Holiday Survival Guide

10 Simple Practices for Thriving Through the Holidays

The holiday season is my family’s favorite time of year! With three young kids, you can bet we have a lot of baking and decorating going on in our house.

For many of you, however, this time of year can be the most difficult to eat healthy as we navigate holiday parties and family gatherings.  And I get it! I’ve been in your shoes. Over the last fifteen years, I have drastically changed the way I bake.

Rather than giving up baking, because you guys know I would never do that, I redeveloped my skills so that I can keep up with many of the same family traditions.  Instead of refined wheat flour and white sugar I now baking everything completely grain- and refined sugar-free! I also dropped the gluten and Crisco!

But those changes didn’t happen over night.  I remember well how this season can be accompanied by negative impacts to our health and body goals.  Stress levels increase as does our guilt and disappointment. 

But what if I just have one?

An occasional treat might be okay but often we need to ask ourselves, “is this worth it? Can I really only have one?” because many of us can’t have just one. Our tendency to loosen up a bit this time of year can exacerbate symptoms like digestive distress and brain fog.

I used to gain a few pounds every November and December and just basically throw in the towel!

So why compromise yourself at all?  If you know there is another way, you can do better for yourself!

It’s not just about the added weight; it’s the underlying inflammation, blood sugar imbalances, mood swings, and general downward health spiral that I’m talking about.

I’ve put together some quick tips for you this season so that you don’t derail yourself and instead can relax and enjoy the holiday season. If you follow these gems you’ll enjoy this break as a time to spend with family, reassess your health goals for next year, and enjoy tons of tasty and nutritious food. 

I don’t plan for just surviving the holiday anymore. 

With a few simple changes and some willpower, it’s not hard to stay on track, keep to your health priorities, and let yourself thrive during the holidays!

10 Tips for Thriving through the Holidays

1. Plan ahead. 

Do not think of the holidays as a mad dash for the last two weeks of December. It helps me so much to begin the preparation for the holidays before Thanksgiving. This includes planning what I will be cooking, making certain foods (like desserts) that are easy to freeze and can be thawed and enjoyed later. 

I know we are past Thanksgiving but it’s not too late to start now.  Plan ahead for your parties, dinners, and social gatherings. Don’t just react and end up stressing or binge eating.

Think about the following questions and schedule your food in advance:

o What can you make ahead and freeze?
o Can you bring something of your own?
o What will you eat?
o Will you eat before you go if you know there will be too much questionable food?
o Can you convince another friend to also bring something clean to eat?

2. Bake your own desserts and treats with whole, natural, unrefined ingredients. 

Start new traditions with food or revamp old recipes that are in line with your values. If you are grain-free then bake grain-free desserts to bring to social gatherings, and do the same for your family, so you can feel good about eating them too. 

If you are following a Ketogenic diet then get comfortable baking with a lot of healthy fat such as grass-fed butter, ghee, or coconut oil, and use low carbohydrate sweeteners such as Monkfruit, Erythritol, and Stevia. Always, always bring your own low carb, Keto, or Paleo dish to a social gathering. This will help to keep you from slipping and eating something you wished you hadn’t.

3. Pay attention to food combining.

There are certain foods that don’t digest well with others and can easily overwhelm your digestive system. The result for you is gas, bloating, belching, reflux, and a release of unwanted toxins.

Fruit, for example, is best eaten by itself and not with proteins or dairy. If you do eat dairy, it is best eaten alone and not with fruit or protein. Yes, that means eat your cheese without carbs, your yogurt without fruit, and your protein without dairy or fruit.

Starchy carbohydrates, and too many carbs in general, tend to cause indigestion, especially when combined with dairy or fruit. And most importantly, when you do indulge in a high carbohydrate meal, keep the fats at that meal low.  Even the healthy fats! 

Combining a high carbohydrate meal with a lot of fat (i.e., most processed foods and prepared meals) is an easy way to overwhelm your system, cause high blood sugar, store more fat, and increase your chances of inflammation and oxidative stress. 

As a general rule we keep the carbs low and increase healthy fats, but when you do eat more carbs, then keep the fats low.

4. How you eat is just as important as what you eat.

Don’t eat standing! Make sure you are relaxed when you eat. Sit down, even if you have to sit on the floor. 

Digestion starts in our brain. When we are stressed, upset, anxious, or just busy, our digestive system shuts down. In a sympathetic state, our system does not function optimally. We cannot digest food properly because our gastric juices are not being produced and enzymes are not being released. The result is indigestion, inflammation, malabsorption, and the release of more unwanted toxins. 

Don’t snack or nibble as you cook either. This just leads to intake of extra calories, as you are most likely standing, busy, stressed, and definitely not digesting optimally!  If you’re the snacking type, you will likely make some bad choices and regret them later if you mindlessly snack. 

What gets me into trouble is the constant nibbling and testing throughout the cooking process. Simply not snacking or nibbling doesn’t sound like much, but it can add tons of extra calories, cause indigestion, and make your meal less enjoyable.

Going 4-5 hours between meals can allow you to slip into a mild “fasted” state, regulate your blood sugar, and help you burn fat. Also, imagine if you’d fasted during the 4-5 hours you were preparing dinner. Not only would dinner be more fulfilling and satisfying, but you also wouldn’t have spent 4-5 hours in snack mode.

5. Prioritize your health.

Set yourself clear goals and intentions for how you want to feel come January 1st. Stay committed with yourself, recognize your needs, and pay attention to them. But also remember that you are human!

If you do have something that’s usually off limits, don’t throw in the towel! You are only just one meal away from being back on track. We all make mistakes and we don’t want to beat ourselves up over trying Aunt Bertha’s pie or the fudge that’s definitely not Keto fudge.

