My last blog listed a few of my favorite herbal remedies for managing stress and anxiety. While utilizing these products is an excellent way to combat occasional bouts of anxiety, they are not permanent solutions. The key to managing stress and anxiety is living a holistic lifestyle that prevents stress in the first place. This week we will explore the most critical lifestyle interventions for supporting your mental health and managing stress: diet and exercise.
The Role of Neurotransmitters
Our bodies produce an array of neurotransmitters that support a positive mood and decrease anxiety. Exercising is part of living a holistic lifestyle that supports the production of these neurotransmitters and, by extension, prevents stress and anxiety.
Exercising increases the production of a number of neurotransmitters. Among the most critical are endorphins, endocannabinoids, and GABA.
Endorphins are what create that post-exercise sense of euphoria (what many know as the “runner’s high”). Endorphins also promote sound sleep, which can help your body recover from physical and mental stress. Endocannabinoids, too, promote sound sleep and positive mood, but they also help to control a sneaky cause of physical stress: inflammation. Finally, exercise increases the density of GABA-releasing brain cells in the hippocampus, where we process emotion. Regular exercisers, who possess more of these brain cells, have an easier time returning to homeostasis after a stressor.
The Best Types of Exercise
Not all forms of exercise are created equal, and neither are all quantities. While I recommend lifting weights for a number of reasons, it’s not exactly your best bet for managing stress and anxiety. That’s because lifting weights increases your body’s production of the stress hormone cortisol. High cortisol can, in turn, exacerbate anxiety. Excessive amounts of cardio have a similar effect.
If you’re living a holistic lifestyle to manage your moods, try doing moderate intensity cardio for 45 minutes 3 or 4 days a week. Doing so will help manage cortisol and inflammation without over-stressing the body. Of course, if you are newer to exercise, you may want to limit your sessions to 20 or 30 minutes instead.
Exercise and Attitude
Beyond affecting physiological factors like hormone and neurotransmitter production, exercising can also have a positive impact on human psychology.
Exercising increases concentration and mental alertness, making it easier to focus on and complete important tasks. In doing so, exercising may make your life simpler and more productive, eliminating certain sources of stress.
Exercising may also improve your self-image. Feeling more confident in your body can manifest in a whole host of ways, but the general sense of empowerment is enough to brighten your general attitude and reduce the stress of self-criticism.
Consume a Balanced Diet
I have found that following an Ayurvedic diet is a critical component of living a holistic lifestyle. I love Ayurvedic medicine because it is all about establishing balance. It’s also an amazing avenue for treating stress and anxiety precisely for that reason.
Diet quality has the ability to affect immunity, impact genetic expression, and govern the stress response. Consuming a balanced diet is critical for warding off stress and anxiety, as some nutrient deficiencies are associated with psychological ailments. Deficiencies in zinc, iron, and magnesium in particular are associated with anxiety, poor concentration, and other ailments.
An inflammatory diet can exacerbate symptoms of depression and anxiety. Thus, in addition to eating a balanced, varied diet, it is essential to avoid inflammatory foods. These include sugar, processed meats, hydrogenated oils, red meat, and most processed, grain-based products. Furthermore, you should steer clear of any foods you are intolerant to, as these are considered pro-inflammatory for your unique body.
Use Food as Medicine
It’s important to consume a holistic, well-rounded diet to manage stress. But you can take your stress-management game to the next level by leveraging food as medicine. Likewise, you can work to minimize stress by avoiding harmful forms of self-medication.
Depressants and stimulants affect our psychology, hormones, and stress response. And not all depressants and stimulants come in the form of illicit drugs. Caffeine, which acts as a stimulant by inhibiting the action of the neurotransmitter adenosine, is the world’s most popular psychoactive drug. Alcohol, another popular means of self-medication, is a depressant. Limiting your use of caffeine and alcohol can help reduce inflammation and regulate your stress response. By extension, it can help to stabilize your moods.
The state of your microbiome is a strong indicator of your general health. The microbiome affects every aspect of your health, from immunity and digestion to—you guessed it—mental health. If you need help managing stress and anxiety, try incorporating gut-friendly, medicinal foods into your diet. These include probiotic foods like Kim chi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, miso, tempeh, and natto. To help feed the beneficial microbes in these foods, make sure to consume prebiotic foods. These include garlic, onions, asparagus, breadfruit, cassava, artichokes, dandelion, chicory, and bananas.
