How to Enjoy the Holidays — Without The Bloat, Fatigue, and Weight gain

Finding balance during the holiday season can be tricky. The holidays seem to be founded on sugar, dairy, alcohol, and simple carbs. Say yes to all these foods and treats, and you can end up sluggish and bloated, with your pants fitting a LOT tighter than they did heading into Thanksgiving. Say no, and you can feel like a party ruiner, or spend the holiday season feeling isolated and like you’re missing out. Many of us feel like we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, having to choose between enjoying the holidays and maintaining our healthy lifestyle goals.

But here’s the thing: You DON’T have to choose. In this blog post, I’ll be diving into something we don’t talk about much — finding balance over the holidays. I want to help you find a healthy, happy middle ground this year. That way, you can fully lean into the holiday cheer without completely sabotaging all your hard-earned progress from the first 10 months of the year.

If you’re looking to spend the holidays focused on friends, family, and fun instead of obsessing about food — keep reading!

Why “All or Nothing” Thinking is the Wrong Approach

I often observe my patients falling into an “all or nothing” thinking pattern when it comes to health. For example, I’ll have a patient stop running altogether when they don’t meet their goal of training for a marathon, or eat a piece of bread, decide they’ve “failed at being gluten-free,” and then just give in and start eating a croissant every morning for breakfast. It’s nothing or the kitchen sink — no in-between.

Have you ever heard the saying:

“Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good”?

Well, the instances above are the typical examples of how this saying applies to everyday life. And nowhere is this thinking more damaging than over the holidays. Because the truth is, you don’t have to choose between completely abandoning all wellness goals and being so strict that you suck all the fun out of this time of year, only to cave in later and go on a comfort food and sweets binge. And if you keep reading, I’ll prove it to you!

How to Find Balance This Holiday Season

There are two crucial parts for achieving a more balanced holiday season. The first involves identifying the worst holiday health offenders, and the second part involves identifying your personal holiday priorities. Here’s what you need to know:

Cut out the 5 BIG holiday health offenders

So what are “holiday health offenders”? Mostly, they are foods and substances that disrupt your gut health and microbiome, which can lead to the blood sugar swings, weight gain, irregular moods, and crashing energy levels many of us experience during the holidays. Before you fall prey to the usual temptations of the season, let me help you strategize a holiday eating plan you can successfully navigate.

Here are five of the most damaging health offenders, and why you should be wary of them this holiday season:

Sugary CocktailsSugary Cocktails

The holidays are a time for celebration, and oftentimes that means champagne, wine, beer, cocktails, and ciders. Unfortunately, alcohol can majorly disrupt the gut microbiome and can increase intestinal permeability, meaning it leads to leaky gut. But even worse than alcohol alone is the combination of alcohol and sugar that’s found in many cocktails. Since sugar also disrupts the gut microbiome — by allowing sugar-eating bacteria to overgrow and crowd out good bacteria — this is like a double whammy to your gut health and a recipe for a major hangover.

Couch Potato

The Couch Potato Effect

Even the most active among us can find ourselves glued to the couch in November and December. This is usually for a bunch of reasons — the cold weather, travel, heavy foods we’re eating, and the lack of alone time. Exercise has a positive influence on gut health and promotes a balanced blood sugar, so if you’ve moving less you’re missing out on the benefits of exercise this time of year. This, combined with the other factors on the list, is what really contributes to our health debacle during the holidays.

Carb-y Filler Foods

Carb-y “Filler Foods”

This includes foods like pasta, bread, and crackers, which are unfortunately an abundant part of this time of year. These foods are typically made with refined, simple carbohydrates that disrupt gut bacteria and wreak havoc on your blood sugar, leading to dysbiosis — an imbalance between good and bad bugs in the gut, favoring a more detrimental gut microbiome for your health. The worst part about these foods is that they’re typically not even the central focus of the meal; more often than not, they are just delivery methods for delicious dips, sauces, cheeses, or spreads. This makes them even more dangerous, as you mindlessly eat too much while consuming dips, spreads, and cheeses. AND, they’re extremely damaging to gut health. Ultimately, people end up stuffing themselves with carbs, because of the addictive nature of these refined carb “filler foods.”

Dairy Bombs

Hot chocolate with whipped cream, pumpkin pie with scoop of vanilla ice cream, eggnog, and mashed potatoes — all famous holiday foods, and also all dangerous, dairy bombs. Traditional dairy is one of the worst gut health disruptors, not only because so many people are lactose-intolerant, but because dairy can slow digestion and leave you bloated and constipated, or the opposite, running to the bathroom with diarrhea. I have found dairy to be particularly problematic for women who suffer from constipation and acne.

Portion Size Trap

The Portion Size Trap

The fifth and final holiday health offender has to do with not just what you eat, but how much you eat. Many of us decide that if we’re throwing our healthy lifestyle routine to the wayside, we should do it with total abandon and pile our plates high. Of course, it doesn’t help that most holiday parties are self-serve buffet style where it’s easy to overeat before you know you’re full. Unfortunately, this leads to indigestion, stomach aches, nausea, feeling overfull, acid reflux, and the dreaded food coma after eating. There’s also the FOMO (“fear of missing out”) from not trying everything at a dinner party, so you end up eating things that intuitively you really wouldn’t want to eat.
Each of the five holiday health offenders is damaging in their own way, but together they are the perfect storm of factors that leave you desperately needing a detox come January.

Get clear on your priorities

After you familiarize yourself with the top holiday gut health disruptors, it’s time to look inward and figure out what YOUR priorities are for YOUR holiday season. Are you looking to maintain optimal gut health? Keep the weight off? Maintain your energy levels?

Whatever your goal, it’s all about making small, strategic compromises. For example, if you can’t live without delicious hot chocolate, can you go for a dairy-free hot chocolate, instead, and cut down on sugary cocktails and alcoholic beverages? If you can’t imagine a holiday without your mom’s famous mac and cheese, can you avoid the portion size trap and eat it in moderation by choosing a smaller bowl to serve it in? If you went a little overboard at your last meal, can you go on a 30 minute walk around the neighborhood and do a stress-busting, mood-boosting HIIT workout the next day?

They might not seem ground breaking, but these little compromises can make a big difference in your health. In fact, you might just find that by being intentional and strategic, you are able to enjoy the holidays just as much as you did before. That means you’ll feel a whole lot better both physically and mentally, while feeling like you’ve made almost zero sacrifices!

How to Enjoy the Holidays Without Feeling Like You’re Cheating

The truth is, there are a ton of ways to promote balance this time of year and avoid an “all or nothing” attitude about holiday wellness, which inevitably leads to those late-night kitchen cabinet raids. That’s what inspired me to create the FREE Happy Gut® Holiday chEATing Guide to help you do just that.

In it, I include smart ingredient swaps that will allow you to enjoy your favorite foods and drinks in a way that also helps you cut down on the excess sugar, carb-y “filler foods,” and dairy bombs. I even give you the best alcoholic beverage swaps to cut down on liquid calories, while still enjoying the party.

People often get in the habit of doing the same thing every holiday season — overeating, spending too much time on the couch, and reaching for every unhealthy treat and snack. This year, why don’t you try something different?


FREE Happy Gut® Holiday ChEATing Guide

Download my FREE Happy Gut® Holiday ChEATing Guide and follow the two steps above so you can have a healthy and happy holiday season — sprinkled with a little bit of indulgence, a dose of wellness, and a whole lot of healthy balance.

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