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During the holiday season, we often find ourselves in unhealthy food environments. Even if you manage to avoid gaining extra pounds during the season, sugar intake can wreak havoc on blood sugar and insulin levels and create uncomfortable symptoms such as headaches and bloating. With the majority of the immune system residing in the gastrointestinal tract, nutrition choices greatly impact our overall health. And, suboptimal nutrition habits are a significant cause of illness during and after the holidays.

Here are some tips to enjoy the holidays and keep your health on track.

  1. Be mindful of sugar: This also includes items that the body processes similar to sugar such as starches and alcohol. It's very easy for your gut to get out of balance during the holidays. Aside from the food, stress and change in schedule can affect the bacterial balance in the gut. Microorganisms thrive on sugar, so be mindful of your limits. Overindulging in sweets and alcohol can add fuel to the fire.
  2. Put on your dancing (or walking) shoes: Dancing is a great way to work off some holiday calories. If you are at a family gathering, suggest a walk before the feast or even between dinner and dessert. Walking or movement after a meal helps to regulate blood sugar. Being active can be a secret weapon and help to reduce stress during this taxing time of year.
  3. Make room for veggies: Remember that fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy lifestyle, especially during the holidays. They make great snacks and even better side or main dishes, unless they are coated with creamy sauces or butter. Some people even find it helpful to eat their veggies first. This ensures that you actually eat the vegetables before filling up on less healthy dishes. Vegetables are also high in essential nutrients and fiber making them vital for overall health.
  4. Remember to eat healthy foods regularly: Having a set schedule helps to condition your body to expect food and get hungry at the right time. This in turn improves the metabolic response to eating. A regular eating schedule also improves insulin sensitivity, increases energy, improves fasting lipids and results in more optimal metabolic effects. Aim to have your regular nutrient-dense meals to keep your body feeling satisfied. This way you can nourish yourself consistently while still appreciating social gatherings.
  5. Remain hydrated: Not only does water help you stay hydrated, it also helps regulate body temperature and is essential to the function of cells, tissues and organs. Drinking water can even boost your immune system and increase your metabolism to help you feel full longer. This could help curb your appetite and enable you to maintain healthy eating habits during the holiday season.
  6. Minimize and delay snacking: During the holidays, snacks often include candy, cookies and pie. If you are normally a snacking or grazing type of eater, it’s likely that you will be tempted to make unhealthy choices. Stand more than an arm's length away from refreshments while you chat to feel more comfortable as you limit snacking — especially on the sweet treats.

The holidays can be a real trial for the healthy routines that we have been building and refining all year long. Often, healthy holiday eating can make people anxious about setbacks in their health. But remember this should be a time of celebration and relaxation. Plan ahead for a successful holiday season.

If you are looking for more nutritional guidance or are interested in a post-holiday weight optimization plan, contact Yellowstone Naturopathic Clinic for more information at 406-259-5096 or Eat well and be merry this holiday season!

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Dr. Kaley Burns is an associated physician at Yellowstone Naturopathic Clinic. She received her Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine from the National University of Health Sciences in Chicago, Illinois. Her specialties include primary care and preventative medicine, nutritional counseling and regenerative injection therapies including Prolotherapy and PRP, digestive health and autoimmune conditions.