If you awake with bloating, nausea, fatigue, or brain fog, you might be quick to blame poor sleep or weak digestion for your troubles. Ayurvedic medicine, however, would beg to differ. According to Ayurvedic philosophy, lethargy and stomach upset, especially in the morning hours, are most commonly indicative of a poor diet. More specifically, fatigue is associated with eating a dinner that is too large, too heavy, or simply inappropriate for your doshic type. Eating an Ayurvedic dinner may just be the key to brightening your mornings and restoring your vivacity!
This week we will explain what qualifies as an Ayurvedic dinner and what Ayurvedic dinner is most appropriate for your dosha.
Dinner is for Paupers
The old adage that one should eat “breakfast like a King, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper” doesn’t completely apply here. Indeed, Ayurvedic medicine actually stipulates that lunch should be the largest meal of the day. Agni, or digestive fire, is highest in the middle of day. Eating a large lunch thus ensures that your largest meal is digested and absorbed most efficiently.
However, Ayurvedic medicine would certainly concede that you should eat dinner like a pauper. That’s because the digestive fire is weakest in the evening. It is therefore healthier to eat a small, light, and healthy dinner than a large, heavy one. If your dinner is too large or heavy, you will likely have difficulty digesting it due to dwindling agni. The result? Your body fails to excrete ama, or toxins, and to digest properly. And that means bloating, fatigue, digestive troubles, and general malaise the next day.
Ayurvedic philosophy recommends consuming dinner between 6:30 and 7:00pm—not too close to bedtime. Generally speaking, light soups and fresh salads are excellent Ayurvedic dinner options. Avoid heavy, oily foods, or foods that are high in carbohydrates, as these are too heavy for your body to process in the evening.
If you use oil, choose a light, cooling one like olive oil. Limit your consumption of high-carb grains, beans, eggplant, radishes, dill, red cabbage, and tomatoes. Instead, choose lean meats, fibrous, slow digesting grains, and light vegetables. Squash, bell peppers, lettuce, mixed greens, green cabbage, and cucumbers are excellent additions to an Ayurvedic dinner.
Pacify Your Inner Kapha
Kapha energy governs the evening. Thus, it is important to eat a kapha-pacifying Ayurvedic dinner. Doing so staves off the heavy, slow qualities of kapha that can lead to lethargy and poor sleep. Eating kapha-aggravating foods high in carbs and fat can also slow metabolic activity—a logical outcome, as kapha types typically have slower metabolisms.
In addition to avoiding heavy foods, you should steer clear of sour foods in the evening. Limit your consumption of fermented foods and citrus to earlier in the day (or not at all, if you are a kapha). Also limit your consumption of dairy, which aggravates kapha, and especially fermented dairy products like yogurt and cheese. Opt for light, cooling vegetables and lean proteins instead. Steamed vegetables, particularly greens, cabbage, broccoli, and asparagus are great for pacifying kapha. Be wary of high-carb root vegetables like beets, carrots, and parsnips.
The Ayurvedic Dinner for Your Dosha
Ayurveda also offers different recommendations for a healthy dinner based on your doshic type. Vatas, for example, require three ample meals a day. They are better able to tolerate carbohydrate sources like fruit, grains, and beans in the evening. A vata type may be able to consume root vegetables in the evening, whereas a pitta should opt for steamed vegetables and kapha should stick to steamed or lightly sautéed green vegetables. A vata may enjoy dates, avocadoes, and coconut in the evening, whereas kapha should stick to lighter fruits like mangos and peaches. Pitta should avoid fruit entirely in the evening.
Portion sizes differ from dosha to dosha, too. Vatas often have a hard time keeping weight on. They can therefore handle a heavier evening meal. Pittas would do well to eat light yet solid food, like a modest portion of stew or a source of lean protein and vegetables. Kaphas can enjoy a light soup and salad. Kaphas benefit more from fasting than any other doshic type and may even benefit from skipping dinner altogether.
Tips for Optimizing Your Digestion
The perfect Ayurvedic dinner won’t be enough to relieve fatigue and indigestion if you aren’t taking the proper steps to optimize your digestion. Try chewing a slice of fresh ginger before a meal. Stick to warm water throughout the day, and don’t drink water during or immediately following a meal. Try eating slowly and mindfully, which eases digestion and can fight cravings and blood sugar fluctuations. Finally, try taking a light walk after dinner two or three hours prior to bed.