While you do want to allow for some flexibility, make some of your health goals non-negotiable. Make yourself a list of how you feel now and how you want to feel throughout the holiday season so you can keep the big picture in mind.

6. Be careful of “gateway foods.”

By now you know your weaknesses, your downfalls, and what has derailed you in the past. You know what indulgences your body and mind can handle without triggering more cravings, mood changes, brain fog, or other avoidable challenges. Sometimes “having just one” may cause a sugar rush that leads to cravings or it may cause guilt and lead to further emotional eating. 

Sometimes it is okay to have just one, or have just one bite, but be honest with yourself, you know your limits. If there is an ingredient your body is sensitive or intolerant to, it’s best to avoid those foods and remember, “it is just not worth it”. I say, steer clear of the dessert table if it will complicate things for you.

7. Stay hydrated.

We’ve all heard the saying “you are not hungry you are just thirsty.” 

Drink water right when you wake up and before each of your meals. Drink water instead of beer at social gatherings this season. Drink a tall glass of water right when you arrive to keep you from hitting the snack table. 

The proper amount of water for each of us is to drink half of your body weight in ounces, daily.

To create this habit, fill up enough glasses or water bottles in the morning and make sure that you drink them all before you go to bed. You can also try adding a small amount of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to your water before meals. This helps initiate your digestive process, and helps you better digest your food.

8. Don’t eat late.

Give your body time to rest, digest, and detox!

Avoid late social meals and avoid eating after dinner. Schedule social gatherings and meals earlier. Eat before you go out. If you are socializing later, don’t be afraid to just sip tea if the meal is being served way too late for you.

Did you know that it is best to stop eating three hours before you go to bed? This gives your body the time and energy to properly digest and absorb nutrients. If you eat too close to sleeping your body can’t go through the normal detoxification processes during the night and you may wake up groggy, tired, and foggy headed.

9. Try intermittent fasting.

Fasting during the holiday season can be a real savior. If you are new to fasting, experiment with skipping breakfast or waiting as long as you can before eating in the morning. This practice can be especially beneficial after a bigger than normal holiday meal.

As a general rule, always go at least twelve hours without food. Then see if you can go 16-18 hours without eating, to allow your stomach to empty completely and let your body start burning fat. If short fasts do not come easily, do not force it upon yourself during the holiday season.

There is time to make this adjustment later and I can help. For now, twelve hours without food (from dinner to breakfast) is a great place to start and is really a good minimum for every day.

10. Make exercise a priority and get outside.

You cannot exercise yourself out of a bad diet, but you sure can help burn up excess blood glucose and reduce high blood sugar after overindulging.

Moderate exercise is also a great way to release stress. The best form of exercise to use up stored glucose (glycogen) in your muscles is intense short bursts or sprint intervals over 75% of your maximum.

Clearing the glycogen out of your muscles in this way makes space for the additional sugar and carbs that you eat so that it doesn’t just linger in your blood or get stored as fat.

Get outside and move this season. It clears your head, and it makes you feel good. Going on a 20-30 minute brisk walk will also help lower your blood sugar, clear brain fog, and reduce stress.

Commit to yourself!

Let’s face it, the way you eat during the holidays may not be totally seamless or perfect but with a little intention you may surprise yourself and come out on top!  

These ten tips can help you head into the next few weeks with a clear vision of how you want to feel and you may end up enjoying the holidays more instead of just surviving through them!

Vonni… I don’t know if I can do this!  

I know you can do this!  And I have wonderful resources for you that will allow you to create meals and treats that align with your health goals to keep you feeling:

  • Energized
  • Clear-minded
  • Happy with yourself
  • Calm and cool, and also
  • Keep your immune system running strong!

Visit my recipe page, try using these alternative sweeteners, or contact me for some holiday meal planning.

What if I’m in too deep already?

If you’ve already overindulged and are just trying to survive the holidays, that’s okay!  It’s a stressful time of year that can be filled with overwhelm and worry. 

But there is good news!  If you find yourself needing to make the unavoidable post-holiday recovery in January, I am here and ready to support you!

I will be hosting my new 6-week group program, Keto Clear, at Mountain Yoga Sandy in Sandy, UT starting January 16th.  There is no doubt in my mind that this program can really help you leave your old habits behind and learn how to navigate any time of year without derailing your health!

Now go on and enjoy the holidays!

For now, I want us all to enjoy this time of year and recognize our strengths. Applaud yourself for where you are now. Focus on appreciating your energy, how well you can handle stress, how well you can multi-task, and how patient you can be. 

Avoid the negative spiral of overwhelm.  Don’t focus on your limitations or rooting yourself in stress. Don’t let yourself dwell on the bad sleep you had last night or how much you still have to do.

When we can look at our lives through this scope of appreciation we give ourselves more energy, more vitality, and more radiance. We have more fun.

Bonus Tip: Gratitude

Did you know? Giving, helping others, and feeling gratitude can be more than just emotionally satisfying, these skills can

  • promote health 
  • reduce stress
  • reduce blood pressure
  • increase healing
  • release endorphins
  • improve moods
  • help you cope

Gratitude and helping others have been found to improve psychological health by reducing emotions like envy and regret. When it comes to physical health, grateful people may also have fewer aches and pains and take better care of themselves in general. A grateful attitude also helps with better sleep quality and length of sleep.

I find it easy to feel grateful this time of year.  We tend to put a special focus on gratitude, we are thankful for good food, good health, and good people.  Let’s keep the spirit of gratitude going longer and stronger each and every day no matter what the season is. The holidays are a great time to practice being thankful and helping others, see how it makes you feel and lifts your spirit this year!