is how I started when I quit sugar. My intention was to ditch it for a week and then I just kept going and going.) Don’t think about what you’ll be eating in one month or six months – start with one week. You can eliminate sugar for one week!
More resources on reducing, avoiding and replacing sugar:
- Are You Addicted to Sugar?
- How to Deal With Sugar Cravings
- Being Sugar-Free: Two Years and Counting
- Guide to Natural Sweeteners
- Monk Fruit and Low Carb Sweeteners: Are They Good for You?
Reduce or Eliminate Dairy Products
Dairy was one of the first foods I eliminated completely 15 years ago when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. There are many reasons why dairy isn’t a health-promoting food, including our inability to digest it, the allergenic properties of milk proteins, the lack of support for bone health, and more. You can learn about this in-depth here:
Substitutes for Dairy Products
- Milk made from nuts, seeds, rice, oats or coconut
- Dairy-free cheeses
- Dairy-free ice cream (as a treat)
- Coconut oil or ghee instead of butter
- Coconut yogurt or coconut kefir
- Nutritional yeast to add a cheesy flavour to popcorn, sauces or mac and cheese
Homemade is going to be optimal for the best health benefits!
While there can be some health benefits to alcohol in certain situations, when we are working to build our health back up alcohol generally serves to break it down. For every alcoholic drink consumed, try increasing water intake by two glasses. Those pitchers of beer are suddenly looking rather huge, aren’t they?
Other non-alcoholic drinks to enjoy include:
- herbal tea (try my ginger tea, turmeric tea or bay leaf tea)
- infused water
- water kefir
- nut/seed milk
- dairy-free elixirs
Increase Raw and Lightly Steamed Vegetables
Potatoes don’t count here! We want the dark leafy greens: the kale, spinach, chard, romaine, and mixed salad greens. Also add in some of the brassica family of vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts. These are all rich in phytonutrients; keys to increasing energy production in the cells and removing waste to enhance our detoxification processes.
Increase Quality Protein
The amino acids in protein are the building blocks of our body systems and are essential for hormone and enzyme production, immunity, muscle growth, and repair. We therefore need the best quality to build and repair any damage that may have been caused by our holiday merriment.
Vegetable-based proteins like lentils, legumes, beans, peas, nuts and seeds are excellent choices. They are rich in fibre as well; essential for removing excess waste.
Post Holiday Habit Refresh: Lifestyle Tips
Add or Increase Movement In Your Day
Daily movement helps:
- increase energy levels
- get the blood and lymph flowing
- improves digestion (it helps us poop!)
- enhances mental and emotional health
- builds strength and resilience
There are very few things I’ve experienced in my life that I would call life-changing, but my Obé Fitness habit has been. These workouts are on-demand, short, full of variety and are utterly FUN. Most important for me, however, is the mental and emotional shift I am feeling. I feel stronger, and more resilient mentally.
I encourage you to find what works for you.
Nature and Sunshine
Here in Canada, where I am, the new calendar year means snow, more hours of darkness and cold temperatures. We usually like to escape to California every winter; but that hasn’t been in the cards for the last couple of years.
To help me beat the winter blues, I like to get outside (as much as weather permits), even if it’s just to a park in the city. This has had a massive impact on my health and wellbeing.
More on the benefits of nature and sunshine:
- Sweetness of a Simple Life and Inspiring Climate Change Solutions with Diana-Beresford-Kroeger
- How to Prevent and Cope with The Winter Blues
- Sun Protection: Safe Sunscreens, Best Foods and Healthy Sun Exposure Tips
- Health Benefits of Forest Bathing
- Vitamin D: What You Need to Know Right Now
A Breathing Practice
Breathing is such a simple thing and yet we spend so much time with our shoulders scrunched up, our muscles tight and our breathing short and shallow.
Try to implement a simple breathing technique to help bring oxygen to your tissues, improve digestion, clear your mind and reduce stress. As a start, take five deep, slow breaths in bed when you wake up in the morning.
You can also try my 30-second coherence technique, which has been a game changer for my brain and overall mental attitude.
You can increase your time spent in mindfulness or meditation as you become more comfortable and patient with the process. This 20-minute coherence class of mine is completely free.
Just think of it this way: everything we eat, think and do can either serve to build up our health or build up disease. Once we start to see and feel the positive results from our efforts, we may just find that what started as a post-holiday habit refresh or clean-up, may soon become a way of living.