It never hurts to brush up on the basics! Check out our first blog post on doshas, types of yoga, and all of the other essential principles of Ayurveda.
Ayurveda: some readers are intimately familiar with it, and others may have never even heard the word. For some it conjures thoughts of kitchari and meditation. For others it invokes images of certain types of yoga poses. In our introductory blog, we hope to teach you about the core principles of Ayurveda and, by extension, share the ideas that give life and purpose to Bodhidevi.
In simple terms, Ayurveda is a wellness philosophy that originated in early Indian civilization over 5,000 years ago. Perhaps one of the first forms of holistic medicine, Ayurveda prescribes dietary and lifestyle changes in accordance with each individual’s unique body to promote health and balance. The practicing different types of yoga is one of Ayurveda’s primary prescriptions, the philosophy advocates various wellness practices.
But Ayurveda isn’t simply a diet or exercise regimen. It’s a philosophy designed to optimize every facet of the individual, including mind, emotions, and spirit. It encourages spiritual practice and engagement with nature in the interest of restoring our innate intimacy with ourselves and with the planet. When we practice Ayurveda, we become attuned to our most raw, pure, and divine form. When we become acquainted with the beauty of our innate self, we awaken to the interconnectedness of the self with all beings and energetic forces.
Ayurveda honors the sacredness of individuality.
Different individuals possess different physical and mental attributes. As each of our bodies and minds differ, so too do our nutritional, physical, and emotional needs. Ayurveda recognizes and respects each person’s bio-individuality and seeks to cater to the unique needs of each individual. Acknowledging that different people are prone to different diseases, digestive problems, psychological ailments, mental capacities, and energy levels, Ayurveda stipulates that understanding an individual’s unique body and mind absolutely must precede medicinal treatment.
According to Ayurvedic philosophy, we are born with a unique prakriti, or constitution. One’s praktiri consists of one’s unique balance of the three doshas, or energetic life forces. The first dosha, vatta, governs the breath, heart, nerves, consciousness, and happiness. The second, pitta, regulates appetite, digestion, nutrient absorption, intelligence, bravery, and drive. Finally, Kapha manages stability, order, grounding, growth, strength, energy, memory, empathy, water, and fat regulation. Different individuals possess different ratios of the three doshas, and thus have different praktiri.
It is essential to ascertain the nature of one’s praktiri before suggesting treatments or lifestyle changes, such as dietary changes of practicing different types of yoga or meditation. The balance between our doshas at birth is our point of homeostasis, the place in which our body thrives. Each individual possesses different needs in accordance with his or her praktiri. Therefore, according to Ayurveda, understanding your own inherent, optimal balance is the key to determining your medicinal and lifestyle needs.
Ayurveda inspires us to seek balance.
There is nothing inherently wrong with any of the doshas. However, years of unhealthy, stressful living can cause doshic excess, which, in turn, leads to distress and disease. Excessive vata is conducive to anxiety, emotional limitation, constipation, dry skin, poor circulation, insomnia, and malnourishment. Excessive pitta can cause rage, envy, reflux, overheating, diarrhea, headaches, skin conditions, inflammation, and insomnia. Attachment, stubbornness, lethargy, obesity, oversleeping, depression, edema, and sinus infections all indicate too much kapha. In general, if you stray too far from your praktiri, you will experience doshic imbalances that will damage your health.
The objective of Ayurveda is to treat disease and promote health by balancing the doshas and restoring your praktiri. In order to do so, you must balance the gunas—the basic qualities of objects and life forms. The gunas include hot vs. cold, dry vs. oily, dense vs. liquid, soft vs. hard, and heavy versus light. Certain gunas are associated with certain doshas. For example, dryness is associated with vatta. Thus, if you are experiencing excessive Vatta, you want to consume more oily foods to balance your dryness. This notion is based on the Ayurvedic principle that like increases like and opposites balance. Restoring the gunas opposite to those which characterize your excessive dosha therefore establishes doshic balance.
Achieving doshic balance also requires living in accordance with the season. Eating in season not only means eating locally grown, in-seasons foods; it also requires that we balance the gunas of that season. For example: winter is characterized by excessive cold, so we should eat hot foods in the winter to balance that guna.
Ayurveda is a medicinal way of living.
