Updated: Nov. 19, 2023
Here comes the first flurry of activity this holiday season, as you prepare for Thanksgiving later this week. But before that happens, take a few minutes to check in with yourself. How is your body feeling? Have you been binging on candy and treats since Halloween? Are you wondering how you’ll make it through the rest of this hectic season to New Year’s Day?
All too often, I see women like Vicki, who came to me after the holidays last year complaining that she felt lousy. Like so many other women, she’d run herself ragged trying to make everything perfect, let good nutrition fall by the wayside, overindulged in alcohol and sugar, and forgotten to take any time at all for herself. Then, she experienced the “post-holiday crash.” Her body, like so many other women I’ve seen, had simply said “ENOUGH!”
I try to get ahead of that by talking about making better choices to stay healthy throughout this busy season, so you can avoid that major crash. I’ve also talked about managing stress and avoiding sugar overload. Now, I want to help you notice how you’re feeling right now, and give you some tips on how to maintain good energy, remain mindful of the food choices you’re making, and truly enjoy this magical season! Let’s start with how to have a healthy Thanksgiving. Then we’ll look at how you might be feeling, and what you can do to enjoy the rest of the season too!
Thanksgiving is about more than just food
All too often, we focus on the preparation of a Thanksgiving feast more than anything else — and the dishes we prepare may not be very healthy! We fill our tables with dish after dish – so much food that if you try to eat some of everything, you’ll certainly feel lousy afterwards!
It’s hard not to focus on the feast sometimes; we get messages everywhere we turn that this holiday is all about the food.. Sitcoms feature Thanksgiving specials filled with jokes about overeating, decadent recipes are on every magazine cover, and family traditions often dictate what we prepare.
I think this holiday should be more about spending time with family and friends, and less about what we eat while we’re together! Gratitude is so important – and has been shown to have an impact on health and well being, too. So why not focus on the things we are thankful for instead of stuffing ourselves so full we feel terrible?
I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t have an amazing dinner — but you can do that in much healthier ways! In fact, there are three traditional Thanksgiving foods that are really good for your body – but you have to be mindful about how you prepare them!
Turkey is a great source of lean protein, Vitamin B6, and selenium – all of which your body needs to function at its best! But the trend of deep frying a turkey wipes out the health benefits! Instead, try buying a fresh, organic turkey and roasting it with olive oil instead of butter. Grilling, smoking and even steaming a turkey are all healthy ways to prepare the bird as well.
If you haven’t tried sweet potatoes in a while, give them a try. They’re a great source of fiber, which is great for your digestive health, and also help keep blood sugar levels stable. They also have plenty of vitamins A and C, and are amazing antioxidants. Skip the brown sugar and marshmallows – sweet potatoes (and the name suggests) are sweet enough on their own! I use a little butter and some seasonal spices in mine.
The third great food that is on most Thanksgiving tables is cranberries, another powerful antioxidant. They usually show up as cranberry sauce, all too often from a can. But making your own cranberry sauce with fresh, whole cranberries is super easy! I don’t even add any sugar to mine, since I prefer it tart. Here’s my recipe: Put 1 package (12-oz) of fresh cranberries in a saucepan with ½ cup of water and ½ cup of orange juice. Heat on medium until the cranberries cook down to the desired consistency. That’s it – it really is that easy! Of course, you can add nuts, orange zest (for more powerful orange flavor), raisins, and/or spices like cinnamon and nutmeg to taste. It’s all up to you!
Other great side dishes include roasted or steamed vegetables and mashed potato with just a touch of milk and butter. You can also choose healthier dessert options – or even (gasp!) skip it altogether. After all, aren’t you pleasantly full after the meal? If pie is a must that you look forward to all year, cut a small sliver and take the time to savor every mouthful.
How are you really feeling this holiday season?
Now that we’ve discussed a healthy Thanksgiving, let’s take a look at how you are feeling right now, as the busiest part of the season begins. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch any issues early and reverse them now so you can enjoy a truly healthy holiday season. Here are a few common complaints I hear from clients during this busy time of year.
“I’m exhausted all the time.”
If you are struggling to get through your day – or even just get out of bed in the morning – you may be struggling with adrenal fatigue. Women have so many responsibilities all year long that it’s tough enough to stay healthy, but during the holidays there’s so much more to do that self care is often the first thing to go. Constant stress leads to high levels of cortisol in your body, which in turn can lead to adrenal dysfunction. It’s important to find ways to relieve that stress, pay attention to good nutrition, and take care of yourself. If you need a little extra help, our adrenal support products might be just the thing you need to help you stay healthy and enjoy the holidays!
