A Nutritionist's Guide: Top 10 Tips on How to Stay Healthy During the Holidays

Caution - reading this will encourage you to skip the stretchy yoga pants this holiday season!

As a holistic nutritionist, I always get asked what are some tips and tricks to beating the bloat and staying healthy during the holiday season. The answer may surprise you.

We all know we should be eating more veggies (especially green ones) as well as seasonal fruits...but how come we don’t do so? Is it a compliance issue? Is it because we give-in to temptation or family or peer pressure during the holidays? Is it because we tie in an emotional connection to the food we eat and know we only get to eat candy canes, cookies or gingerbread once a year? OR is it because we let one cheat meal or snack derail us, and then we use that as an excuse...and go down a rabbit hole of eating unhealthy, sugar or salt filled, processed foods? The answer...could be all of the above.

Unfortunately there isn’t one magic weight-loss solution, or healthy tip to follow, especially post the holidays. What I find works well, and what I love about being a nutritionist is teaching and coaching my clients with a step-by-step plan, as to how to swap out foods so they can not only drop the weight, but eat healthy...all year round! In order to beat the bloat, I don’t believe in a starvation diet and I am not an advocate of constantly counting calories - although I do think it’s important that everyone learn how to read a label and be cognizant of where they are getting their calories from, when it comes to packaged items (my next blog will touch on this topic).

To help beat the holiday bloat, the cravings and the digestive upset, not to mention the increased stress levels (am I right?), I’ve included some holistic nutrition and wellness tips that I personally follow. When we’re stressed, especially during the holidays (and I too, can attest to this)...do you pay attention to what you crave? Cuz I definitely know no one (at least in my inner circle) craves a salad or smoothie when they’re stressed, right?! When cortisol, your stress hormone increases, it signals your liver to pump out glucose, to provide the body with energy because it thinks your body is trying to escape danger (fight or flight). When this happens, we crave...carbohydrates...and we crave the s word - sugar!

I’ve included below my nutritionist approved top 10 tips on how to stay healthy during the holidays, so you can not only survive the holiday season, but thrive, while beating the bloat and feeling good:

1. Nix the sugar. As much as sugar is tempting, it’s not worth the empty calories. Although it may make us feel good for a quick-minute, sugar lowers our immune system function, increases inflammation in the body and leads to constipation. If you are craving something sweet, try eating some apple sauce or satiate your hunger by referring to one of my healthy recipes on my website.

2. Be social but eat smart. Getting together with family and friends during the holiday season is great - but don’t let socializing sabotage your healthy eating. Learn how to control temptations by substituting or swapping i.e. swap a cocktail with a mocktail.

3. Have a plan in place - Just as we plan in business and in life, why not create a plan for what you eat? Seems pretty simple...right?! The best way to control what you eat is to make it yourself. If you know you are traveling for the holidays, visiting friends or family, or are attending holiday parties where you know the food won’t be healthy (think Christmas cookies, eggnog and chocolate), ask if you can bring a healthy dish to the event.

4. Watch your intake of alcohol - Wine, cocktails, punch and alcoholic beverages are free flowing at holiday events. But caution - these drinks are packed with calories and sugar! Limit yourself to one glass of alcohol and make sure to drink lots of water, as alcohol is a diuretic. Alcohol also impairs our REM sleep and increases cortisol. It burdens the liver and an increase of alcohol consumption also deregulates blood sugar, increases weight gain and accelerates aging (a big no-no!!!).

5. Get enough sleep! During the holidays or preparation for the holidays we seem to operate in North America on less sleep. In fact, we should be aiming to sleep at least 7-8 hours per night. With each hour of sleep lost, the odds of obesity go up. A reduction of sleep of four (4) hours for two nights in a row, can decrease circulating leptin and increase cortisol (another big no-no!). Lack of sleep my friends, does not equal consuming copious amounts of coffee. With lack of sleep it leads to a host of problems including weight gain and inflammation, increased blood sugar imbalance and decreased brain function. *Nutritionist tip - if you are dependent on coffee, try swapping it out for Green Tea or Matcha.

