How to Keep Your Gut Healthy & Stay Lean this Holiday Season

 

The holidays mean festive decorations at every corner, community gatherings, and an abundance of food. As many patients remind me, this time of year is filled with joy but also stress around overeating.

If you feel more stressed about the holidays than you are excited, you aren’t alone. Many individuals struggle with winter weight gain. I want you to feel supported as you enter this holiday season.

You should feel confident about making the right choices and still enjoy the season.

It’s easy to overeat and continue that cycle until the holidays are over. Unfortunately, this can often promote a restrictive “diet” mentality around the holidays that carries into the New Year.

Your waistline takes a hit, but so does your gut microbiome. Sugar consumption – from cookies, cocktails but also the carbs like dinner rolls that convert to sugar – can directly impact the growth of unfavorable fungal and bacterial pathogens within the microbiome. (1)

Rather than abstain or over-indulge, the key is to find balance and create healthy alternatives. These five strategies can help you get the most out of the holidays.

Keep the Focus on Family and Fun

Food often gets the center of attention at holiday gatherings. Shift the focus on your company and what’s happening around you. That doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy the food!

It can be easy to overeat at the holidays and indulge in foods you don’t typically have on a daily basis. This usually brings on weight gain, feelings of guilt and shame, and leaving you in the diet mentality when the new year rolls around.

This holiday season, try taking a different approach. Instead of only seeing the party as a table filled with 7-layer dip and sugar cookies, focus on the community aspect.

In fact, a survey was conducted on Valentine’s Day 2018 to find out the number of people who feel lonely globally. We’re in a society that is connected more than ever, yet people from ages 16 to in their 70s feel lonely. Chronically feeling lonely can lead to devastating health issues. (1)

When you are constantly surrounded by friends and family during the holiday season, sink into the warmth and love that you feel from being physically surrounded by the people closest to you! Shifting your mindset and focus can help you stay away from the unhealthy options.  

Be Mindful

Most of us devour meals. Creating balance while being intuitive and mindful with your food choices can help you avoid the diet and restrict mode. Slow down, take a deep breath, and really be present when you’re indulging. Taste what you’re eating.

In fact, deep breathing can calm the nervous system and also promote proper digestion. As you sit down to the table, give gratitude for the food and the nourishment it is providing to your body. Eat slowly, rest your fork between bites, and sip on water. Enjoy conversation and ditch the electronics to avoid stimulating and disruptive distractions.

Put a Spin on Traditional Foods

Many cultures center their celebrations around food. Put a spin on the holiday meal this year with your family. Holidays can be a great time to highlight the traditional and healthy dishes of one’s culture.

Unfortunately, a lot of the ingredients used for these traditional dishes are not the best quality or provide much nutrition. Many of these items are also processed.

Studies show that food additives directly impact the gut microbiome and cause inflammation. In return, this can stimulate the growth of harmful species. In fact, food additives have also been linked to increased incidence of Irritable Bowel Disease, Metabolic Syndrome, obesity and liver dysfunction. (2)

You’ll find plenty of Happy Gut-approved recipes here. This makes a great place to get started when you’re looking to feature high quality, nutritious items at your next holiday meal.

“Healthy Dessert” isn’t an Oxymoron

Creating a dessert without sugar or artificial sweeteners is something you can do and the dessert will still taste great!

I suggest trying to avoid any sort of unnatural sweetener the best you can during the holidays, especially sugar substitutes. Even sugar substitutes like sucralose and aspartame can contribute to gut microbiome inflammation, along with glucose intolerance and weight gain. (2)  Many individuals assume because they don’t eat white sugar, these other substitutes get a hall pass. That’s not necessarily the case!

When you indulge, choose options that support gut health and weight management. These Pumpkin Donuts with Tahini Cacao Frosting will be a guaranteed hit at your next holiday party and free of processed sugar!

Try Something New

Most holiday dishes lack fresh, whole foods. Maybe modify a favorite family recipe or get creative and try something new. You could even try sneaking in a few extra vegetables for an added bonus to promote gut health.

Adding in more fiber from vegetables can promote better digestion, help you feel fuller longer, and keep you from indulging in carb-rich options.

In fact, you can create a festive holiday salad that everyone will like with dark leafy greens, toasted pecans, and a citrus dressing or roast a variety of different winter squash for a seasonal spin. These dishes are simple to make and bring nutrition, color, and flavor to the dinner table.

For more tips to stay on track this holiday season, be sure to check out 7 Happy Gut Tips for the Holidays.

Citations

1.“’I’m Surrounded by People – but I Feel so Lonely’.” BBC News, BBC, 1 Oct. 2018, www.bbc.com/news/stories-45561334.

2. Zinöcker, Marit K., and Inge A. Lindseth. “The Western Diet–Microbiome-Host Interaction and Its Role in Metabolic Disease.” Nutrients 10.3 (2018): 365. PMC. Web. 17 Oct. 2018.