If you’re like me the holidays pose a challenging time to eat healthfully. With all of the holiday work and social parties and all the co-workers constantly bringing goodies and treats into the office, it’s difficult to resist temptation. So what do we do? Do we give in and feel guilty? Or isolate ourselves and feel like we’re missing out on the fun? Well, there IS a happy medium. Staying healthy and on track with health goals is the same during the holidays as it is during the rest of the year. Here are my tips for staying on top of health goals while still enjoying the holidays:
- Increase nutrition intake
The more the body is packed with nutritive food the less it craves empty calories. Vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants are important to both the brain and body’s functioning. Our brains need this nutrition to perform vital functions including movement and moderating mood. Simply put what we eat affects our brain and ultimately our bodies and how we feel. Eating high-quality, nutrition-rich foods keeps the brain fueled, nourished and protected so it can keep working at its best and it can be more effective at doing what it does best, being our overall control center. Some of the easiest ways to get more nutrition are to plan meals, eat (don’t skip) breakfast and bring our lunch. A smoothie or bowl of fresh fruit for breakfast, a soup and/or salad for lunch and a hearty helping of fresh or cooked vegetables with dinner are some ideas to slip in more plant-based nutrition daily. Be sure to include plenty of greens and berries for power-packed nutrition our brains and bodies will thank us for.
- Water, water, water
The brain and body need proper hydration to function optimally. Without enough water to our brains, we are likely to experience mental fatigue, have difficulty sleeping, have a hard time thinking, concentrating and recalling information as well as experience headaches and mood dysregulation among other symptoms. Drinking water and consuming enough liquids tricks our brains into feeling fuller which helps stave off cravings. We often crave sugar when we are in fact simply dehydrated. The standard recommendation for the daily intake of water is 64 oz or in more recent times our body weight in ounces. Not a fan of plain water? Me either. To help increase water intake consider infusing the water. While not as much as eating fruit and vegetables, infused water gives us more a vitamin and mineral boost. Drinking tea and even infusing tea is also an option as tea has many health benefits as well. Water and tea need not be the only source of water and healthy liquid intake. Our overall water intake can come from other sources such as broths, soups, juices, and smoothies. However, these others often include more sugar (i.e., fresh juices) and/or salt (i.e., broth). Sugary drinks and caffeine actually adversely affect our body’s water store which takes away from our body’s hydration. Enjoy these drinks in moderation, including tea with caffeine rather than making them the main sources of hydration. Try my Apple Pie Cleansing Tonic for a tasty way to increase your water intake.
- Get plenty of rest
Ever stay up way too late finishing a project or enjoying that binge-watching session of your favorite TV show? The next day is usually tough to get through after a lack of sleep, right? New research shows the brain literally kills off brain cells due to a lack of sleep, as tired brain cells are destroyed. Like a lack of nutrition and dehydration, lack of sleep affects our cognition and the brain’s ability to effectively send messages to the rest of the body for ideal performance. With lack of sleep comes less than optimal brain functioning which impairs and decreases our capability to control our impulses and make good decisions. Research also shows lack of sleep can increase cravings, particularly for sugar and carbs. Let’s forgo that urge to continue working or watching TV well past our bedtimes. Our brains aren’t effective once fatigued anyhow. As a result, when we are tired it takes us much longer to complete tasks and/or we are no longer fully engaged. Additionally, it throws off our ability to stay on track with our health so go ahead and get those Zzz.
- Time to move
Exercise improves the structure, function, and connectivity of the brain and when the brain has the proper balance of connectivity it functions more optimally. When cravings or a strong desire to indulge in some goodies we don’t really want, let’s engage in some movement or physical activity to help distract ourselves and keep ourselves occupied until the cravings pass. No gym or no workout equipment nearby? No worries, a simple brisk walk outside or around the office/house OR quick stand in place exercises for five to ten minutes will do the trick.
- Delay the decision
Often times cravings come on so strong and so quick the next thing we do is immediately go grab that snack that popped in our minds suddenly. Think about it we have a ton of random thoughts every day. Most we do not act on but when it comes to food, we often want to hurry to turn the thought off by quickly, impulsively and mindlessly satisfying the urge. Rather than quickly reaching for that snack, make a decision to delay getting it for a set amount of time. I recommend ten minutes or more. What to do during that time, try the suggestion in #4 above, getting some movement OR simply walk away and engage in another task. More often than not after the time has passed we no longer want that snack if we even think of it again at all.
Much of this information shared can be easier said than done. So all we can do is try our best and improve a little more each day. The more we practice these behaviors the more it will become second nature and the easier it will become. One decision to indulge need not ruin the whole day, the whole week or our entire health plan. If we lose the battle to that bag of chips or something sweet this hour the next hour presents a new opportunity to make a better decision. If a craving persists to the end of the day, the next day or the end of the week, go ahead and enjoy it. Life is all about balance and we are happiest when we eat well and are also able to enjoy some deliciousness that may not be a typical part of our health goals.
Healthy Brain. Healthy Body. Happy Life.