6. Drink water - especially before a holiday party! - I can’t stress enough how important it is to stay hydrated. The funny thing is (and many of us don’t know this, because we don’t pay attention to our bodies) is that when we are thirsty, we are already beyond the point of dehydration. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate...with water...that is! Sip water consistently throughout the day, especially if you know you are going to be consuming alcohol for a holiday party at night. You should aim to drink two (2) to three (3) litres a day. Get up close and personal and take a look at your urine too. The darker the urine, the more dehydrated you are. You body always sends you signs as to what it needs. Pay attention and listen to your body.

7. Maintain movement and exercise - To help beat the bloat, and the weight gain, I always encourage my family and friends to keep moving during the holidays. After all, our bodies were made to move! Grab your bestie or your family and try a new fitness or yoga class. Take a walk after your holiday meal and get the blood flowing. Go from a sedentary to active lifestyle easily by just walking it off. Even if the gym or your favourite fitness studio is closed, you can always do an in-home workout or go for a walk or run outside (weather permitting of course.)

8. Avoid the top food allergens - gluten, wheat, soy and dairy - Many of my nutrition clients are sensitive or have intolerances to gluten, soy and dairy. I too have these intolerances. To help beat the bloat I avoid these foods like the plague. I ask for gluten-free options and bake holiday cookies with gluten-free flours. I even try to make raw, no-bake vegan or vegetarian power balls, energy bites and protein balls. Removing these types of foods (including those with sugar) from your diet will reduce inflammation, bloating and gas. My suggestion - have a balanced food program, filled with seasonal and organic fruits, veggies, poultry, lean-meats and fish.

9. Chew on this! - Remember to chew your food! With the holidays comes lots of excitement around food. Sometimes, and I’ve seen this at parties, we mindlessly eat, shoving Hors d'oeuvres in our mouths while talking to a friend, co-worker or family member at the same time.It seems so simple, and yet it’s so easy to forget the basics of eating. Take your time and chew, chew, chew. I advise all my clients to do this. Be mindful and in the moment, especially when you are eating. Pay attention to the smell, the colour of your food and how it tastes. Remember, your stomach doesn’t have teeth, so it’s up to you to remember to chew your food! (do I sound like a mom, yet?) Chewing your food allows you to digest better. It primes the pump and sends a signal to your digestive tract that food is coming. Another recommendation I have, it to pace yourself. The food isn’t going anywhere, and if it is, I am sure there will be more. Put your fork or spoon down in between bites. Enjoy the conversation that is around you. By taking the time to speak and engage with those around you, you will be less inclined to shovel food down your mouth and you won’t feel bloated or gassy after the meal.

10. Take a good probiotic! I’m all about digestive health and believe there is connection between the brain and the gut. The term gut flora and gut microbiota (as you may have heard of this too) are synonyms and refer to all the bacteria in the intestinal tract. This applies to both the bacteria and micro-organisms that live in our digestive tract. Most of our gut bacteria reside in the colon or large intestine. The microbiome is the total amount of bacteria carried in our body. It’s important to supplement with a probiotic (at least a 15 billion CFU as this is safe for everyone) as probiotics, help balance gut flora (which is especially needed during the hectic holiday season), reduce inflammation and can even help change your brain function...for the better. Gut bacteria, or poor gut bacteria can actually harvest more calories from your food leading to weight gain. *Nutritionist tip: Look for probiotic supplements labelled as “enteric coated” as these are acid and enzyme resistant and can help travel safely to your intestines. Ensure to follow the dosing guidelines for the probiotic. Probiotic bacteria known as Bifidobacterium bifidum can boost immunity, which is especially helpful during the holiday season, as we know how stressful gift shopping and finding a parking spot in the mall can be (kind of joking here).

Last but not least, and one of my biggies is to be mindful when eating. We get so caught up in the hustle and bustle that we tend to eat mindlessly (which I alluded to in tip #9), which leads to overeating. Let’s face it, come December there is no shortage of family get-togethers, friends ugly Christmas sweater parties, workplace potlucks and holiday parties, filled with loads of food and drinks.

To help beat the bloat this holiday season, be more mindful in your approach to food, what and how you eat, and your company. Be mindful in your thoughts, your feelings around food and your health. Remember it takes continued effort and consistency to eat well and live well. Always go back to the basics. Eat healthy, have a balance of whole foods, hydrate throughout the day and eat a ratio of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Follow the healthy eating principle of the 80/20 rule, eating healthy most and 80% of the time.

Wishing you and yours a healthy and happy holiday season!

Peace, love and healthy holidays,