Did you know the average person gains about 5 to 7 pounds during the cold winter months? And it’s not just the hearty meals and decadent sweets that are packing on the pounds. When we’re stressed (as many of us are around the holidays), our bodies hold onto fat, making a healthy weight challenging to maintain. With fattening treats tempting at every turn, try these tips for cheering your spirits and avoiding the dreaded holiday bulge.
1. Manage holiday stress to prevent anxiety eating
With crowded shopping malls to brave, family members to feed, and (consequently) less time to take care of you, the holidays can be very stressful. In times of stress, the body produces high cortisol levels in the bloodstream, which can cause the body to hold onto fat, especially around the belly.Another anxiety-related condition, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), has been linked to poor eating patterns during bouts of depression. One study found that during the darker winter months (when depression symptoms are amplified), SAD patients selectively ate more sugary, starchy carbohydrates than at any other time of year.Good nutrition can help fight off stress and break the cycle of impulse eating. In addition to a balanced diet, stress-fighting nutritional supplements like fish oil, 5-HTP, B vitamins, and vitamin D can help regulate mood. A shocking 75% of the population is deficient in vitamin D (known as the “sunshine vitamin”) and vitamin D deficiency has even been linked to SAD and depression. In the shorter, darker days ahead, the sunshine vitamin can help make up for those lost hours of daylight.
2. Use healthy cooking substitutes
While it’s good to treat yourself every now and then, you can sacrifice some of the not-so-healthy ingredients without sacrificing the yummy factor! Whether whipping up your favorite pie or baking a batch of flaky cookies, try these simple switches for healthier holiday baking:Swap white, all-purpose flour for healthy alternatives like coconut flour, oat flour, almond meal, or spelt, millet, rice, garbanzo and buckwheat flours!
Ditch the butter and cream – opt instead for healthier (and tastier!) thickening agents like nonfat greek yogurt, coconut yogurt, applesauce, avocado, coconut oil, or olive oil.
Trade processed white sugar for healthier alternatives like coconut sugar, stevia, agave, dates, or raw honey.
3. Bolster your digestive system
In addition to supporting healthy bacteria levels in the gut, a recent study found that probiotics may help active individuals avoid the common cold! Subjects who exercised at least 30 minutes a week were 27% less likely to contract an upper respiratory infection when administered probiotics.Digestive enzymes and probiotics can also help the digestive system do its job, especially when there are large meals to break down! Ahem, Thanksgiving anyone? By breaking down proteins, fats, and carbohydrates in the small intestine, pancreatic enzymes help your body absorb the good nutrients and push the bad guys out!And don’t forget to move around to get your digestive juices flowing after a large meal. Resist the urge to slump down on the couch and instead go for a short walk with family and friends. It’ll refresh your mind and joints, and gives you some time to digest before the pies and cakes make their debut.
4. Stay hydrated, but shun the sugary seasonal drinks
Water, which makes up 60% of the human body, is required for healthy digestion, circulation, and nutrient transport year-round. And it helps hydrate your skin during the crisp winter!Craving something cozier? Brew a cup of fresh green tea! In addition to containing polyphenols and flavonoids that support overall health, green tea has also been found to help sustain a healthy metabolism. Because green tea contains some caffeine, it can also serve as a mild appetite suppressant without contributing to dehydration.But beware those glittery red Starbucks cups filled with pump upon pump of artificial syrup. A tall eggnog latte from Starbucks contains 17 grams of fat and 39 grams of sugar, while a peppermint mocha contains 6 grams of fat and a whopping 42 grams of sugar! Both of these drinks exceed the daily maximum intake of added sugars recommended by the American Heart Association (36 grams) – and that’s for the smallest size!
5. Eat before an event & don’t skip meals
We’ve all done it – skipped meals the day before a scheduled feast to reduce the guilt of overeating – and it never ends well. Skipping meals causes overindulgence later on and sends your digestive system into overdrive.What’s more, if you’re headed to a soirée outside of your home, studies show that you could consume up to 40% more calories than when eating in! Before you head to a food-centric event, eat a healthy mini-meal that has a balance of protein, fat, and high-fiber carbs, such as apple slices with almond butter or a salad with chicken, nuts, and vegetables. Practice mindful eating and choose smaller, nutrition-packed meals throughout the day to avoid deprivation and food guzzling come party time.
6. Don’t skimp on sleep
A recent study found that the space between brain cells actually increased in mice during sleep, allowing toxins to navigate out of the brain. The importance of sleep for immune function and energy levels is widely known, but now sleep appears to play a key role in detoxifying the brain! Moreover, skimping on sleep has also been linked to overeating and weight gain. Sleep is also important for storing memories – like the priceless ones you’re sure to make this year– so don’t forget to catch your 8 hours of sound slumber!