Ayurveda seeks to promote the health of the entire person. Achieving doshic balance is not just a means of healing the body. Rather, Ayurveda understands that doshic balance is linked to mental, spiritual, and emotional health as well. Thus, Ayurveda does not simply treat ailments with food or supplements. Rather, it encourages us to lead a balanced lifestyle in accordance with our doshic make up. For some, that may mean getting more cardiovascular exercise and practicing deep breathing. For others, it may mean getting more sleep or practicing certain types of yoga. The objective of Ayurveda is help the individual discover the lifestyle patterns most conducive to health and happiness.
Oftentimes it is lifestyle choices in the first place that cause doshic imbalance. Restoring doshic balance and achieving svasthya, or the state of equilibrium in which we are most healthy, thus requires lifestyle alterations.
Though some lifestyle changes are relative to the individual, there are a few practices that Ayurveda believes are universally beneficial. Ayurveda unconditionally encourages the consumption of whole, nutrient rich foods. It also recommends regularly practicing certain types of yoga, meditation, and detoxification. It even encourages frequent massage to stimulate the lymphatic system, cleanse, and relieve tension.
A lot of women feel encumbered by the dogmatic world of diet culture. Information in magazines and scientific literature effectively divides food into two opposing camps: good food and bad food. Further, the parameters of what is considered “healthy” are constantly shifting; so, too, are the most popular diets and revered experts. If you are striving to exclusively consume “good” foods while puritanically eschewing the “bad,” you are likely to set yourself up for failure; too much rigidity and conflicting health statistics can lead to stress, hunger, and bingeing. For lasting health and weight management, we suggest sticking to a balanced diet of holistic health foods.
At Bodhidevi, we have observed that strict dieting can often backfire. That’s why we recommend a balanced diet complete with a few “cheat days.” In fact, we don’t really like to label an occasional indulgence as “cheating.” The word has an inherently negative connotation. However, cheat days actually yield physiological and psychological benefits that will help you maintain your weight and your health.
This week, we explore why “cheating” on your diet can actually be a good thing. We also describe the most effective way to indulge while maintaining a diet comprised primarily of holistic health foods.
It is important to, for lack of a better word, “cheat” on a diet of holistic health foods every once in a while. That’s because dietary rigidity can actually lead to severe health complications. In the best-case scenario, cutting out an array of “bad” foods can lead to excessive weight loss and/or vitamin deficiencies. In the worst-case scenario, it can lead to obsessive behavior and disordered eating.
Stringency can also lead to yo-yo dieting. Extended periods of deprivation spike ghrelin production, stimulating intense hunger and cravings. If cravings go long enough unfulfilled, they may become so intense that they give way to binge eating. Following binges with a period of compensatory restriction will land you in an endless, exhausting cycle of bingeing and restricting.
Occasionally indulging in a treat will help you maintain health and balance more easily. “Cheating” will satisfy and eliminate cravings instead of exacerbating them, preventing overeating in the long run. Plus, knowing you have a treat awaiting you at the end of a week of healthy eating will help you stay on track.
Sure, indulging every once in a while will prevent you from becoming fed up with your diet and stuffing your face, making it easier to maintain a healthy, balanced diet of holistic health foods in the long run. But “cheat days” actually yield tangible physiological benefits, too, that can facilitate weight loss.
Consuming a carbohydrate rich meal after a period of dieting increases energy expenditure, i.e. calorie burn, by 7% for 24 hours post-meal. It also increases levels of leptin, the hormone that instructs the body to stop eating and use fat as fuel, by a whopping 30%!
The body actually adapts to calorie restriction, burning fewer and fewer calories with time. The human body’s prerogative is to reserve enough energy, i.e. fat, to provide subsistence in the event of scarcity. Thus, when you begin eating less, your body won’t just plow through its fat stores indefinitely. Instead, it will down-regulate your basal energy expenditure to prevent you from losing fat. That’s why, if you have been dieting for a long time, you may hit a weight loss plateau. Fatigue will accompany a plateau, too, as the body ceases to expend energy on more basic functions.
Regularly enjoying a high-carb, high-calorie cheat meal will prevent your body from adjusting to lower caloric intake. It does so by restoring normal hormone secretions and metabolic functions. Experts recommend 1 or 2 cheat meals a week for the best results.
The “Don’ts” of Cheat Days
Like most things, there is a right and a wrong way to cheat on your diet. The key is to seek balance and moderation.
