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How to Stay Healthy for the Holidays

by DR. SARA GOTTFRIED

For me, the holidays used to be a time of indulgence in foods that I usually denied myself. It didn’t help that my inner saboteur would egg me on, whispering in my ear to eat another Christmas cookie or have another helping of Yorkshire pudding. By the time January 1st rolled around, my weight would be up and my mood would be low. Over the last few years, I have changed my thinking. I no longer “treat” myself with foods that provide a few moments of gratification before wreaking havoc on my hormones, inflaming my gut, expanding my waistline, and making me feel lousy about my lack of willpower.

Now, I view the holidays as an opportunity to nourish my mind, body, and soul, even in the face of temptation at every turn. In terms of taking care of myself, that means tracking more carefully my inputs and outputs so that I don’t run into not just weight gain but deficit spending with my energy. I schedule more inputs—nourishing whole food that I cook at home, yoga, guided visualizations, essential oils, massages, and time with friends. In terms of food, this means avoiding sugar, gluten, and refined carbs, and sticking to my food code. All that said, I’ve learned that I cannot nourish ourselves with harsh denial.

So how do we stay healthy around the holidays and resist temptation without feeling deprived and resentful?

Dr. Gottfried’s Top Tips

  1. Avoid the holiday hangover. Most of us tend to drink more around the holidays, so here’s my secret to hangover prevention. Take two supplements before you drink: pantothenic acid (vitamin B5, 500-1,000 mg) and N-acetyl cysteine (900-2,000 mg). It works like a dream. Then alternate a glass of wine with a glass of sparkling water. Alcohol pokes holes in your gut lining and shrinks the brain (it’s a neurotoxin). Since three servings or more of alcohol raises a woman’s risk of breast cancer, schedule your drinks and enjoy them without going over the risky dose.
  2. Start your day with a nutrient-dense shake. It sets the metabolic tone for the day. Around the holidays, I add more healthy and satiating fat; then I’m unlikely to be promiscuous with food later. I add one or two of the following to my standard green protein shake: 2 tablespoons of soaked chia seeds, a handful of macadamia nuts, 1 tablespoon of cacao nibs, 1 tablespoon of MCT (medium-chain triglyceride oil), or 2 tablespoons of freshly ground flax seeds. Make sure your shake is low in carbohydrates because the combination of higher fat with higher carbohydrates is inflammatory and a common cause of weight gain around the holidays.
  3. Practice intermittent fasting (IF). While there are several IF protocols out there, I recommend the overnight fast and a restricted eating window during the day. I suggest that you fast overnight for 16 hours (don’t worry, you are sleeping for most of this time) and eat during an 8-hour window only, and aim for IF every other day. Start more simply with a 14-hour overnight fast and 10-hour eating window twice per week. You can set your own schedule depending on your holiday schedule. For example, you could stop eating at 7 p.m. and then don’t eat again until 11 a.m. the next morning. When your eating window is reduced, it is common to find that you consume fewer calories than you would with an extended eating window. Intermittent fasting offers a whole host of health benefits, including regulating your blood sugar and improving mental focus and acuity.
  4. Move your body. Aim for 12,000 steps per day. I walk my dog further during the holidays than the rest of the year and try to get my husband or daughters to join me. Or I hop on a Peloton first thing in the morning (exercising in a fasted state activates longevity genes) for 30-45 minutes. Be sure to include resistance training because it helps to reduce the anxiety that’s more common around the holidays.
  5. Stop lamenting all the holiday foods you shouldn’t eat and instead, focus on the delicacies you can enjoy that are truly nutritive. There are a surprising number of these foods, and they are more decadent than pumpkin pie! I advocate cooking with coconut oil for everyday purposes, but on special occasions, I saute vegetables in duck fat or pastured ghee. For hors d’oeuvre and appetizers, I serve a huge vegetable crudite along with artisanal pâtés and cheese. Like duck fat and ghee, these indulgences are delectable and extremely satisfying. I recommend treating yourself to fats instead of sugar because unlike sweets, whole-food fat leaves you feeling satisfied instead of triggering a response to keep eating. Other healthy fats that keep you satisfied include olives, salmon roe, caviar, flackers (crackers made with only flax seeds) with cheese, or salmon shooters wrapped in seaweed or lettuce.
  6. Lastly, plan your splurges. “Plan” is the operative word. Don’t just get weak in the moment and eat an extra serving of stuffing, followed by two pieces of pumpkin pie. Do one splurge but planned, so it’s not a last-minute cave of weakness. Be in the eternal present moment with your splurge. Notice the aroma and how it feels on your tongue. Notice when your mouth feel peaks and stop.

Finally, if you overindulge, forgive yourself. Beating yourself up only leads to a downward spiral. If you fall off, climb back on the next day. To learn more tips for thriving during the holidays, get my holiday survival guide.

Happy holidays!

This essay was featured in the December 15th edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper inspires hearts and minds to rise above the noise. To get The Sunday Paper delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.

DR. SARA GOTTFRIED

Sara Gottfried, M.D. is an integrative physician and author of the New York Times bestselling "The Hormone Cure" and "The Hormone Reset Diet."

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