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12 Tips For Healthy Holiday Eating

Posted by Deborah Graefer, L.Ac., MTOM on

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'Tis the season to be jolly -- and to eat a lot! Which tends to put a damper on the jolliness. We all know that familiar feeling of excitement and bliss as we indulge in sumptuous food over the holidays up to that button-popping, zipper-sliding point. But year after year, most of us probably feel awful or even sick, shortly after stuffing ourselves with so much more than we can handle. Others simply call it a food coma, but what really happens inside our body when we eat too much? Many of us have heard about the adage, “a moment on the lips, forever on the hips”. But it’s really not just our pants’ size that we should be worried about. Let’s take a look at some common holiday culprits and know what it does to us.



Fatty Foods

Our bodies already make enough cholesterol to sustain us on a daily basis. So anything else that we ingest through our diet is essentially a surplus. This is the reason why in the US, the recommended daily allowance for cholesterol is just 300 mg. For those with existing heart issues, it needs to be even lower. Yes, there is what we call “good” and “bad” cholesterol or high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDP) respectively, but having too much of the “good thing” is still unhealthy. Moreover, it is not just the obviously high-cholesterol sources that we should be in the lookout for. Saturated fats and trans fats can also take its toll on you.

Overeating and high cholesterol foods can have immediate impact on your health. Right after the meal, you may feel bloated and excessively gassy. More than the embarrassment of frequent belching or passing of gas, it can even cause discomfort or abdominal pain. Not that this is license to overeat, but you can head this symptom off at the pass by taking supplemental bile salts and choline which help your body metabolize the fats.

Fatty foods also trigger acid reflux. When there is too much pressure on the valve between the stomach and esophagus, this lid may weaken or relax abnormally and allow stomach acids to move up the esophagus causing pain and a burning sensation. This is similar to the sensation during a bile reflux, wherein the bile backs up to the stomach and then the esophagus. Frequent overeating and in turn reflux, may cause irreversible damage.

Long-term and habitual over consumption of a diet high in cholesterol, saturated fats, and trans fats put you at risk of developing heart and liver diseases. Since our bodies can only take and eliminate so much fat, those that remain in our system can block arteries or develop as cholesterol stones.

Sugar Rush

How can you resist that warm, gooey pie that you only get to eat during special occasions, not to mention those muffins and chewy cookies freshly baked for the big day? Of course, to flush all the food down, nothing beats the feeling of that cold fizzy drink down your throat. What a way to finish a fantastic meal. Right? Oh no!

Although sugar is important for energy, our body just needs to take just a small amount daily. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends that men only have a maximum of 9 teaspoons of sugar per day while women should only have 6. (A slice of pumpkin pie has about 6 teaspoons of sugar; one bottle of coke contains 13 teaspoons.) However, we can also blame our bodies for our desire to eat more and more sweets. Sugar triggers the release of the hormones dopamine and serotonin, similar to the feeling of getting high. Without the help of supplements like herbal digestive bitters taken just as you feel full, it would be difficult to curb those cravings.

But what happens when we binge on sweet goodies, especially those with processed and refined sugar?

Immediately after ingestion, sugar sets off a chain reaction in the digestion process which gives us the rush and crash. When we take in so much sugar, there is a deluge of glucose that spikes our energy. Our body then copes by creating an overflow of insulin. However, shortly after the rush, our blood sugar crashes, to which our body responds to by releasing adrenaline and cortisol to release stored sugar. This fluctuation may leave us feeling exhausted, nauseated and it makes us crave even more.

Over time, continuous sugar overdose poses much greater threat. It may be sweet, but that doesn’t make it less deadly. Sugar in sodas, fruit juices and in almost all other processed goods, is the primary reason for the epidemic of obesity. Even those items that claim to be “sugar-free” usually have an alternative that is just as bad. Excess sugar gets converted into fat and before you know it, you have already gained too much weight.

A long-term, high-sugar diet also affects the heart and the liver, putting you at risk for cardiovascular and hepatic diseases. High insulin levels increase blood pressure and make the heart work much harder. Eventually, it can cause vasoconstriction and hypertension. As for the liver, sugar has a similar effect as excessive cholesterol, causing fatty liver disease or NAFLD. Consistent consumption of sugary foods also may lead to diabetes.

Sodium Overload – Effects of Excessive Salt Intake – Effects of Too Much Salt

Just like cholesterol and sugar, our body needs sodium to keep up numerous functions. This mineral is crucial to maintain normal fluid balance and ideal blood pressure. It also plays an important role in the communication between neurons and transmission of nerve impulses.

Although the table salt is the most common form of sodium, there are a lot of other sources we should be cautious about. Some examples are sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), sodium benzoate, sodium cyclamate and sodium nitrate. These are often found in processed food and junk food as preservatives and additional flavourings. Just because a food is not salty, does not mean it is safe and sodium-free. You might be surprised how much of this mineral is present in canned goods, cereals, frozen meals and in condiments. All those cake mixes, pasta sauces, gravy and dips, chips and processed meats that we feast on are packed with much more sodium than our bodies should take.

