The holiday season is approaching fast. It’s a time to cherish with your loved ones, relax and rejuvenate. However, it’s also a time when we “fall off the wagon,” which might lead to weight gain and reduced fitness. It’s important to acknowledge that you don’t have to go hungry or avoid any sense of celebration to remain healthy during the holidays. In this article, we review five natural strategies that you can use this holiday season to celebrate well and get the enjoyment you need.
How adaptive are humans to feasts?
Fasting and feasting are nothing new throughout human history. Even in ancient China, there were standard herbal remedies with the indulgent feasts that inevitably happened yearly. During times of celebration, our bodies naturally cycle between feasting and fasting.
As a society, we have access to a surplus of food, a relatively new phenomenon for humans. Throughout history, we have experienced cycles of abundance and scarcity. Our genes have evolved to adapt to this stressor. I am not suggesting we should advocate for starvation, as readily available food is good. Awareness is the key to combatting the adverse effects of constant eating. In that case, we can modify our habits to mimic an environment more ideal for our genes.
#1) The basics: how to approach the holidays
In general, I suggest following a high-protein and nutrient-dense diet, but that doesn’t mean you have to forgo indulgences during special occasions altogether. Doing so lets you fully enjoy your holiday time without worrying about which foods might make you sluggish and unwell.
One of the best strategies to prepare for the holidays is to practice intermittent fasting. From a research perspective, not eating for 13 hours at night gives your body a rest. As a result, genes with numerous health benefits are turned on from this mini fast. You don’t want to take this to a polar extreme. For example, fasting for an extended period can be hazardous before jumping into an extreme eating event.
#2) Consider a nutrient-dense starter
Before diving into the starches in your meal, such as pasta, rice, bread, or potatoes, it’s recommended to begin with a vegetable or meat dish. Fiber plays a vital role in maintaining a stable glucose response. A vegetable starter provides fiber that spreads across the small intestine and slows down gastric emptying. As a result, the glucose from the rest of your meal is absorbed in smaller quantities, leading to a smaller glucose peak. Additionally, meat, in general, is more nutrient-dense.
#3) Add food enzymes or apple cider vinegar before you eat
Vinegar contains acetic acid, which inhibits enzymes in our digestive system and slows down the release of glucose into the bloodstream. Vinegar also increases the rate of glucose uptake in the muscles. As a result, there is a lower glucose spike after your meal. In fact, studies suggest that consuming one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar before a meal can reduce a glucose spike by up to thirty percent.
To try this out, add one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to a large glass of water and drink it 20 minutes before eating. To protect your teeth, consider drinking it through a straw.
Food enzymes are essential for breaking down and absorbing the nutrients in our food. However, it takes energy to create these enzymes, so our body has a limited supply with each meal. To help your digestive system, consider adding a food enzyme supplement to your diet. Essentially, food will get digested with less burden on your digestive system: bloating, distension, and discomfort.
#4) Go for a walk (and add a bitters herbal formula) after your meal
Here’s a simple hack that can significantly impact your blood sugar levels. Just move for 10-20 minutes after you eat. Our muscles need glucose (a type of sugar) to move, and when you use your muscles after eating, the glucose from the meal has somewhere to go.
Taking a quick walk after a festive meal is a great way to spend time with your loved ones – or an escape from Thanksgiving’s most awkward moments. If you’re short on time or the weather isn’t suitable for a walk, you could do 10-20 squats, pushups, or jumping jacks to use your muscles and reduce the glucose spike. Random jumping jacks can interrupt that uncomfortable dad joke your Uncle always seems to sneak into conversations. Alternatively, you could start cleaning up the dinner table and kitchen as a form of movement rather than heading straight to the couch!
Moving also helps promote peristalsis, which is food movement through your gut. Essentially, moving food helps to prevent food from getting stuck and causing inflammation in your stomach. Adding a bitters formula right after you eat can also help promote peristalsis. Bitters can help combat sluggishness and make walking less tedious.
#5) How to indulge in that favorite dessert
If you’ve ever monitored your blood sugar levels, you would know that eating a sugary or carbohydrate-rich snack on an empty stomach affects your blood sugar differently than having a slice of cake after a meal. Combining carbohydrates with protein, fat, and fiber reduces the glucose spike, minimizing its overall impact on your health.
A scoop of ice cream can be more blood sugar-friendly than a piece of candy. The ice cream contains some fat and protein from the dairy, making it a more balanced meal. Combining sugar in ice cream with fat and protein can reduce the glucose response. Essentially, you can enjoy your dessert after a meal, pair it with some additional protein and fat, or opt for a more balanced dessert, such as a serving of dark chocolate.
Supplement options for the Holiday Feasts
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About the Author
Dr. Mark VanOtterloo is a licensed acupuncturist and Doctor of Oriental Medicine in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. He is an integrative, functional medicine practitioner specializing in chronic disease and women’s health. He uses acupuncture, tuina (medical massage), moxibustion, and herbal liniments to help patients with severe chronic conditions.
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