Don’t let a cheat meal turn into a cheat day. A cheat meal is enough to boost your metabolism without undoing your progress. A cheat day, on the other hand, can do enough damage to offset a week’s worth of exercise. That’s especially true if you are consuming both extra food and alcohol.
That leads us to our next tip: don’t indulge in every area possible. Choose one special treat to indulge in. Maybe you are craving a burger with fries. Perhaps you’ve had a stressful week and want to unwind with a couple of cocktails. Or maybe you’ve been dying to try the new dessert at your favorite restaurant. Pick your preferred indulgence, but don’t go for the meal, dessert, and drinks all at once.
Whatever your selected indulgence is, don’t make your cheat meal a fatty meal. Sure, a burger and fries has plenty of fat. But it also has protein and carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are what stimulate the body to produce more leptin after a large meal. Fats, on the other hand, are easy to metabolize and store. They are more likely to produce fat gain without stimulating the metabolism.
Finally, don’t starve yourself or do two hours of cardio before your cheat meal. Doing so is likely to drive you to eat way more, and it probably wont compensate fully for the excess calories. Additionally, starvation and excessive exercise spike levels of the hormone cortisol. And higher cortisol levels mean your body is more likely to store the additional calories as fat instead of using them for energy.
The “Do’s” Of Cheat Days
Instead of gorging during your cheat meal, slow down and savor the flavors. Eating mindfully will prevent your cheat meal from devolving into a binge. Further, slow, mindful eating will leave you more satisfied, curbing cravings until your next indulgence!
While you don’t want to deplete and exhaust yourself before a cheat meal, a little exercise won’t hurt. In fact, those cheat calories will be put to better use if you consume them as a post-workout recovery meal. While it’s a good idea to eat lighter meals prior to a cheat meal, don’t starve yourself. Try a light, protein-rich meal, like a salad topped with chicken, followed by a quick gym session.
A cheat meal allows you to stray from your macronutrient goals, consuming more calories, carbohydrates, and fats than you normally would. However, it is not an excuse to eat empty calories or toxic foods. Stray away from highly processed meats or refined sugars for your cheat meal. Go for a burrito over a large bowl of ice cream. Try to consume a meal that is both indulgent and balanced. Want a cheeseburger? Go for one with organic cheese and grass-fed beef. Make your own burrito with organic, well-sourced ingredients instead of going for fast foods. Choose a slice of cake made with coconut oil and almond flour instead of downing a bag of candy. Do what you can to satisfy your craving while still nourishing your body.
Finally, choose something that will truly delight and satisfy you. If there is a delicious food that reminds you of your childhood, choose that over a food that only has moderate appeal. Indulge for genuine pleasure. For maximum health benefits and enjoyment, prepare an indulgent meal at home with your partner or a close friend.
Most Ayurvedic practitioners discourage their clients from snacking between meals. Contrary to the dietary dogma of the modern age, which prescribes 5-6 small meals a day for weight loss and stable energy levels, Ayurveda holds that snacking can actually be detrimental to your health. Frequent snacking never gives your digestive system the chance to rest and repair. However, we live in a day and age where we are constantly on the go. Many people take seemingly endless commutes to work every day. The typical working mother doesn’t stop moving from the moment she awakens to the moment she returns to bed at night. It’s not practical or possible for many women to sit down to three full, healthy meals a day. For the busy women that ask me what to eat, I recommend dosha-dependent Ayurvedic snacks between or instead of meals.
Ayurvedic Snacks for Pitta Dosha
Pitta dosha is oily, hot, sharp, and liquid. Eating to compliment a pitta dosha requires avoiding foods that exacerbate these qualities. These include foods that are spicy, sour, salty, and pungent. Opt instead for foods that will balance pitta—foods that are cool, sweet, bitter, and astringent.
Pittas have the strongest metabolism of the three doshas. Though pittas should aim for three solid meals a day, pittas that frequently miss meals or are incredibly active should be sure to include healthy Ayurvedic snacks in their meal plan. Cooling vegetables like cucumbers and celery make excellent snacks for pitta, especially in hot weather. For a more filling snack, add sunflower butter, hummus, or guacamole. Make it even more cooling by adding cilantro.