The ideal sodium intake is just between 1500 to 2300 mg per day. And during the holidays, or even on a regular day, many of us eat up to 5000 mg daily. That is more than twice the recommended maximum amount! The scary thing is that, too much sodium does not just make us sick. Taking excessive amounts all at once, especially over a period of time, can be poisonous and lethal.

When we overeat on sodium-rich foods, we get parched, nauseous and weak. This is a sign that our cells are getting dehydrated as our bodies try to dilute the excess mineral in the bloodstream. In some cases, some cells even shrink and they are displaced from their proper places. If this happens to our brain cells, it can trigger seizures and even a coma. As far out as this may sound, it actually has happened to people with no control – specifically a senile man and an unsupervised child.

Too much sodium also damages the kidneys and liver and has a profound effect on our blood pressure and cardiovascular function.

Eating excessive salt raises the salt in your blood, throwing off the sodium potassium balance which puts stress on your kidneys trying to remove the water. This extra fluid both increases blood pressure and puts added pressure on the blood vessels leading to the kidneys.

And, for anyone with Hashimoto’s, you should be using sea salt and not table salt since the latter contains iodine, which is contraindicated in that disease. Research shows that iodine increases the immune attack on the thyroid.

SO WHAT DO WE DO?

Plan forward. Think ahead. Before the festivities, have the right mindset and set your limits. Set your goal to eat less and move more. Decide before the event what you are going to allow yourself to eat and drink.If you are committing to drinking water and skipping soda, decide to do so before you even see it. This will make it easier to resist. Remember, the battle starts with the mind. If you let your senses drive you at the moment, you’ll overeat.

If you’re cooking or hosting, then you can even have better control. Think of alternatives. Instead of serving a tub of ice cream, why not offer homemade yoghurt with fresh fruits instead? In place of the huge juicy slab of steak, roast pork or duck, why not choose a leaner meat and make the servings smaller? Better yet, go for the white meat! You can still make it appetizing and enjoyable.

Help your body with the digestion and metabolism process. Ayurvedic medicine suggests drinking warm water to aid digestion. So while everyone is waiting for the meal to be ready, sipping on wine, beer or soda, help yourself to a glass of warm water which will gear up your metabolism before you even start to eat. Take it 30 minutes before eating, on an empty stomach. Warm water following a meal also helps.

Regulate, Moderate. As cliché as it may sound, moderation is key. Having said the recommended daily allowance for cholesterol, sugar and sodium, it is already very difficult to meet them on a regular day. How much more during a buffet? If you really must eat more than your usual, watch your plate. Get a little of what you would dare to have and chew slowly. This gives your brain the time to receive and process the signal that your body has had enough to eat. Listen to your breathing and be conscious of what you are feeling. Our bodies have built-in alarms and if you just pay attention, you will know when to stop.

Don’t sleep with a full stomach. As much as possible, do not take a huge meal 2-3 hours before sleeping. Overeating makes you sleepy but fight the urge to hit the bed right after. And plan your holiday dinners for an early hour if you have any say in the matter.

Take a leisurely walk as an after-feast bonding with your guests. If you’re the host and you’re cleaning up after everyone, consider it a blessing in disguise. You’ll be forced to move rather than crash on the couch.

Stick with your exercise plan. Some people set their minds that since they’re going to eat a lot and gain weight over the holidays, they might as well ditch the gym. But that’s not how it works. Exercise does not just help you lose weight by burning calories. It also helps you regulate and speed up your metabolism. If you stick with your usual workout, you’ll be more likely to resist the urge to overeat. If not, at least it would be easier for you to get back on track.

Get back on track. Do not make your Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day a whole week. If you really cannot fight the urge and you fall for that moment of weakness, don’t let it drag you down. Get back on track after that day. Many binge-eaters skip meals the next day to compensate for what they have consumed earlier. But this does not help your body. Instead of starving yourself, resume proper and healthy eating of small portions a few times during the day. This will ease you in back to your old routine and help you get back in shape.

12 TIPS FOR HEALTHY HOLIDAY EATING - SUMMARY

1.Have the right mind set and set your limits.

2.Think of delicious but healthier alternatives.

3.Drink warm water before and after your meal.

4.Watch your plate and your portions.

5.Chew slowly. Take your time.

6.Listen to your body and stop eating when you’re full.

7.Eat at least 2-3 hours before bedtime.

8.Walk or engage in some light activities after eating.

9.Continue to hit the gym. Exercise as usual.

10.Do not try to compensate by starving yourself after a feast.

11.Take small, regular meals throughout the day.

12.Take as much help as you can from natural supplements like bile salts, choline and digestive bitters. While all of these help facilitate a more efficient digestion, herbal digestive bitters also help curb your sugar cravings.