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How to Tweak Your Holiday Meals to Add Some Health Benefits

By Heidi Baldwin. MS, Holistic Health Coach.

I want to give you permission to approach the holidays without that "all-or-nothing" mindset I observe so often, especially during this time of year. It seems to either fall under "I'll wait until January to get back on track or start my new health goals, so I'll throw all caution to the wind for now!" or an alternatively strict, rigid approach where you feel restricted and unable to enjoy what you want to enjoy during the holiday season because you’re “being good” and don’t allow yourself any “cheat” time.

After all, it's only once a year we get the treat of Great Grandpa’s famous family sugar cookie recipe, or Aunt Susie’s famous pecan pie, and there's no need to waste the chance to enjoy it. I personally subscribe to a balanced approach to life, which means making healthy decisions sprinkled in with indulgences. Remember the 80/20 or 90/10 rule? When you are eating healthy 80-90% of the time, it’s ok to allow yourself to enjoy a small treat or richer foods than you normally eat, but do enjoy every once in a while. Eating should be a pleasurable experience, and it’s probably not healthy to deprive yourself of the rare special holiday treat. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to eat a dozen sugar cookies or half of a pie because you’ve given yourself permission to enjoy this treat. Making smart choices is still important (this holds true for portions of any of your holiday food experiences); one or two cookies or a sliver of pie is probably not going to completely derail your health goals. Remember mindset is key, so if you decide to enjoy those special treats, do NOT spend every day until January 2nd mentally beating yourself up for “falling off the wagon.” If you choose to indulge, you’re going to enjoy that cookie or pie or eggnog, or whatever it is that brings you joy in the holiday season, acknowledge how great it tasted, acknowledge the happy memories it conjured up, and then move on with your day with zero regrets. Seriously, enjoy the experience and then don’t look back.

I also use tricks and tweaks to make typically "unhealthy" choices healthier, which I'm going to share with you today.

Be selective about sweets.

You don't want to miss out on the festive treats you wait all year to enjoy, nor should you. You can take a balanced approach by selecting your absolute favorite dessert to enjoy after your meal or take small slivers of a few to have small tastes of each. You can also make your own healthier treats with natural ingredients that don't have all the sugars lurking in them. (If you need some help with healthy substitutions, reach out to me). Your friends and family won't even know!

Counter treats with healthy snacks.

Cut up some fresh veggies and enjoy them with hummus or another healthy dip. You'll fill up on the right foods when you're hungry and won't have the appetite to fill up on junkier items that will leave you feeling sluggish. Check out my blog post from last month for some great hummus recipes. So far everyone who has tried the recipes has loved it!

Add fermented foods.

Compare photos of everyone's holiday feasts, and they have the usual suspects on there. It's not that we should toss tradition out into the snow, but adding something different helps shake things up in the best way. A side of sauerkraut or kimchi is excellent for adding probiotics that your gut needs to be healthy. You can even find ways to add them to your usual dishes to spice them up. I love topping a piece of salmon with some locally made sauerkraut. I am also really loving beet kvass every morning. You can find these great options at local health food stores, farmers markets, and even in the natural foods section of many grocery stores. When you are feeding your body what it needs, you won’t be craving the unhealthy options.

Don't forget the prebiotics too.

To get the good gut bacteria going from those probiotics, you need prebiotics to nourish them. Onions, garlic, and asparagus tend to go well on the holiday table. Legumes are a great choice for a meatless dish, and if you feel like something sweet for a snack, try a banana, which will give that gut bacteria plenty of sustenance, leading you to better immunity for the cold and flu season.

Hit the sheets at a reasonable time.

Okay, so it's not a meal tweak per se, but sleep is critical because it affects how you eat and what foods you turn to when you're hungry. Rest is also beneficial for helping your body fight off any pathogens. Right now, that's something everyone needs to think about. Limit your blue light exposure after the sun goes down, and remember that your body gets the most rest between 10 pm and 2 am, so it’s ideal if you can try to be asleep by 10 pm or not long after. Your body also does all of its repair work while you’re sleeping, so this is key especially when we are consuming sugar and rich foods we do not typically eat.

As another bonus, good sleep keeps your stress hormone cortisol in check, which means your body can work as it should without interference. Get plenty of sleep, and dream about healthy meals or even adding in extra fruits and vegetables wherever you can to bring the holidays into a balanced state. You can enjoy the holidays AND stay on track with your health!

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