Pitta also benefits from sweet fruits like mango, pineapple, figs, melon, and apples. To prevent blood sugar spikes and keep you fuller for longer, try adding coconut or sunflower butter to fresh fruit. Berries, too, are excellent for pitta types, and pair well with almond butter. Just be sure to avoid mixing your fruits with yogurt, as the sour taste can aggravate pitta dosha.
Ghee is one of the few oils that actually have a cooling effect on the body. Adding ghee and honey to warm coconut or almond milk will warm you up during the winter without aggravating pitta dosha. For additional cooling and great flavor, try steeping rose petals in your mixture as well. Blending the drink is the best way to ensure the ghee thoroughly mixes in.
Ayurvedic Snacks for Vata Dosha
Unlike pitta, the vata dosha is cold, mobile and dry. Thus, vata types should opt for warm, moist, oily, and grounding foods, avoiding snack foods like pretzels and rice cakes that are too dry. Sweet flavors, too, pacify vata dosha. Because vata is prone to undernourishment, vatas are actually encouraged to include an afternoon snack in their dietary regimen.
Like pitta, vata is encouraged to consume warm milk with ghee. However, vatas may benefit from a touch of extra sweetness and the addition of warming spices instead of rose petals. Adding ginger, black pepper, ghee, and dates to warm milk will provide plenty of energy and nourishment to sustain you until your next meal.
Avocados make one of the best grab-and-go snacks for vata, as they are oily and grounding. Roasted nuts, too, provide the oil and fiber that nourishes and promotes healthy digestion in frequently constipated vata types. If you have a little extra time, try blending nuts, nut butters, dates, sea salt, honey, and spices in a food processor to create a sweet, oily, and energizing on-the-go bar. Larabars are great for vatas as well.
A banana with nut butter is great for vata. However, generally speaking, vatas do not tolerate fruits and vegetables well unless they are cooked. If you don’t have time for a full meal, stewing apples or greens in avocado oil is a quick, nourishing option for vata. In preparation for a busy week, prepare a warm soup or stew with plenty of warming spices and cooked vegetables that you can heat up on the go.
Vatas should avoid dry grain products like crackers and pretzels. However, cooked grains are excellent for encouraging healthy digestion in vata types. Cooked oatmeal or millet with almond butter is a filling, grounding option for vata. With a little cinnamon and maple syrup, it is also makes a delicious treat.
Finally, unlike pitta, vata actually benefits from sour or fermented foods. Thus, yogurt and cheese make excellent snacks for vata. Just be sure to select full-fat, organic, unsweetened dairy.
Ayurvedic Snacks for Kapha Dosha
Advice on selecting Ayurvedic snacks is least practical for kapha types, who should ideally fast between each meal. However, Ayurvedic medicine also recommends honoring hunger and never depriving the body of necessary nutrients. Thus, even a busy kapha should eat more than one meal a day. If you are a busy kapha, incorporating light, dry, and warm snacks into your day will tide you over until your main meal.
Kapha is the only dosha that benefits from an abundance of raw vegetables. A salad with a light dressing is a great option for kaphas between or in place of full meals. Kapha benefits from light fruits, too. However, Kaphas should be wary of consuming too much sugar, and should thus steer away from fruits like bananas and melons. Apples and pears are the best options for kapha.
Unlike both pitta and vata, kapha benefits from consuming dry foods and legumes. A rice cake with chickpea hummus is therefore one of the best snacks for Ayurvedic types. Just be sure not to go overboard, as rice cakes are considered sweet.
For a particularly hungry kapha with time to plan ahead, try preparing a blend of cooked millet and beans. If you are limited in time or you aren’t that hungry, an herbal tea with a spot of honey may be enough to curb your hunger until your next meal.
It can be incredibly hard to stick to a holistic diet during the holiday season. The fridge is filled with leftover holiday foods, there are cookies around every corner in the office, and the list of dinners and parties just gets longer and longer. Traditional holiday meals are typically packed with sugar and unhealthy fats. And, no matter how strict you are, you’re bound to give in to temptation if you’re surrounded by delicious and sentimental foods 24/7!
The holidays are a time to celebrate the joy of life with friends and family. This isn’t necessarily the time of year to start a new diet or turn down your favorite specialties. But there are steps you can take that will help you stay on track with a holistic diet instead of devolving into a month-long binge after Thanksgiving. This week we will explore some of the best tips and tricks for sticking to your holistic diet over the holidays.
The last thing you want to do after a big holiday meal is hop on a treadmill. But maintaining your regular exercise schedule will help you stay on track during the holiday season.