“I’m irritable, anxious and depressed.”
This is supposed to be a time of year filled with joy, love and laughter. But when we push ourselves too hard, our mood can take a sharp downward turn. Between unhealthy food choices, constant stress, and lack of sunlight this time of year, it’s no wonder you might be feeling off. Holiday depression is a real problem for so many women, but it doesn’t have to ruin the season.
You may need to take a good look at what unrealistic expectations you have for the season. Where did these come from? Are you holding on to traditions that you should let go of? Are you getting enough exercise, sleep, and sunlight? If not, make those a priority! Say no when you have to. Ask for help. And remember that your loved ones want you happy more than they want a “perfect” holiday!
“I can’t control my appetite!”
It’s so easy to lose control of our healthy habits this time of year. We wait so long to eat that we’re ravenous and eat everything in sight when we finally have a moment. We sample everything we bake and then are consumed by sugar cravings demanding more sweets.
There are several hormones that help regulate appetite, but when our nutrition isn’t up to par, these hormone levels can go haywire. In addition to the well known and often talked about hormones – cortisol, insulin, thyroid hormones, estrogen and progesterone – many other specialized hormones play a large role in hunger and appetite. Ghrelin sends out the hunger signal, while Leptin lets your brain know you are full. Other peptides like neuropeptide Y, Adiponectin, Peptide YY and Cholecystokinin also have an impact on appetite, digestion, and metabolism. Melatonin not only impacts your sleep, but if you are sleep deprived it can influence production of ghrelin and leptin as well.
Making healthy food choices and avoiding overindulging are the best ways to keep these hormones balanced, and control your appetite rather than letting it control you!
Healthy Holidays are possible — here’s what you need to know!
Thanksgiving is almost here, but it hasn’t happened yet. There’s still time to change your mindset, change some habits, and have a healthy Thanksgiving – and the rest of the season too. Here are a few tips on how to get started.
Stress reduction is essential
Stress has an impact on so many health issues, so it’s important that you remember to take time to release some of that pent up emotion. Give yourself permission to reduce the number of sides you prepare, try a simpler recipe, or delegate tasks. If you find yourself overwhelmed, instead of seeking refuge in comfort foods like a second (or third) piece of pie, ask yourself what really brings you joy. For me, dancing is my saving grace. It brings both joy and a sense of pride in my accomplishments to be on the dance floor executing a well rehearsed routine. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you love it, and it fills you up.
You might wonder when you aren’t moving these days, but I’m talking about intentional movement for your health. Yes, all that shopping counts as exercise, but if you’re stressed out while you shop you may be canceling out the benefits. Try to fit in exercise you love – running, biking, swimming, a dance class, or a brisk walk outside – every single day. You don’t need an hour – even ten minutes could boost your mood and give you renewed energy. If you can’t fit it in any other way, try parking as far away as possible when running errands. On Thanksgiving, ask friends and family to join you in a brisk walk, a game of pass, or a dance party in the living room.
Pay close attention to eating habits
There is no greater path to healthy holidays than monitoring your eating habits to be sure you’re on track. Plan ahead if you know you won’t have time to eat. Cut fresh vegetables in advance, and dip them in guacamole for a snack that can keep you going. Or throw a bag of nuts in your purse for a quick pick-me-up when you’re on the go. Don’t go several hours between eating — that’s a recipe for disaster! Avoid processed foods as much as possible, and enjoy plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Make time for yourself
Remember that you matter just as much as anyone else this holiday season. Take time to do things you truly want to do, not just the things you have to do. It’s not selfish to take care of your own needs. And you know best what those needs are – so whether you want to attend a concert, go out dancing, join friends at a gingerbread house party, or enjoy a quiet evening at home with a book, go ahead and do it! In addition to finding those little additional pleasures, make basic self-care a priority, not an afterthought. Giving yourself enough time to eat, sleep, and exercise can be the key to maintaining health throughout the holiday season.
Give your body a boost
It’s hard to get the vitamins and minerals you need to sustain health from food alone, and that’s especially true when you find yourself on the go more than usual. A high-quality multivitamin can help keep you on track. If you find yourself with symptoms that indicate you need extra support, try some of my targeted products for adrenal support, digestive support, sleep support, or stress relief.
Start today and enjoy happy – and healthy – holidays!
There’s no time like right now to change the way you’re experiencing this holiday season. Give yourself permission to enjoy the holidays, rather than trying to simply get through them. Don’t fall into old patterns that aren’t serving you well. Start a new tradition; take care of yourself and create a truly wonderful time of year!
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD