Thanksgiving is this week and that means the holiday season is officially in full swing. This time of year is all about family, celebration and joy but the truth is, it’s easy to neglect yourself during the holidays and wind up feeling tired, stressed, and drained.
If you can relate to overeating, overcommitting, and sabotaging your gut health with sugar and alcohol over the holidays, you’re not alone. In fact, far from it! The truth is, the holidays create the perfect storm for sabotaging your gut health, overall wellness, and all the progress you’ve made throughout the year.
But here’s what I always tell patients: It doesn’t have to be this way. This month, I’ve already given you strategies to combat holiday stress and find balance with holiday eating. And this week, I’m sharing what I believe is the final missing ingredient that can protect your gut health over the holidays: GRATITUDE.
What is gratitude and why is it beneficial?
To put it simply, gratitude is the act of reflecting upon your life, finding what is good and giving thanks. And while that may sound easy, gratitude is actually something we have to continually practice throughout our lives to reap the benefits. It’s like a muscle — you can’t expect gratitude to happen naturally without intention. There are a lot of different ways to show gratitude, including a gratitude meditation, starting a gratitude journal, or simply expressing gratitude out loud to the people around you, and even taking time to appreciate yourself and how far you’ve come.
You can show gratitude for the big things in life — like having a great partner, a new baby, or a big promotion at work — but it’s even more important to show frequent gratitude for the small things in life (think: a delicious cup of coffee, an easy commute to work, or a friendly checkout person at the grocery store). The small, simple things in life are often the easiest to overlook and therefore, there’s a lot of room to show gratitude.
So what’s at the root of gratitude’s benefits?
“Gratitude is one way that we can work to overcome the brain’s negativity bias.”
If you’ve never heard of the negativity bias, it’s basically the fact that the brain tends to be more focused on negative experiences than positive ones. Originally, this bias was an adaptive mechanism, meant to protect us from harm and help us stay away from danger. But these days, it can often contribute to feelings of dissatisfaction, anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression. By showing persistent attention to the good things using a gratitude practice, you can train your brain to focus less on the negative.
What are the benefits of gratitude?
You might be aware of some of the psychological benefits of gratitude, but you may be thinking “Wait, Dr. Pedre, How can gratitude possibly be connected to gut health?” Well, stick with me, because in this section, I’ll connect all the dots.
Gratitude is the perfect example of something small that has a BIG impact on overall health and wellness. The list of gratitude’s benefits is long and includes many things that you might not think are connected to gratitude at all:
The Many Benefits of Gratitude
People who practice gratitude also tend to get better sleep, exercise more, and have lower levels of inflammation and blood pressure.
If you look at the list above, you may already see that there are plenty of ways to connect gratitude to gut health. For one, stress negatively impacts the gut microbiome and our ability to digest and absorb food without discomfort. Plus, when we’re happier, have better relationships, and better emotional regulation, it makes it way easier to stick to our healthy lifestyle habits that support optimal gut health. You have to rest to digest, and the only way to do this is to be in a state of relaxation that finding gratitude can help us achieve.
How can you use gratitude to improve your gut health this year?
During the Holidays You CAN Control These 5 Things
How you show gratitude towards others
Things aren’t perfect over the holiday and it’s easy to get lost in what’s missing. This year, try to challenge your brain’s negativity bias by showing up for those around you. Last week for week 3 of the Happy Gut® gratitude challenge on Instagram, I challenged you to send a text message of gratitude to three friends or loved ones you haven’t spoken to in a while. This is a perfect place to start practicing gratitude and can have a big impact on your mental health, your relationships, and your gut health as well. And during Thanksgiving week, we are finishing Happy Gut® Gratitude Month with a challenge you won’t want to miss.
How you thank your body
You may not be able to control everything you eat this holiday season, but you can control how much you move your body! You don’t have to start training for a marathon to get the healthy benefits of exercise, either. Start with a walk after dinner, a tennis match, or a 10-minute HIIT workout at home to thank your body for all it does. After you’ve hit the sidewalk, field, court, or living room floor, don’t forget to show yourself some gratitude for getting out there and taking care of yourself, even if it was for only 10 minutes a day!
What you do first thing in the morning
The days can get busy this time of year, but you can still be the boss of your morning routine — even if it’s only the first 5 or 10 minutes of the day. I recommend thinking of one thing you’re grateful for or looking forward to first thing before you get out of bed in the morning. Then, don’t forget to savor your go-to morning beverage, whether it be coffee, tea, lemon water, or herbal tea! You can also make your first meal of the day a gut-friendly one. Try a green smoothie with collagen powder, eggs with sauteed vegetables, a fiber-rich chia pudding, or the Cleanse Shake from my HAPPY GUT cleansing and detox programs.
The energy you bring into the world
How you treat your gut
I’m not asking you to forgo all your favorite holiday treats, but instead make sensible substitutions with the Happy Gut® Holiday chEATing Guide that will not leave you feeling guilty and panicking on the scale. Part of showing gratitude towards yourself is honoring all the progress you’ve made towards a healthier lifestyle. If you do indulge, the holidays are the perfect time to sneak in my HAPPY GUT Reset: 7-Day Detox, which is designed to restore gut health and improve brain fog, bloating, and holiday weight gain. It’s a great way to hit the reset button and recover from any excess sugar, alcohol, and carbs you’ll be eating throughout the holidays.