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TOP 7 Tips to Have a Healthy Holiday Season!

Dec

13


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We’re in the middle of the holiday season, a time filled with fun food-centered celebrations and memorable parties with family, colleagues and friends.

But it’s also the season when we experience more stress, eat delish rich foods, exercise less, drink more alcohol and consume more sugar AND probably get lower quality sleep. This combination + trying to get everything done on our to do list can lead to adrenal exhaustion, flatline your immune system and set you up to “catch” a cold or flu. Or something worse.

As a child and young adult, I used to get sick every year. I struggled with a chronic sore throat that would turn into strep throat at the drop of a hat, bronchitis, bronchial pneumonia, walking pneumonia and even scarlet fever.

We’re not taking the basic cold or flu, oh no. When I went down, I would get SICK. Nasty respiratory infections that would require multiple rounds of antibiotics. The residual side effect of the pharmaceuticals = hijack my gut bacteria, leaving me with an unbalanced gut microbiome and eventually systemic candida (all the bugs in my belly were way outta whack).

And it wasn’t until I cut dairy out of my diet that I started to see significant improvement in my health. I never EVER would have given up my beloved cheese toast, melted blocks of cheese, pizza, lasagna, mexican food smothered with cheese unless a naturopath that I went to see gave me the most dreaded diagnosis: SEVERE DAIRY INTOLERANCE.

Actually I think he said I had a dairy allergy and I thought he was a quack. Mind you this was 20 years ago before we know what we know now about food allergies, intolerances and sensitivities. Regardless, the jarring news caused dietary PTSD. But when I did finally give it up for 21 days (sidebar: including while I was on vacation to San Fran), the chronic lump in my throat and respiratory issues I had all my life disappeared.

When I got to “challenge” dairy three weeks later, eating myself silly on the stuff from sheer deprivation, I got sick as a dog. I couldn’t breathe or sleep that night because my throat felt like it was the size of a pinhead. I found it difficult to swallow and swore I would never EVER eat cheese again. No food was worth making me feel how miserable I felt. If we pay attention to how food makes us FEEL, we can choose to avoid it. Or not.

It was truly eye-opening and mind-blowing to me how much food could impact my health. And that is when I jump-started a more proactive approach towards my wellness. Gradually I went vegetarian, then vegan, then RAW vegan. I kept going, going, going. Years of detox diets (with the seasons), fasting, cleaning, purging for the decades of dietary sins like a good Catholic would do {albeit recovering Catholic}.

I got addicted to feeling REALLY GOOD and not being sick for 7 years. Yes, you read that right. I did HNAT get sick for s-e-v-e-n years! Not only did I remain “healthy” but I was so “clean” that I didn’t even wear or need to wear deoderant (and the other bonus was my poo did not stink either, confirmed by my other half).

So why would I stop if I felt so good?, you might be thinking. Totally valid question. It’s because we live in a modern world. I basically had a very limited social life and I was super anxious about events that involved food. Don’t get me started about dating. In a nutshell, I had undiagnosed orthorexia.

Orthorexia is a term that was coined for those of us who become obsessed with eating only a clean, healthy diet. Now in my defense, I was on a quest for the fountain of youth while trying to prevent heart disease and cancer. The vain bonus is my skin was envy-worthy and flawless.

And no one in college, not ONE college professor back in the day discussed the benefits of a plant-centric diet. This study on PubMed Nutrition Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets shows the impressive health shifts that take place when you add more plants into your daily dietary choices.

Which is why I am so passionate about helping other people find a more balanced approach to eating and nourishing their body while adding more plants into the mix. And I’m creating a 30-Day Plant-Focused Challenge to help you have fun with the process so stay tuned for that in 2020!

But I digress as I often do…so let’s get back on track with this post, shall we?

Crazy thing is that I recently found myself fighting a respiratory issue way out of left field right before the Thanksgiving holiday this year. But when I look back at the week before, my calendar was pretty jammed with social events, I was eating rich foods (cheese + dairy) and drinking more alcohol than usual, def enjoying more sweets treats, wasn’t getting enough optimal sleep, and was still going full steam ahead.

The weekend before I felt the onset of a sore throat, my kidneys were doing something funky. They were quivering, like the muscles were flickering and then they were on fire and I became nauseated while walking Kingston.

It was 40F outside and I had to take off my coat because I thought I would pass out from either feeling heated or nausea . Very unusual. I called Tim to let him know where I was because I was afraid that I wouldn’t make it home. I’ve never felt like that before.

