STAYING HEALTHY DURING THE HOLIDAYS
FROM SURVIVING TO THRIVING
This time of year can often take its toll on our bodies physically and emotionally. We asked Dr. Zappone to give us her favorite tips on how to not only survive the holiday season, but to stay healthy, have fun, and thrive!
GK: What physical health concern have you been asked most frequently about over the years, during and after the holidays?
Dr. Z: One of the biggest worries, not surprisingly, is about weight gain. But weight gain over the holidays (or any time) is complex. Often at its root there’s a hormone regulation issue – whether cortisol, insulin (also a hormone), or sex hormones. These can all be impacted by how we manage the holidays.
And our feeling bad when we gain weight is an important issue to address. It isn’t just about the few extra pounds. It’s about the chemistry that we have created internally that compounds the issue. For example: low levels of the hormone cortisol feels like fatigue and a bit like depression. This impacts how we experience those few extra pounds, and also whether we feel inspired to enjoy them or have the energy to change the situation.
Knowing what has the most impact for our own body can make the difference in how we feel throughout the holidays. It’s not about doing everything perfectly, it’s all about knowing what has the greatest positive impact and then prioritizing.
GK: Can you walk us through that?
Dr. Z: Sure. Something that we all feel the impact of, but rarely address, is our daily routine. Routines are more important than we realize and can really be thrown off during the holidays. A lack of routine makes us less efficient, more likely to forget things, and emotionally stressed. More importantly – routine also has a very real impact on our physical health (including our weight if that is a concern).
Our adrenal glands are a major “control center” for many of the other hormones and cellular processes of our body. They thrive on routine and regularity, as do our hormone cycles, from the basics such as regular sleep, meals, and exercise to meditation, down time, and anything else that releases stress.
Since our routines tend to be thrown off during the holidays, the circadian rhythm of our body is then also disrupted, which affects our hormones and the glands that regulate them. The direct impact on weight, is that blood sugar fluctuates (even if you’re watch-ing sugar consumption). Lack of routine can elevate cortisol, which is a stress hormone and a fat storing hormone that makes us feel “wired and tired” when it is chronically high. The suggestion I’ve made to my patients over the years is to pick just one area that makes the biggest impact for you, and stick with that one routine. An easy way to tell which is most important is by how “off” you feel when you miss that aspect.
- If you know that you are a person that needs sleep – then consciously choose the best bedtime for you and stick with it at least 90% of the time over the holidays.
- If you know you need your quiet time, then pick your most nourishing quiet time. Schedule that time in for yourself (regardless of how busy life appears). Preferably around the same time of day. Having that anchor point will not only decrease the stress you feel, but will help decrease the physical downside of holiday season. The frequency isn’t as important as the regularity – so choose something doable that you can commit to.
Here are some areas where routine makes the biggest difference:
Sleep – Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.
Meals – Eating / hydrating regularly and at the same time everyday. This keeps the adrenal glands balanced by keeping blood sugar stable and cortisol at healthy levels.
Exercise – Pick your favorite exercise and commit to something do-able.
Vitamins – Pick the most important and take them at the same time daily.
Connection – Consciously make time for those who bring you joy and put you at ease.
Quiet time – Meditation, bathing, reading…
GK: I can totally relate. The holidays can feel so chaotic, rushed, and over-committed. This is definitely a stress I’ve experienced. But it’s not something that I’ve ever felt in control of – nor did I relate it to my health or the potential for weight gain. Are there other recommendations that you have?
Dr. Z: I really try to steer my patients away from expecting perfection. Putting the right energy in the right places is enough. Something that can make a huge impact is to enjoy. What this means for me is that if I’m going to enjoy the wine, or brownie, I really enjoy it. It’s a practice and something I think we need to re-learn – to taste and enjoy our food fully and without guilt. When we do that, it becomes a conscious choice. We taste the flavors and because we slow down, we can also get a sense of when we’ve had enough. Physiologically if we eat unconsciously, it’s usually too fast. We end up eating and drinking more than is good for us because our satiety center (the part of the brain that is activated when we’re satisfied) can’t catch up. Then we feel too full, unwell… and then the guilt kicks in. The key: slow down, taste, and enjoy every bite. Then stop when there’s that subtle shift to “no longer enjoyable.”
GK: I’ve also noticed that we eat while we’re doing other things – like work.
Dr. Z: Exactly. During the holidays we’re busy. At social events, we talk, eat, drink all at the same time, unconsciously. It’s so easy to over-do and when we do, it doesn’t serve us and doesn’t feel good. A small shift to enjoying our food and deliberately slowing down makes a big difference and we don’t feel deprived.
GK: Any other suggestions when it comes to diet specifically?
Dr. Z: I have one more simple tip, it’s easy and relates directly to stress and weight gain. Have you ever noticed that when you eat out at a restaurant, you’re offered drinks (alcohol) before ordering your meal? One of the reasons for that is that drinking alcohol affects blood sugar. Blood sugar spikes, then falls, and guess what? You order more food. Why? Because the body craves the balance in blood sugar.
The remedy to that is to eat (preferably something with protein) before drinking alcohol. It’s easy and impactful. In a restaurant, you would simply order a healthy appetizer. Go ahead and order the drink if you like, but wait to drink it until you’ve had a few bites of the appetizer. This will slow the blood sugar spike, keep cortisol balanced, curb cravings, and help prevent weight fluctuations – without any sense of deprivation.
GK: Oh that’s great. And I love that you address not depriving yourself. I feel like I tend to start out that way. I make promises to myself about what I won’t eat or drink… then fail, then feel bad, and start all over again.
Dr. Z: Yes, and you’re definitely not alone. I have done the same thing many times. These suggestions are not from a textbook. They come from real life and they work. I can imagine that there may be more “perfect” ways to eat during the holidays, but I’m a big believer in living life as well. My rule of thumb any time is to do it right 80 percent and the other 20 percent – just have fun!
And one last suggestion – remember Gratitude during the holidays for the food or drinks you’re enjoying, for the time consciously spent with those you love, and for the time and love you’ve chosen to give yourself.