It’s November 20th, and according to Costco as of about 3 weeks ago, the festive season is already here. I haven’t started any decorating yet, but you can sure bet I’ve had my Spotify Christmas playlists streaming from my computer for a while now. (Please say I’m not the only one??)
One of the topics that comes up a lot during this time is maintaining healthy habits during holiday stress. For some people, the holidays are a super happy time, full of parties, traditions and celebrating. It might not feel stressful at all, but more on the energizing, thrilling and exciting end of the spectrum. For others, the mood isn’t so happy. Just the thought of it all – whether that’s spending time with family that you don’t get on well with, traveling, social obligations or other issues – can be really stressful.
With this in mind, and since a few of the clients I coach have asked the same questions lately, today I want to chat about tips for maintaining healthy habits – both during the holidays, and in other times when life gets crazy.
A lot of us tend to have black-or-white, on-or-off, heck-yes-or-heck-no personalities. You’re all in or all out. When it comes to nutrition and eating clean consistently, an unplanned indulgence in the morning like a fully loaded Belgian waffle or chocolate crepe at brunch might tempt you to want to write the entire day off, further indulging just because you think “well I’ve already eaten that, I might as well have allllll the sugary things!”
It doesn’t have to play out that way, and this is where my #1 piece of advice for maintaining healthy habits during stressful times comes in.
If you, at some point in the past, have made a shift from eating a lot of processed foods and not exercising at all to cleaning up your nutrition and moving your body regularly, there’s no doubt that you noticed a difference in how you feel. Am I right? Your energy levels, digestion, mental clarity, mood and overall sense of well-being – I’m willing to bet that you felt at least one of those things change for the better.
It’s that shift – the way you feel after doing something that’s truly good for your body, mind and soul, that can work as a huge incentive for making healthy choices – both through the holidays and when you feel super stressed.
You and I both know how foods that aren’t great choices make us feel. For example, say I were to eat a great big pizza made with a regular (gluten-containing) white flour crust, tons of cheese and processed vegetable oils. I know that I’d…
- probably have a stomach ache about an hour later, and would most definitely be bloated – (gluten)
- possibly see an acne breakout on my face a day or two later, and the cheese would probably trigger sinus issues +congestion – (dairy)
- generally be feeling tired, sluggish and wanting to take a nap.
Now, I’m definitely not saying this would be the case for everyone. You might find pizza makes you feel fab, and in that case, keep it coming. What I’m trying to say is that through personal trial and error, I know those things don’t make me feel the wonderful feelings that more nutrient-dense foods do.
Moral of the story: It’s the knowledge of those consequences that makes the less-ideal choices less tempting. At the same time, it’s the anticipation of how alive, mentally clear and nourished I’ll feel if I make the healthier choices that keeps me reaching for them instead.
So how could you apply this to fun things like holiday parties?
Obviously, Christmas only comes once a year. Likewise, there are treats during the holidays that are only around once a year, so by all means, enjoy a few and truly enjoy them! Love every bite, the taste, the smell, the texture, and any sort of holiday nostalgia that comes up as a result. After all, food and culture are so strongly tied, so it’s no wonder we have an emotional attachment to the things we eat.
While enjoying a few of your favourite treats, you can also:
1. Be sure to work in plenty of fresh whole foods.
Salads, roasted veggie side dishes, pre-party green smoothies, fresh fruit and veggies for snacking on the go…. you get the idea.
2. Alternate alcoholic beverages (if you drink them) with water.
Alcohol is dehydrating, so you’ll feel a lot better if you replace those lost fluids. Drink water and/or focus on water-dense fruits and veggies, and trust me, you will thank yourself when you wake up the next morning.
3. Balance the indulgences with exercise.
While a lot of treats contain ingredients that aren’t great for digestion, exercise can help to keep it moving. (Note: You probably don’t need the reminder, but stating the obvious: you can’t out-exercise a poor diet.) Build movement into your holiday celebrations, rather than using the time as an excuse not to exercise.
4. Place at least as much emphasis on quality connections with people around you.
As much as it can sometime seem like it, the holidays are not just about food. True family or not, people come together and that’s a great reason to spend time catching up, focusing on spending time together doing activities other than eating. Going for walks, sweat dates, shopping trips, Christmas card writing parties, playing games, making those DIY gifts you’ve been pinning on Pinterest – all of these things are opportunities to build relationships without having to do so over food.
What about when you’re feeling stressed?
Just like I said above, I think recalling how making positive choices for yourself has made you feel in the past can encourage you to do the same. This includes food, as well as the other lifestyle choices you make for yourself.
1. Stick to meals made with whole, real, unprocessed ingredients.
You knew this was coming, but why? It’s because whole foods in their unprocessed state are your best bet for delivering your body the vitamins and minerals it needs. That includes foods that support the immune system, nervous system and gut – all of which become weakened when stress hormones start circulating in our bodies.
Here’s a few to work into your meals:
- For immunity: fresh fruits and vegetables, and any foods rich in vitamin C (citrus, spinach, kiwi, broccoli, bell peppers) and antioxidants (pretty much all berries, dark chocolate, raw cacao, cilantro, cloves, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, matcha, green tea).
- For the nervous system: foods rich in B vitamins, especially oily fish, gluten-free whole grains, fruits + veggies, dark leafy greens, lentils, black beans, responsibly raised poultry, eggs. Our brains are made of mostly fat, so essential fatty acids are great for this too.
- For gut health: Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, tempeh, miso and coconut kefir, fermented pickled vegetables, apple cider vinegar (with the mother), a probiotic supplement, probiotic-rich yogurt (if you’re able to tolerate dairy), collagen, healthy fats, cruciferous vegetables + other fibre-rich produce, turmeric, probiotic supplements. It’s also important to include foods high in prebiotics to feed the healthy bacteria in the gut, and you can do this with garlic, asparagus, bananas, leeks and onions.
- For boosting mood: There are 4 hormones that make us feel happy – serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins. Foods like bananas, high quality carbohydrates (think oats and other whole grains), dark chocolate, turkey, asparagus, nuts and seeds can help trigger increases in some of these hormones, which in turn, should help make you feel better.
2. Get sweaty.
Chances are you’ve got a few days off throughout the holidays, and even if you don’t, could probably still squeeze in a quick workout during the day, a few times each week. Exercise will help to keep your digestion moving, and that’s important because stress has a way of slowing it down. It’ll also help to boost endorphins that lift your mood – especially when done outside. When you’re in better spirits, you’ll be more likely to make healthier food choices throughout the day. Whether it’s an indoor sweat at the gym or in a studio, or an outdoor activity like skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing or just going for a brisk walk, all of these can help to relieve stress and make you feel better.
3. Prioritize sleep.
It might sound lazy, but sleep is SO underrated when it comes to being our healthiest selves. Without it, our brains don’t function as well, cortisol levels run higher, and when gone unchecked can lead to weight gain and more serious health issues. Again, remember how a good night’s sleep will make you feel, vs what the next day will be like if you have to tackle it exhausted. It’s easier said than done, and I’m absolutely not perfect at it either. But as a reminder to all of us, it’s so important to respect what our bodies are trying to tell us. If you need more sleep, make sure you get it. (Yes, even if that means skipping a workout. Sometimes, it really is the better choice.)
Right – now I’d love to open up the conversation to you! Chime in below and tell me how you maintain your healthy lifestyle during the holidays. Do you find it challenging or easier? Any tips to add to my list above?