Now I know based on all my experience of letting a sore throat “go” that now, when I start even feeling a HINT of a sore throat, I have to pay attention. So I encourage you to tune in and KNOW THYSELF. What are your initial signs and symptoms that something is off? That gentle tap on the shoulder from your body…

For me, it used to be a little tickle in the back of my throat. It wasn’t quite a sore throat YET, but moving in that direction. It just felt off, like something was brewing behind the scenes. But looking back, my body was likely trying to tell me something sooner, like my kidneys being in a funk.

So that night of the sore throat, I felt like my body was trying to fight off something. The two most stressful activities the body has to deal with on the daily is a) digest food and b) manage stress. Well, and dealing with being sick.

Knowing this, I ate more whole foods again, avoided dairy, sugar, caffeine, heavily processed foods and anything that can cause inflammation, lower my immunity, and cause my body to struggle. I switched to soups, stews, nutrient-dense smoothies, drank a TON of water, stopped exercising to restore my energy, went to bed early (I had no choice, I was wiped out by 930/10pm which is not normal for me), and tried to shake it off.

The beauty about aging is you know your body. And boy do I know it. Quite well actually with all the mindful + intuitive work I’ve been doing and teach to clients. And this bug didn’t feel like the flu where you are super achy all over and whipped out. Thankfully.

This felt more like a viral respiratory condition – like a common cold that was vacillating around my nose, throat and chest. First it was a sore throat, then stuffy nose, then chest congestion, then back to the nose + chest. I felt fatigued mid-day but not like I had to stay prone and binge watch Succession.

The last time I was sick = four years ago. I know EXACTLY why I got sick: 10x SIGNIFICANT STRESS. And the time before that was due to SIGNIFICANT STRESS. So this was really odd because I wasn’t feeling stressed. But when I look back at my daily routine, my food choices were getting sloppy with a lot of delicious, rich foods that can definitely cause inflammation in MY body (esp. dairy, sugar, caffeine, alcohol). And a calendar full of social events, not enough sleep, exercise, or proper down time.

So what did I do?

As soon as I felt the sore throat, I rested. Based on my past childhood experiences, that is always a big red flag for me to pay attention because that seemingly innocuous sore throat can turn in the wrong direction in a New York minute.

After three days of feeling off, I went to the infrared sauna to heat up my body and try to sweat this thing out (hooray for ClassPass having sauna treatments available).

I drank a TON of water, herbal tea, fresh green vegetable juices with lemon, ginger and turmeric – the same one I drink daily but sometimes skip if I feel lazy. But not/Hnat when I’m sick, the anti-inflammatory green beauty drink is a must. Sipping sipping sipping constantly on fluids.

My body wanted warm, nourishing foods: plant-centered soups, stews and chili. Lots of miso, ramen and some curry dishes too. Sometimes I ate artisan whole grain breads, but it was mostly hot, liquid-ish meals.

I went to be early; I didn’t have choice I was wiped out by 8:30/9pm. I slept for 9-10 hours and knew my body was fighting something. I was grateful that I wasn’t running a fever or felt achy but this respiratory virus hung around for almost a full 3 weeks. That is about 2.5 weeks LONGER than I anticipated.

The other thing that was interesting was that I ONLY wanted to eat on the couch in front of the television. For those of you who’ve taken my challenge or know that I am a mindful eating dietitian, you know this is HNAT normal. But I rolled with it. It felt nurturing on some level and I honored the process without an ounce of guilt, judgment or shame.

So here are my 7 TOP TIPS to stay healthy through the holiday season:

  1. Stay hydrated. Did you know that your body requires a water molecule for each and every process and even more when you’re sick? It’s so easy to become dehydrated with all the running around we do, trying to check everything off our list. Take a water bottle with you everywhere! Plus booze sneaks in more this time of year. My personal mindful drinking guidelines = hydrate with 16-20 oz of clean water before parties and have one glass of champagne then a glass of water; another glass of alcohol then water. When I come home I take a BIG glass of water to bed (actually a big 32-oz mason jar). Don’t be naughty to your body or metabolism! Drink water and sugar-free fluids and stay hydrated. Pro tip: don’t chug, it’s so harsh on your kidneys.

  2. Get quality sleep. Big props to Sleeping Beauty, she had the 411 on the vanity piece. Sleep is KEY to optimal health and wellness. Ever heard of sleep deprivation as torture treatment? Yeah, it’s used for interrogation tactics – read more about it from Psychology Today. If you get crappy sleep, your life will CHANGE when you consistently get a good nights rest. Pro tip: we invested in sealed, black out shades this year and it has been a GAME changer.