Exercise produces endorphins, feel good neurotransmitters that boost mood. If you’re feeling tired or blue after eating too much sugar, the endorphin kick from a workout may be enough to get you out of a rut. Not only will your energy levels improve; you will experience healthier digestion and fewer cravings for unhealthy foods, making it easier to stay on track with your holistic diet.
It can be hard to fend off feelings of guilt after eating a heavy meal. Those negative feelings can make it harder to motivate yourself to exercise. Instead of beating yourself up, focus on the value of food as fuel. Schedule a hard workout for the day after a big meal and imagine how the foods you are eating will fuel your body during exercise. Some of the best long runs or heavy leg days follow large meals because your muscles have so much glycogen readily available.
Too tired and heavy to brace the cold for an outdoor run or make it to the gym? Try popping in an exercise DVD or performing body weight exercises at home. Whatever you do, try to exercise within 12-16 hours of a large meal. Doing so will burn through glycogen held in your liver and muscles before it is transferred into fat cells.
But Don’t Over-Exercise
Remember, though, that there is such a thing as excessive exercise. Exercising too hard for too long can actually hamper your metabolism and cause cravings and fatigue, which is not what you want during the holiday season! Instead, stick to an hour of moderate exercise and listen to your body. If you’re feeling unusually exhausted, don’t feel bad about taking the rest that you need.
Most holiday meals are loaded with sugar, starch, and salt, all of which encourage the body to retain water. If you find yourself five pounds heavier after a holiday meal, don’t panic; 95% of that weight is probably just water! Avoid the scale for a few days after a holiday meal. Instead, drink a lot of water. It may seem counterintuitive to drink water in order to reduce water retention, but it’s effective. Drinking more water allows your body to use or flush out whatever was causing water retention in the first place. Consuming potassium rich foods like bananas and avocado can also help reduce water retention.
It’s okay to indulge in hot cocoa, apple cider, and alcohol during the holiday season. But be sure that water is still your beverage of choice. The calories from sugary holiday beverages can add up quickly. Further, they cause blood sugar spikes and crashes that only exacerbate sugar cravings. Water, on the other hand, will keep the body hydrated and fight hunger and cravings.
Most of us fall into one of two camps after a big holiday meal. Some of us feel like we’ve blown our diets, so we say, “screw it” and keep on bingeing until the New Year. Others panic at the small spike on the scale and begin rigorously exercising and restricting to “undo the damage.”
Neither of these behaviors reflects a healthy attitude toward a holistic diet and body image. Remember: one day of eating will never wreck or reverse a month of consistent, healthy eating and exercise. You would have to eat 3,500 calories more than your daily calorie needs to gain a mere pound of fat. That’s over 5,000 calories a day! And though it’s not hard for most of us to eat that many calories on Thanksgiving, one pound is just one pound. It would take several Thanksgiving dinners to produce any visible change in your weight. It’s not what you do one day that matters; it’s what you do everyday.
Instead of allowing guilt to drive you away from a balanced, holistic diet, try to resume your normal eating schedule. Toss, give away, or freeze sweets to reduce unhealthy temptations. Avoid leftovers, which contain “ama,” toxic substances that cause poor digestion and illness. Opt for complex carbohydrates, vegetables, and lean protein, which together will restore normal blood sugar patterns, reduce water retention, and curb cravings.
Certain foods are particularly beneficial after a holiday meal rich in sodium and sugar. Asparagus, greens, pineapple, cucumber, and papaya all have cleansing, diuretic properties. Eating lots of light, clean plant foods for a few days after a large meal is a great way to reset energy levels and digestion.
Enjoy The Experience
It’s important to maintain a holistic diet throughout the course of the holiday season. But it’s also important to indulge and enjoy life during this busy and special time of year. Remember: indulging is actually an integral element of a healthy diet because it prevents feelings of deprivation, which can lead to binge-purge cycles. Ironically, it can also help to prevent the metabolic slowdowns that cause weight loss plateaus.
Take your time while enjoying holiday meals. Chew your food thoroughly, enjoying the unique textures and flavors. Be present in the current moment and savor the laughter and camaraderie characteristic of the season. Holiday meals with family and friends nourish not only our physical self, but also our emotional self. And a healthy emotional self is just as integral to maintaining a holistic diet and healthy life as a healthy physical self.