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Written by: Melanie Darbyshire

Ah, the holidays. A time to come together with family and friends in celebration and love. To eat, drink and be merry with one another. To indulge. To have fun.

But amidst all the merriment, we often forget or ignore our own health. It’s not hard to do: the food is plentiful, the drinks are everywhere and, after all, it only happens once per year. In the end though, after the last Christmas tree has been dismantled and the New Year is well underway, the consequences are ugly and unavoidable: we’ve gained weight, we’re less fit, or we’re just plain sick and tired.

So wouldn’t it be nice, then, to emerge from the holidays sans any added pounds, just as fit (or fitter) as before, fresh and healthy? Impossible, you say? We’re here to tell you not only is it possible, you can still enjoy the holidays and emerge as good as before.

Indulge In Moderation

For most of us, the holidays means, among other things, delicious food. Large meals, decadent desserts, plentiful snacks – everywhere you look there seems to be a plate of homemade cookies, a bowl of nuts or an irresistible hors d’oeuvre. And it’s ok to indulge in some of these treats, as long as it’s in moderation. This means eating one shortbread cookie, not five; having a regular slice of pecan pie, not half the pie; eating one plate of food, not going for seconds. “Pick and choose the treats you wish too indulge in,” recommends Jenn Hruby, Made Foods’ Certified Nutritional Consultant. “Make the right choices by choosing homemade instead of processed or fried.” And remember to keep your portions in check; for example, a serving of mashed potatoes is 1/2 cup and should take up a quarter of your plate!

If you do have a large meal, make the next one a bit lighter. Don’t show up to a buffet meal (or any meal) starving. “Eat a protein meal before going to a party,” Hruby advises. “This will help keep you full longer so you aren’t eating too many snacks.” As usual, follow your gut (literally) – when you’re full (not stuffed), stop eating. And try to fill up on healthier options like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans and lean meats. If you’re full with healthy things, you’re less likely to overindulge in the not-so-healthy stuff.

Imbibe In Moderation

Alcohol is another thing that often goes hand in hand with the holidays. And while it’s of course ok to celebrate with others, drinking too much can lead to weight gain, dehydration and poor decision making (like eating half a pecan pie). If drinking, try to drink a glass of water in between each alcoholic drink. When choosing your drinks, choose wisely – pick those that will take you more time to consume (think a sparkling white wine or glass of beer), rather than ones you can shoot down. And when choosing a mix for your alcohol, go for something lighter on calories and sugar – like water or soda water. You will thank yourself the next morning.

When not imbibing in alcohol, make sure to drink plenty of water. Not only will this keep you hydrated, but it will also prevent you from mistaking thirst for hunger. Try adding lemon, cucumber or ginger to your water for added taste and nutritional benefits.

Move a Lot

 Though the colder temperatures may compel you to stay on the couch, don’t! Physical activity is not only essential for our heart, it helps burn those extra holiday calories and just plain makes us feel better. Take advantage of the season and get outside. Activities like skiing (downhill or cross-country), skating, tobogganing and snowshoeing are great choices which can be relatively easy and inexpensive to do in the city or the nearby mountains. For something even simpler, go for an evening walk to check out the neighbourhood Christmas lights – just make sure you’re dressed properly for the elements.

If you simply can’t stomach the weather (I’d suggest moving away, but that’s for another blog), head to the gym or your local recreation centre. There are a number of classes and leagues – everything from badminton to aerobics to yoga – that run through the winter and are available for people of all ages and fitness levels. These are a great way to get out of your house and move your body, regardless of menacing icicles outside.

Wash Your Hands

The holidays (and winter in general) is notorious for the spreading of sickness. With everyone inside more often, colds, flus and other bugs can spread fast. To avoid catching one of these bugs WASH YOUR HANDS AS IF YOUR LIFE DEPENDED ON IT. And if you think you’re washing them too much, wash them again. Avoid touching your face with your hands and don’t share drinks/snacks/kisses/New Year’s paper party horns with others who are sick (duh).

At parties, use the hand that you dont shake other hands with to eat those delicious finger foods.

Boost Your Immunity  

Hruby recommends eating cultured food with each meal to keep immunity strong: “Add things like sauerkraut, kimchi, pickled vegetables, milk or coconut kefir, yogurt or Kombucha to your meals.” With all the illnesses spreading around, you’ll need all the immunity you can get.

Keep Your Digestive Tract Moving

“Include raw veggies, flax seeds or chia for fibre to keep your digestive system working and elimination on track,” Hruby says. Choose high-fibre options like whole wheat bread instead of white bread, brown rice instead of white, and whole fruits and veggies instead of juices.

Sleep As Much As You Can

Seven to eight hours a night if possible. To get this, go to bed and wake up at the same time every night and morning. Keep your room dark, cool (as in temperature, not your décor) and free from distractions such as your cell phone, tablet and TV. The better rested you are, the more able you’ll be to make the right choices when it comes to the other aspects of your health.

Detoxify

Try as we might, none of us are perfect, and still need a little detoxification during the holidays. Hruby recommends stocking up on green drinks made with dark leafy greens to help detox the body from all the overeating and alcohol. Made Foods’ Honeyed Apple Smoothie – chock full of baby spinach and other food superstars – can help you clean your body out.

Lighten Up Your Favourite Recipes

There are many easy ways to make your favourite holiday recipes a little healthier. For example, substitute whole wheat flour for white flour to increase fibre; substitute unsweetened applesauce for sugar, oil or butter to reduce calories, sugar and fat; replace spaghetti with spaghetti squash to reduce calories and increase nutritional benefits.

In place of high-fact and calorie creamy dips and dressings Hruby recommends making a simple yogurt dip. Other bonuses: yogurt increases the good bacteria in your gut and you will eat more raw veggies! Here’s her favourite recipe:

Jenn’s Yogurt Dressing/ Dip Recipe

1 cup of full fat organic plain yogurt made from non-homogenized milk (may use kefir or non-dairy alternative as well)

1 tablespoon of organic dill (dry or fresh)

1 clove of garlic

Pinch of sea salt or Himalayan pink salt

Pinch of organic pepper

Press the garlic and add all ingredients together. I like to let it sit in the fridge for about 20 minutes before using.

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