  3. Get down with some JOMO. JOMO = Joy of Missing Out. Experienced this intentionally for the first time last holiday while on vacation. Instead of feeling obligated to go rip up the town, we stayed in and ordered Thai food and watched Elf. Epic choice. Pro tip: don’t say yes to every holiday event. Stay home and practice some JOMO.

  4. Eat more plants. My life changed when I switched over to a plant-centric lifestyle and it stuck. For over 2-0 years. Best thing I ever did for my health besides giving up dairy (due to a pretty significant intolerance). Pro tip: make half your lunch + dinner plate plant-based during the holiday season for that boost in vitamins, minerals, fiber, anti-oxidants, water and overall nutrition. Ya gotta chew that food well – if you struggle with GI issues, go easy with flooding the diet with plants tho.

  5. Don’t skip meals. Ugh, this has diet culture written all over it! The whole intermittent fasting and biohacking can lead to weight gain when you stop doing it. Focus on sustainable practices. When you skip your meals to save calories so you can splurge on that big meal, it backfires. This is a big mistake a lot of us make because ignoring your true hunger signals will only set you up for overeating later. Make sure to have meals and/or small snacks so you don’t arrive totally famished and eat more than you intended. No one loves the Thanksgiving-Day-unbutton-your-pants before-that-belly-pops sensation. Honor your hunger and fullness signals like it is any other day of the year.

  6. Be mindful of your sugar intake. Yup, I said it and I’m gonna go there which is gonna seem like a hypocritical thing for a mindful + intuitive preaching dietitian to say but here’s the thing. No one ever has a sugar deficiency. Clinical lab values never improve nor does your quality of health increase when more processed sugar is added into the diet. In fact the sugar research in the 60’s was so provocative that it was covered up – the New York Times did a huge whistle-blowing write up about it (several actually). Here’s where I’m going to sound wishy-washy…. That being said, your MENTAL health and joy around food can improve it you love sweets and can find a balanced approach towards enjoying sugar. Just like alcohol, if you overdo it in the tequila department, you’re not gonna feel so sparkling the next day. Same with processed sugar. We’ve all had sugar hangovers after Halloween so your goal is to find your “sweet spot” with your favorite foods. That’s what I help clients do, discover their individual sweet spot with their fave things to eat. I know people say “just be mindful of your intake during the holiday season”. But for me I felt out of control whenever I ate sugar, so telling me back then to just be “mindful” sounded like utter nonsense. However, after working with mindful eating skills, I can enjoy sweets, without going overboard, and move on with my life without guilt. Heck, there is a glass-domed cake plate of chocolate chip cookies on my counter that is staring at me right now. I don’t bat an eye unless i really want to eat them. And when I do, I enjoy it, and that’s the end. This took time and effort but it’s totally possible (check out my 30-Day Mindful Eating Challenge to find food freedom and make peace with food – next one starts Jan 6, 2020). For instance, I had 3 small squares of amazing peppermint chocolate last night at a holiday gathering and totally enjoyed it. Savored each bite. Let it melt on my tongue. No guilt, no fear that I would gain (can I just side-bar for a sec: this has freed up a TREMENDOUS amount of mental real estate.. not stressing over food ro freaking out that everything will cause me to gain weight). Ok, thanks. At the same time, I’m also upping my fruit intake because all my fave’s are in season, my body is asking for it (intuitive eating) and the bonus is I’ll get extra vitamins and minerals, anti-inflammatory compounds, plant-rich fiber, loads of antioxidants. Loving pomegranates (!!!), oranges, tangerines, berries, apples, pears and dried mulberries right now!

  7. Move that amazing Body! My philosophy after working with spinal cord injury patients at Shepherd Center is MOVE MORE WHILE YOU CAN. Seriously, we have arms and legs and the body thrives on being active! Find something that you love. If you don’t like to exercise then park further in parking lots at work, the grocery store, take the stairs and force yourself to walk more (it’s called incidental physical activity). Walk your neighbors dog if you don’t have one and you’ll be their BESTIE for life. I love that Kingston needs 2-3 walks a day. Put on a podcast and get that body moving. It will thank you….

I hope these tips help you to stay HEALTHY during the holiday season so that you avoid the common illnesses that seem rampant during this time of year and during cold and flu season next year. Stay healthy + mindful my friends!

If you haven’t signed up for my emails and blog posts… what’s up with that? You can opt out at anytime but if you want to make peace with food and your body, I promise I’ll educate AND entertain you 🙂

Xx and happy holidays!

Jennifer

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