Good health is all about balance. You do your best to eat well, exercise and take care of your body so that every now and then you can indulge and give yourself a treat. Then the holiday season rolls around and it feels like all bets are off. Suddenly, you’re too busy shopping, party planning, making travel plans, cooking and cleaning to remember those important self-care basics like getting enough sleep and not eating a plate of cookies for breakfast. The problem? Maintaining that hectic holiday pace can take a toll on your overall well-being—both body and mind.
DID YOU KNOW DIGESTIVE ISSUES ARE MORE COMMON DURING THE HOLIDAYS?
According to health experts, complaints of digestive problems escalate during the holiday season. From October to January especially, people tend to eat more food than normal, and that food tends to be lower in beneficial fiber and higher in sugar and unhealthy fats. This shift in eating habits can wreak havoc on a healthy, balanced digestive system, which in turn may lead to occasional heartburn, upset stomach, diarrhea or constipation. But the fallout may not end there.
Because at least 70% of your immune system can be found in the gut, poor digestive function affects more than just healthy bowel movements. There are more than 100 trillion bacterial cells residing in your gut, and most are beneficial microbes called probiotics that work to support optimal immune function by keeping the harmful bacteria in check. However, when that balance is upset due to an unhealthy diet—or because of increased stress, a change in routine and other holiday-related factors—you may experience a decline in health.
LET’S TALK HOLIDAY STRESS. WHAT IMPACT DOES IT HAVE ON YOUR HEALTH?
The holiday hustle and bustle can quickly become overwhelming. An eye-opening survey conducted by Consumer Reports reveals that 90 percent of Americans suffer from at least one holiday-related stressor, with the top stress inducers being crowds and long lines, weight gain, spending too much money, shopping for gifts and traveling. And, while a day or two of increased stress is often manageable, prolonged stress may elevate the risk of several physical and mental health problems. According to experts at the Mayo Clinic, these include:
- Digestive problems
- Heart disease
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
- Memory and concentration impairment
Stress can also alter the healthy balance of bacteria in your gut—which can impact good digestion and overall wellness. Before holiday stress gets too out of hand, remember that simple stress management techniques such as following a healthy diet, staying physically active, spending time outdoors, getting plenty of sleep, having a good support system and making sure you set aside a little “me time” each day can go a long way toward preserving your health this season.
WHAT ARE SOME OTHER WAYS TO MAINTAIN GOOD DIGESTION AND HEALTH DURING THE HOLIDAYS?
Along with adding probiotics and prebiotics to your daily diet, there are many ways you can help keep your body and mind healthy during the holiday season. We’ve listed a few below to help you get started.
- Keep your digestive enzymes handy. A festive cookie here and there. An extra helping of mashed potatoes. Most of us tend to indulge a little more than usual during the holidays. The good news is that taking a digestive enzyme supplement with each meal may help relieve occasional gas, bloating and digestive upset.*Digestive enzymes are proteins your body makes to help break down the food you eat into usable nutrients that are absorbed from the digestive tract and used throughout the body. Some foods, including raw fruits and vegetables, naturally contain enzymes, but many processed or cooked foods are often lacking. That means your body has to work harder to break down and absorb nutrients, which may result in digestive discomfort. Supplemental enzymes may help prevent or reduce occasional digestive issues to help keep your holidays merry.*
- Load up on protein to reduce cravings. Eating plenty of protein will help you stay satisfied throughout the day and reduce those sneaky holiday cravings. Before you head out to the next party, have a protein-rich snack—or, better yet, dinner—to reduce the temptation to fill your plate with festive goodies. In addition to protein, do your best to stick to a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruit, non-starchy veggies, whole grains, healthy fats, legumes, nuts and seeds to support a healthy gut and overall wellness.
- Make time for a good night’s sleep. No matter how hectic your holiday schedule, sleep is something you simply can’t go without. Too little sleep has been linked to changes in mood, trouble concentrating, weight gain, heart problems and even a change in our gut bacteria. A recent study found that not getting enough sleep can alter the healthy microbial balance in the gut and trigger metabolic changes similar to those seen in people with obesity and type 2 diabetes. Most experts recommend getting between seven and nine hours of sleep each night for optimal health.
- Stick to your normal workout schedule. Keeping a handle on things during the holidays can be a challenge, which is all the more reason to stay active. Regular exercise (at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week) plays an important role in overall health, in part by supporting a healthy bacterial population in the gut. Research has shown that people who exercise regularly not only have more beneficial gut microbes, but they also have a more diverse bacterial environment—which previous studies have linked to good digestion and better overall health. And, because exercise supports healthy weight management, it’s even more important during the temptation-filled winter holidays.
LOOKING FOR A HEALTHY AND GUT-FRIENDLY RECIPE FOR YOUR NEXT HOLIDAY PARTY?
We’ve got you covered! Delicious and good for you, these mouthwatering lettuce wraps are made with ground chicken, water chestnuts, tamari and fresh scallions. They’re sure to be a hit at the next office party or family gathering.
Asian Fusion Lettuce Wraps
2 tbsp. coconut oil
1 lb. ground chicken
2 cloves garlic
Two 8-oz. cans of water chestnuts, drained and chopped
1 tbsp. oyster sauce
3 tsp. tamari
4 scallions (green and white parts), chopped
4 leaves Bibb lettuce, whole
Directions: Wash and trim lettuce leaves; set aside. Heat a large wok or frying pan over high heat. Add oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add chicken and garlic; stir fry 6 to 8 minutes until chicken is cooked through. Keep mixture loose. Pour off any excess liquid. Reduce heat to medium and add water chestnuts, oyster sauce, tamari, and scallions; simmer an additional 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly before preparing wraps. Spoon 1 to 2 teaspoons of the chicken mixture onto each lettuce leaf. Wrap and serve.
Note: Recipe serves 4. Double or triple for larger gatherings.
MAKE IT A HAPPY AND HEALTHY HOLIDAY SEASON TO REMEMBER.
There are days when it may seem impossible to get through the holidays with your health and well-being intact, but remember: It’s all about maintaining a healthy balance. At the end of a long day of shopping, head to bed an hour earlier. If you had a few too many cookies the day before, extend your morning run by an extra five minutes. And be sure to keep your probiotics and enzymes handy to support good digestion and immune health all season long.*